Hillsborough County Commish Candidates duke it out in East Tampa
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08/13/10 Kelly Benjamin
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Last Night, candidates for Hillsborough County Commission District 3 engaged in a heated debate at a candidate forum held by the Democratic Black caucus in East Tampa.

Incumbent Kevin White is being challenged by former state senator Les Miller and political newcomer Valerie Goddard. Both challengers had no trouble addressing a question from the audience -- if public officials should be held financially liable for illegal actions so taxpayers can recoup expenses they caused:

"It is a travesty to think that that we have folks who can continue to serve in our best interest when there still is a lack of accountability for their own (applause)."

Last year, Kevin White lost a sexual harassment lawsuit launched by a former aide. That left county taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. Les Miller suggested instituting a code of ethics.

"People are loosing their jobs, while we’re having over half a million dollars in suits, going back and forth, back and forth. I’m not talking about this kind of suit; I’m talking about the lawsuits. People are loosing their jobs, and we have lawsuits going back and forth. Something is wrong here. I will support a code of ethics for the county commission that you have a code of ethics that you must live by. In that, if you violate the law, and you’re sued, you have to adhere by that code of ethics. If it means that you step down, you step down because you have violated what the people put their trust in you. You elect me, I will not embarrass you."

Commissioner Kevin White did not shy away from addressing his legal issues. He said, despite the guilty verdict and the legal fees passed on to taxpayers he has never failed at representing his constituents.

"I’ll tell you what ladies and gentlemen, I think any of us, if we’ve ever watched the news, or newspaper, or if we just lived in life, I think everyone in this room, at one point in time, has been lied on or accused of something that has not happened. And that’s called welcome to America. I had my day in court. There was no evidence proven. There was not one shred of evidence that was proven. But, we leave it into the court of popular and public opinion. That is fine. By representation I have never, ever failed, in representation of my community.”

White then suggested it was the county at fault for not having the policies in place to protect tax payers.

“Let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, if I’m accused of something I did not do, I’m not bending, I’m not bowing, and I apologize that the county did not have the policies and procedures, in place, to protect me, as well as the tax payers. But, I guarantee you, I’m going to fight as hard for myself, as I will for you.”

It was standing room only as candidates spoke to a predominantly African-American crowd in East Tampa. Miller and White also traded jabs over the lack of African-American contracts at Tampa General Hospital during the time Miller oversaw a minority business program there. White accused Miller of not doing enough.

“Tampa General went through one of its largest expansions in the history of their program, and spent $250 million expanding the hospital. You know how much money Black people got out of that? [They received] $220,000 out of $250 million. That is pitiful. While the person who was over that program, sat there and collected over a million dollars in salary, over the time that he was there. That is not responsible leadership.”

Les Miller responded.

“I went to his office and talked to him twice. He started to go to the newspapers, instead of talking to me. Do understand, there are other Blacks on that board, and I’ve met with them and told them the same thing, not one time they didn’t scream because they understood what I was trying to tell them. I left there in 2007. Here are some figures. The same job he’s talking about, having the same difficult time, and trying to get those jobs done since I left there in 2007. The numbers are the same, and in some cases they’re dismal. They’re here. Yet, you haven’t heard him say one thing since I left. Not on thing. So, I asked a question. Was it about him getting the job done? Or was it about less...?"

Valerie Goddard managed to stay largely above the bickering during the candidate forum. Afterward she told WMNF she faces difficulties as an African American woman in a race with two men.

“The women are really, really fired up. The legal issues that he has resonate strongly with women because so many women work. So, I think the issues take them back to, maybe, injustices they’ve encountered in the work place, the lack of fairness with regards to their pay, and some of them may have experienced similar [issues] in their own history. I think this causes all of that to bubble up. As a woman, it’s tough because I experienced some of that old 1950’s mentality. They didn’t say it, but what they’re trying to say is [that] I should be home raising children, rather than running for office. That’s been a subtle tone from the candidate, with regards to me running in this position. You know, I said tonight, I’m proud of my service because I think it’s critical to know that you have people that care about families and if you’re going to make decisions in this community, you have to have the best interest of families at heart.”

The primary election is on August 24. Early voting is going on now.

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