Gelber refused to criticize Bondi when given the opportunity during his Tampa Tiger Bay Club appearance at Maestro's at the Straz Center on Friday afternoon, but he wasn't so polite when it came to critiquing Gov. Rick Scott. He said he believed that any of whom he dubbed the Big Three — Charlie Crist, Bill Nelson or Alex Sink — will defeat Scott next year, despite the improving Florida economy.
"I think Bill Nelson has to decide whether he wants to stay in the Senate or not. He would probably be our premier candidate in the sense that he's the most well-known and he's in political office," he said.
Regarding Charlie Crist, Gelber said, "A lot of people say he's always changing his positions. Frankly, he was socially moderate when he was a Republican," referring to his pro-environmental agenda as governor, and his advocacy for automatic restoration of rights for ex-felons. "Which is a position a lot of Democrats don't take."
Regarding Alex Sink, the 2010 Democratic nominee, Gelber said he has known her longer than any of the potential candidates, having worked with her late husband, Bill McBride.
"It's the first time potentially I feel we have three marquee candidates who would prevail in a general election," he said.
Missing in all of his comments was the name Nan Rich, the former South Florida state senator who currently is the only Democrat to officially enter the race.
Gelber made a point of crediting Republicans who he thinks are worthy of praise during his appearance, including Polk County state Sen. Paula Dockery and Pasco County House member Mike Fasano (who he admitted he initially didn't like much). But his efforts to be above the fray were challenged when a Tiger Bay member asked him if there was "any bigger phony in national politics than Marco Rubio?"
Rubio is in a precarious position — and perhaps the key Republican — to help get comprehensive immigration passed in the Senate, a predicament that Gelber said he appreciates.
"He's got to convince the Tea Party — which doesn't seem to be taking it too nicely — that the immigration bill is a good thing. And this is where I think will see where his mettle is," he said.
One issue that did not receive universal huzzahs from the audience was his first response to two different questions about Cuba. Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor's recent declaration that the U.S. should end the economic embargo on the Communist island has been applauded by many (but certainly not all) members of officialdom in the area (including City Council members Yolie Capin and Mary Mulhern, both of whom were in the audience today and will be traveling to Cuba with the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce next month).
Gelber was asked if he agreed that Cuba should continue to be listed as a terrorist nation. He said that the nation has "traditionally been affiliated with so many of our folks that are not simply unfriendly, but more than a little unfriendly," adding that the classified intelligence that continues to keep them designated as a terrorist nation is something that "is not available to me or you."
He was then challenged by Councilwoman Capin, who elicited cheers when she boasted that she believed Tampa would soon be in "the forefront" of U.S.-Cuba relations. She asked his views on U.S.-Cuba relations.
The North Miami Beach citizen said he comes from a community where the topic is "volatile." Regarding the embargo, however, Gelber said he couldn't think of another U.S. government policy that has been less successful.