MidPoint: City View with Patrick Manteiga

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For over 100 years, Tampa has been the home of La Gaceta, the country’s only trilingual newspaper and longest-running family-owned publication. La Gaceta has its fingers on the pulse of the city’s politics and the machinations that make it run. Editor and publisher Patrick Manteiga joined WMNF’s MidPoint on Wednesday to talk about the current events in the city.

Listen to the full episode here:

https://sound.wmnf.org/sound/wmnf_220413_100600_12newsW1_423.MP3

Scandal on the Council?

For Manteiga, who writes the weekly “As We Heard It” political news and gossip column, it seems as though the more things change, the more they stay the same in Tampa’s political realm. When he first started in 1984, a slew of investigations and criminal indictments against Hillsborough County Commissioners brought the topic of corruption to the front pages of the news. Nowadays, he says, not much has changed. Claims of “scandals” on the Tampa City Council have been publicly trumpeted by the Mayor, but Manteiga and other critics suggest that the Mayor may be simply attacking her political enemies in favor of her political donors as more than one half of the Mayor’s political PAC was funded by development interests. “The Mayor really needs to stay in her lane” and not try to control City Council, said Manteiga.

In the modern era of political corruption, Manteiga says that it predominantly surrounds land developers and their consultants, who pour money into campaigns either for or against certain elected officials to influence their votes. But here, Manteiga notes, there has been no evidence of any Council members acting corruptly to financially benefit themselves. Rather, one Council member, John Dingfelder, was accused of mishandling public records, and another, Orlando Gudes, is accused of sexual harassment of a city employee and creating a toxic workplace.

The claims of scandal and misbehavior have already led to the resignation of one council member, John Dingfelder, and the investigation of another, Orlando Gudes. However, these cases have left Manteiga, as well as other reporters, with many questions. According to reporting by Creative Loafing, after Dingfelder was sued for misuse of personal emails and public records, Gina Grimes, the City attorney, was found to be engaging in the same type of activities that Dingfelder was sued for, including use of a personal phone for City business and failure to maintain public records. Further, the circumstances and content of Dingfelder’s resignation letter suggest that Ms. Grimes may have colluded with the attorney who was suing Dingfelder on behalf of Steve Michelini, a developer’s representative whose development projects were often opposed by Dingfelder when he was on Council.

In the case of Orlando Gudes, Creative Loafing reporter Justin Garcia found that an original accusation against Gudes had been dropped by the City in 2019 at the complainant’s request. However, after multiple calls and pleas from people within the Mayor’s administration to press forward, the complainant agreed to an investigation by an outside law firm. She then raised significantly more and different complaints about Gudes’ alleged misbehavior than she had prior to the City bringing pressure on her to pursue her complaint. Only after Gudes had become a vocal critic of the Mayor’s selection of the new Police Chief, and after he had demanded more transparency and accountability in connection with the Mayor’s plans to award a $108 million dollar no-bid contract to build a city services center on Hanna Avenue was the law firm’s report and the employees’ accusations made public. Thereafter, Gudes stepped down from his position as Chair of the City Council. Mysteriously, the Gudes complainant then became a client of the same lawyer who sued Dingfelder and secured Dingfelder’s resignation.

Fighting for Hispanic Votes

As a trilingual publication, La Gaceta is also part of the fight to engage minority groups with politics. Hispanics in particular seem to be at odds with the Democratic party, even as the Dems fight so hard for Hispanic votes. The reason why, Manteiga said, is that each group of Spanish-speaking voters needs to be spoken to differently, based on the issues that they find most important. Hispanics are not a monolithic group with a single political mindset. Puerto Ricans are different from Cubans, or Colombians, who are different from Venezuelans, etc. Each group has its own set of wants, needs, and demands that deserve to be heard, and the Democrats have ushered them all under one large umbrella that eventually excludes many from the conversation.

Find La Gaceta

La Gaceta can be found at http://lagacetanewspaper.com/ and a yearly subscription is $35.

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