Part of the crowd at today's Stand Up for Israel rally in Lykes Gaslight Park.
A cease-fire in the conflict in Gaza quickly unraveled this morning, with at least 44 Palestinians killed. Israel and Hamas accused each other of breaking the cease-fire. Israeli officials say it broke down after gunmen emerged from one or more Gaza tunnels and opened fire on an Israeli soldier, with at least one of the militants detonating an explosive vest.
"I think that the events in particular today that appear to have precipitated the end of the cease fire are so tragic and underscore how serious the tunnel situation is and what a real national security challenge Israel faces," Tampa City Councilman Harry Cohen told CL moments before he took to the stage in what was billed as a Tampa Bay Community Rally for Israel that took place this afternoon at Lykes Gaslight Park in downtown Tampa.
Tampa attorney Mark Wright was about thirty seconds into his prepared remarks about his recent trip to the Israeli city of Ashdod when his voice was drowned out by a loud siren, a pre-arranged sound cue used to exemplify the air sirens that go off to warn of incoming rocket attacks in southern Israel both before and especially during the current 25-day conflict with Hamas.
Although Uber and Lyft have been hailed as innovators locally by lawmakers like Jeff Brandes, Jamie Grant and Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the longest serving Chairman of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission says requesting a ride from those hot new transportation companies is really no different than ordering a pizza from a new restaurant in town.
"You may get the pizza faster, but it's still a pizza," says Matthew Daus, referring to the fact that whether it's a yellow cab, a limousine or a ride from a guy with a mustache on his front bumper who fist bumps you as you exit his vehicle, it's still just paying a stranger for a ride.
"It's just an app," he insists. "They're just getting more attention because they're breaking the law." Daus says that the taxi cab industry doesn't have the marketing machines that allow Uber in particular to "hire the best lobbyists and the best lawyers and the best media experts."
There's no question that these new companies have severely shaken up the market, though, and Daus was in town to speak at the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission meeting to update the board on how the taxicab industry is coping with the various different issues regarding the Uber/Lyft saga. He's currently the president of the International Association of Transportation Regulators (like the PTC), and spoke at CL's offices on Monday afternoon.
For the first time since Bob Buckhorn was elected Mayor in 2011, the proposed budget he submitted today for fiscal year 2015 does not dip into financial reserves, and in fact includes a modest surplus of $1.3 million. That's a dramatic improvement from his staff's forecast of just a few months ago, when city budget officials say there were millions in reserves that would probably need to be tapped to get to a balanced budget.
"We are on the road to recovery," Buckhorn declared halfway into his hour-long presentation before City Council this morning.
Although the proposed $876 million dollar budget is a sizable increase from last year's budget, most of that growth is in infrastructure spending, an essential part of the quality of life in Tampa that has been underfunded in the city's budget in recent years.
When you talk infrastructure in Tampa, you're talking about stormwater projects. Just a half-hour of solid rain can make too many streets in the city unmanageable, so this year Buckhorn is attempting to make a serious attempt at alleviating some of those problems, though of course because the way the city was built there will never be enough funding to eliminate it. So $21 million will go towards drainage work in East Tampa, Drew Park, the Manhattan/Vasconia area, Kensington Ave and Watrous Canal. Combined with other improvements, the total infrastructure bill will be over $35 million this year.
A recent poll showed that 89 percent of Democrats want Charlie Crist to debate Nan Rich before the August 26 primary election, and you can include Jim Davis among them. The former Tampa Congressman and 2006 gubernatorial nominee says Crist would be well served to debate going into the fall. "Debate, we as Democrats believe, makes us stronger," he says.
Davis is part of the Florida Democratic Party establishment who has been less than enthusiastic, shall we say, about the former Republican once known as "Chain-gang Charlie" becoming the party's standard-bearer. Davis was one of a number of major figures in the party who spent considerable time attempting to persuade Bill Nelson to enter the primary, a possibility that Nelson himself kept alive over the past 8 months or so before the deadline to enter the race came and went last month.
"I think Sen. Nelson would have been a very strong candidate, a very strong governor," Davis said Thursday afternoon on WMNF'sLast Callprogram (hosted by this reporter). "He knows the state, and he has served us well, but he chose not to run and now it's water under the bridge."
Yesterday we reported on the musings of one particular taxi cab driver in Tampa, discussing the differences in scrutiny of drivers between Hillsborough County and Pinellas. While the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission has been severely criticized in recent years for a variety of transgressions, supporters say that their ability to scrutinize drivers is more efficient than in other counties in Florida.
