TAMPA — With months to go before the first ballots of the 2014-15 political season, the money is rolling into the coffers of candidates for county and city office.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist, the Republican incumbent in commission District 2, reported raising just over $26,000 in his March campaign finance filings with the county Supervisor of Elections office.
He has about five times the bank roll of his competitor, Democrat Elizabeth Belcher, a community activist based in Seffner.
Belcher said she’s not letting Crist’s success deter her.
She noted that she has received many small donations. But county records show that she gave her own campaign $3,000 of the $5,466 in its coffers.
“Most of Mr. Crist’s money comes from deep-pocketed donors who may not even live in this district,” Belcher said.
Crist, a Republican who spent 18 years in the state Legislature, is seeking a second term in District 2, which includes much of northern Hillsborough County, including Lutz, Carrollwood and Thonotosassa. He said his contributions in March were the result of one big fundraiser.
The host committee for the event included the four Republican members of the County Commission, Pasco County Tax Collector and former legislator Mike Fasano, and Pinellas County Commissioner John Morroni. Contributors to Crist’s campaign included attorneys, real estate developers, construction contractors and property managers.
“I work hard, I’m fair, I’m straightforward,” Crist said, listing reason contributors wanted to donate to his campaign. “Whether you like me or don’t like me, you know where I stand. People like that.”
❖ ❖ ❖
In other commission races, Janet Lee Dougherty continued to lead other Republican candidates in District 4, which includes all of east Hillsborough and part of the southern county. Dougherty, an environmental consultant, showed a total of $110,590 raised by the end of March. Former Tampa police officer Rick Cochran was second with $66,601 and school board member Stacy White had $47,736. Recent entrant Lila Lilyquist, also a Republican, reported a total of $150.
The only Democrat in the District 4 race, Donna Lee Fore, has raised $3,679.
Commissioner Ken Hagan, representing countywide District 5 remains unopposed. Hagan has raised $299,305 for his re-election.
In the other countywide race, District 7, Commissioner Al Higginbotham leads with $164,091. Republican Robin Lester is second with $9,620. Republican Don Kruse has raised no money.
Monday afternoon, Pat Kemp, former chairwoman of the county Democratic Party, announced she would challenge Higginbotham. Kemp is currently the lone Democrat in the race.
Hillsborough School Board member April Griffin and Tampa City Councilwoman Mary Mulhern, both Democrats, had been candidates for the District 7 but dropped out.
❖ ❖ ❖
Tampa City Council’s nonpartisan elections are still nearly a year away, but thousands of dollars have already rolled into the accounts of two of the three candidates who have declared their intention to replace Councilman Charlie Miranda as the representative of District 6 in West Tampa.
According to March campaign finance filings, Beach Park resident Jackie Toledo, who entered the race last month, already has $15,000 in her coffers.
Guido Maniscalco, who had more than $9,300 in February, has more than $12,000 as of March.
The third candidate to file, Thomas Castellano, has $1,700.
A fourth potential candidate, Marisol Blanco, filed to run for the district last week. However, based on her home address, she appears not to live in District 6.
The race to replace Miranda has started far earlier than most council races. Only two other districts — at-large District 1 and East Tampa-downtown District 5 — even have candidates at the moment.
In District 1, incumbent Councilman Mike Suarez has raised $11,420 as of March’s report. In District 5, retired Tampa Police Officer Borthland Roachesta Murray has $950.
Miranda must surrender his district seat after two terms because of term limits as established by the city charter. He has said he might run for District 2, one of three at-large seats on the seven-member council.
Councilwoman Mary Mulhern holds the District 2 seat. She is also term-limited. Earlier this year, she dropped her campaign for the county commission, saying her chronic battle with multiple sclerosis left her without the energy needed to carry on a county-level campaign.
In 2011, Miranda waited until three months before the election to file for re-election. He entered the race with $22,000 and topped out with $37,000, according to county records.
Toledo has entered the race with a significant bankroll, but the bulk to her funds have come from 11 donors who gave the maximum $1,000 they’re allowed in the current phase of the election.
“The natural follow up question: Will she be able to do that again?” said Scott Paine, a University of Tampa professor and former city council member. “She can’t go back to these folks for more. How deep is her contributor pool?”
❖ ❖ ❖
Tampa native Maniscalco, by comparison, has raised his money through small donations. After losing his bid for District 1 in 2011, Maniscalco has spent the ensuing years building connections and serving on city boards to establish his political bona fides.
The presence of Toledo in the race shows how District 6 has changed, Paine said. The district that has traditionally encompassed tight-knit West Tampa now includes wealth enclaves south of Kennedy, including Toledo’s Beach Park neighborhood.
“These precincts don’t feel or vote anything like the precincts north of the Interstate and west of Florida, the historic heart of the West Tampa district,” Paine said.
The contrast between West Tampa and South of Kennedy is the contrast between a place that values family ties and one that values position and performance, Paine said.
“District 6 is, today, much different than it has been in past elections,” Paine said.
Maniscalco lives in the heart of the West Tampa. Toledo, born in Peru and fluent in Spanish, believes she can make inroads in areas where Spanish has become the default language.
Paine is unsure how much it will help in a neighborhood where people share common roots in Cuba or Central America, not South America.
“So it undoubtedly will be helpful,” he said. “But not as helpful as some might expect.”