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Smart political move: go beyond New Tampa

Candidates for the "New Tampa District" head where the power lies: south.

Published February 16, 2007


People have long regarded Tampa's northern City Council district as the "New Tampa District."

No wonder. The council member who has won two terms from that district, Shawn Harrison, got his start in Tampa Palms and then moved to Hunter's Green. And the most visible candidates to succeed him are longtime residents of - yes - Tampa Palms and Hunter's Green.

But Harrison has a humbling insight for his neighbors: New Tampa doesn't control the "New Tampa District." The political clout in District 7 lies to the south. Harrison, a Republican from new suburbs, owes his success at the polls to Democrats from old suburbs.

"The candidate that goes outside New Tampa is the candidate that's going to win," Harrison said.

Consequently, Joseph Caetano, Frank Margarella and Charlie Perkins have been campaigning in recent weeks near District 7's southern corners. Margarella, the candidate most in Harrison's mold, has been reaching into the southern communities for much of a year.

Early last year in Temple Crest, Margarella began visiting meetings of a task force focusing on the city's widening of 40th Street, Temple Crest's top civic issue.

"He assured me he won't just be a New Tampa representative and really will represent the entire District 7," said Terry Neal, president of the Temple Crest Civic Association.

Margarella contacted the Forest Hills Neighborhood Association last fall, said Gail Matson, president. "He bought a page ad in our newsletter," she said.

Margarella attended the January meeting of the University Square Civic Association, representing 154 homes south of the shopping mall, said Fred Zerla, association president.

"He has assured me that we will not be the stepchildren of New Tampa," Zerla said.

On recent Saturdays, Caetano walked door to door in Forest Hills, Perkins' home neighborhood.

Perkins, 31, has campaigned in Terrace Park, southeast of the mall, and spent several days in Temple Crest, just southwest of Temple Terrace. Neal, the Temple Crest president, said several of his neighbors were impressed.

Perkins has distributed a flier pledging to donate his council salary to the Tampa Police Department. He is best known as the character "White Chocolate" on a public-access television show that scandalized county commissioners in 2002. He didn't return numerous St. Petersburg Times phone calls for this article.

"He knocked on my door in the rain," said Cammie Dennis of Temple Crest. "He said he had once been held at gunpoint near Bird Street. He was upset that New Tampa had more police power than the rest of Tampa did."

WHEN HARRISON BEGAN running for the seat in 1998, he learned that Forest Hills had some of the highest voter turnouts in the district, while New Tampa's record was poor.

"The Forest Hills precincts were the No. 1 precincts I went after," Harrison said. "The people there are active, engaged and organized. They're players within the city civic associations."

Now, they're in the process of discovering a clear distinction between the two Republican businessmen running for the seat, both longtime civic leaders in New Tampa.

Caetano, 73, of Tampa Palms, wants to be an agent of change. In the late 1990s and again two years ago, he campaigned for New Tampa to form its own city. He has complained for years that City Hall has shortchanged New Tampa on services. He thinks taxes are too high and the benefits too thin.

"We don't have adequate infrastructure," Caetano says. "We're going to have all kinds of monuments being built downtown, and we need the services out here."

Caetano thinks that too many studies delayed the 40th Street widening, and the only city park under development in New Tampa is being built for the benefit of nearby schools.

"The mayor has not fulfilled her commitment to me for fair treatment for New Tampa," Caetano says.

In a recent debate, Caetano referred to the art museum proposed under former Mayor Dick Greco as "that art monster down there."

Caetano, said supporter and state Sen. Victor Crist, "won't be afraid to speak his mind and be politically incorrect. He's going to read every single thing and ask question after question after question. He's going to research everything ad nauseam."

MARGARELLA, 56, OF Hunter's Green, stresses that he intends to work within the system.

"I'm not going to be a rebel or a radical," Margarella says.

New Tampa deserves a larger share of city services, he says frequently, but people there should be realistic: "You're never going to get a dollar-for-dollar return on your tax revenue in affluent areas. You're going to subsidize older parts of the city."

Margarella credits Harrison with taking a citywide perspective and said he wants to follow suit. "You can't be an isolationist," he says.

Margarella's issues are likelier to play well in less-affluent areas - like the southern part of the district. A top priority is attracting quality jobs to Tampa, even if it takes incentives such as tax credits in redevelopment areas, Margarella said.

Caetano opposes business-development subsidies. "Nobody gave me money to put my business up and running," he says.

Margarella advocates replacing the city's crumbling water and sewer lines through budget discipline, but with higher utility fees if necessary.

Caetano's against it. "I don't want to pay to repair the pipes downtown," he said in a debate on the city's television channel.

In the same debate, each candidate was invited to ask the other a single question. Margarella set a trap. "What do you identify as the key problem in Forest Hills?" he asked Caetano.

Caetano replied, "The key problem has been taken care of right now, which is the 40th Street extension."

Another key problem: 40th Street runs through Temple Crest, 3 miles away from Forest Hills.

Bill Coats can be reached at (813) 269-5309 or


Frank J. Margarella

Born: Feb. 11, 1951

Political experience: First campaign for office.

Education: Bachelor's in business administration, University of New Mexico.

Military record: None.

Marital status: Divorced, three children.

Source of income: Commercial real estate sales.

Net worth: $114,500

Contact: 813 244-5762

Joseph P. Caetano

Born: Sept. 9, 1933

Political experience: Lost races for Hillsborough County Commission in 1992 and Hillsborough School Board in 1996.

Education: High school graduate.

Military record: U.S. Marine Corps, 1954-57.

Marital status: Married, two daughters.

Sources of income: Two hair salons, coffee shop, rental properties.

Net worth: $1,642,700

Contact:, (813) 977-1145

Charles A. Perkins

Born: Nov. 10, 1975

Political experience: Lost race for Tampa City Council in 2003.

Education: Chamberlain High School graduate, attended University of South Florida.

Military record: Not available.

Marital status: Married.

Source of income: Perkins Entertainment Inc.

Net worth: $32,000

Contact: P.O. Box 82061, Tampa, FL 33682

[Last modified February 15, 2007, 08:25:53]

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