That has become an issue with ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft, specifically with their insurance and background check policies. And apparently Uber realizes that it's vulnerable on that front, since Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has announced on the company's blog that the company has hired Rudy Giuliani and his security team at Giuliani Partners to review Uber’s driver background check process and related systems.
"The result will be a checkup on existing processes and a series of recommendations for potential improvement — which Mayor Giuliani will work with us to implement — as we continue to build and scale strong, industry-leading safety systems," Kalanick wrote.
Tampa has historically always been a racially diverse city, and never moreso than today. Latinos make up approximately 25 percent of the population in greater Hillsborough County, and blacks account for more than 15 percent.
"I don't want to be the mayor of some white-bread Southern city," Bob Buckhorn told Politico's Alex Burns this morning in Los Angeles as part of a panel discussion hosted by the D.C.-based political website. "When we're out competing for global business, the fact that our city was settled by Spanish, Cuban and Italian immigrants who came to Tampa for the cigar industry, makes us a lot more competitive because we look like the world, with all of its shades and ethnicities, we speak multiple languages as you do here in L.A. That's good."
Mayor Buckhorn spoke a moment after L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said that his city would be accepting some Central American refugee children who have flooded across the border in Texas over the past few months.
Last week in Washington D.C., a New York City-based CEO had a harrowing experience riding UberBlack, where he claimed he was held against his will in a high-speed chase story that made national news after it was featured in the Washington Post.Although Uber supporters have scoffed at the incident as a bizarre one-off, for others, it's an example of why they say Uber's background check policy is suspect.
Back in January, the website Pando Daily reported that an Uber driver from San Francisco accused of assault had already done prison time for a felony, even though he passed the ride-sharing company's background check.
"Every driver must undergo a three-step background check process before accessing the Uber platform including, county, multi-state and federal checks going back 7 years," Uber spokesperson Natalia Montalvo wrote in an email to CL last month.
Tariq Khdeir met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last week.
Tariq Abu Khdeir, the 15-year-old Palestinian-American high school student from Tampa who was brutally attacked by Israeli police forces over a week ago while observing a protest in response to his cousin's murder, remains under house arrest in East Jerusalem today. But Khdeir has not been charged with any crime, and family members and others in Tampa's Arab-American community are unhappy that Congresswoman Kathy Castor hasn't called for the teen's release.
The youth was in the Middle East on vacation two weeks ago when his cousin, 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir, was kidnapped and burned alive by Israelis in what was suspected to be a revenge killing, coming as it did after the murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank that shocked Israel.
"Senator Nelson and Congresswoman Castor have a duty to issue immediate and unequivocal statements condemning the brutal beating of one of their constituents by the police forces of a nation that receives billions of our tax dollars," said Hassan Shibly of the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in a statement released Sunday night. "Their public silence thus far gives the impression that they put the interests of Israeli police officers above that of American citizens."
A spokesperson for Congresswoman Castor sent an email to CL Sunday night that says the Tampa-based Democrat is working with the Khdeir family, and that Castor "agrees with the U.S. State Department position announced last week expressing dismay at reports that Tariq Khdeir was severely beaten while in police custody, strongly condemning any excessive use of force, and urging a speedy, transparent and credible investigation and full accountability for any excessive use of force."
Democratic AG candidates Perry Thurston & George Sheldon in Tampa on Saturday.
A lot has been made this year about how, once again, Florida Democrats appear outgunned when it comes to the Cabinet races.
While the party has had to rely on a former Republican to challenge Rick Scott's bid for re-election for governor, it has also had its problems fielding candidates to challenge Jeff Atwater for Chief Financial Officer and Adam Putnam for Agriculture Commissioner.
But they actually have candidates with impressive credentials running against each other for the opportunity to challenge Attorney General Pam Bondi in the fall, even though the nominee — either Perry Thurston or George Sheldon — will be a decided underdog against the well-financed Republican in November.
On the eve of the one-year anniversary of the George Zimmerman 'not guilty' verdict, Charlie Crist said at a political candidates forum in Tampa this afternoon that "we gotta fix it," when asked his opinion of the state's controversial Stand Your Ground law.
"People have the right to defend themselves. Nobody has a problem with that," the Democratic gubernatorial candidate said when asked his opinion about the 2005 state law. "But when you have a situation like that (referring to Zimmerman killing unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin), where the instigator ends up taking the life of somebody, you know, it's all screwed up. It's just wrong."
Crist made that comment while making an impromptu appearance at the Hillsborough Democratic Black Caucus Political Forum, held at the Bible Based Fellowship Church of Temple Terrace in North Tampa. That's where he fielded relatively softball questions tossed to him for approximately 20 minutes in front of a mostly African-American audience.