Democratic County Commission hopefuls talk about the issues ahead of August primary

07/30/10 Kate Bradshaw
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The Hillsborough County Commission’s District 3 seat is one of five commission seats up for election this year, and one of two that’ll be on the ballot in next month’s primary. The three Democrats in that race were among fourteen commission hopefuls to field questions at a Tiger Bay Club of Tampa event today.

Commissioner Kevin White is the District 3 incumbent. He is running despite a guilty verdict in a sexual harassment suit and the legal saga that ensued. Here’s what he told audience member Michelle Patty about how he hopes to help minority small business owners if he keeps his seat.

"In my previous administration as a Tampa City Counsel Member, I initiated the disparity study for the City of Tampa, which re-implemented the program for the minority of business owners and disadvantage program for the City of Tampa. As well as now a member of the Hillsborough County Commission, I'm a member of the Tampa General Hospital Board Authority. I've also re-implemented of their women and minority business programs and drastically increased the minority of participation of Tampa General Hospital."

On August 24, District 3 voters will see White's name on the ballot along with two others that might be familiar. One is former state legislator Les Miller, who is married to Tampa City Council member Gwen Miller. Here’s how Miller answered Patty’s question.

"The Hillsborough County must do a better job of utilizing minority businesses. I looked at the numbers and they are dismal."

The third Democratic District 3 hopeful is Valerie Goddard, who currently chairs the county Children’s Board. She said she wants to get to the core of problem.

"We must address the issues with our impact of the Ability of the Minority Contract to participate. Some of those are their ability to get bonding, and their ability to give bonding credit. I think by involving the business community, the insurance community, we can facilitate access to credit and bonding for minority contractors so they can be prepared and able to compete with businesses."

Whoever wins the primary will face write-in candidate Dwight Bolden November. No Republicans are running. On that same ballot voters will also get to weigh in on a proposed penny per dollar sales tax increase that would fund a transit overhaul that includes construction of light rail. White reminded the audience that he was one of the Commissioners who voted to get that question onto the ballot.

"I am one of the county commissioners that voted to allow you to have the opportunity to have this on the ballot. Here we are again on the stump speech asking for your support, asking for your vote, and asking you to let us be your voice in county government. And who are we when we get the opportunity to give you the opportunity to voice your opinion, we take it away from you. That has never been the case in my administration, nor will it be. I voted to allow the voters to have it on the ballot, and I stand behind it."

Les Miller agreed that voters should be able to decide whether to tax themselves for such projects. Goddard took it one step further by noting the paltry state of transportation in Hillsborough County.

"We have an issue now, where there is a short fall in access to HART services, currently. We're under the impression that everybody has a car. Reality is that everybody in 2010 does not have a car. They don't have access to transportation. We're talking about economic development. We must be ensured that our citizens have opportunities to get to it from their jobs."

The candidates also weighed in on the county’s budget troubles. On Wednesday, the County Commission voted to restore more than $200 thousand in proposed cuts to the Hillsborough County Arts Council’s fiscal year 2011 budget. All three Democratic District 3 hopefuls said they thought the arts were vital. Goddard said it was a matter of quality of life.

"We still need to make sure that we allocate funding to ensure that we are representing the Arts and Humanities. And that those families that seek to live here, have the opportunity to go to a children's museum, to an art museum. Those are important to our community and important because we know that when children have an opportunity to express themselves, to be engaged in our community, we decrease the likelihood of crime."

Miller echoed this.

"Arts and Humanities are very important. To have our children go to those places and see certain things, and adults. It's very important that we have those types of facilities in our area."

White said funding for arts programs was vital because it keeps youth from pursuing crime.

"I believe that our arts counsel and our public safety go hand in hand. If you give our children something constructive to do, it reduces the crime rate that we have. I am so proud as your County Commissioner, to have initiated the $3 million for the Glacier Children's Museum downtown here. As well as I realize that we are under tight fiscal times, but we must continue to fund our arch. we might not be able to fund them at the current funding level that we are funding them now, but it is vitally important for our children in our community."

Hillsborough County’s District Three encompasses a much of Tampa’s urban heart.

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