Crowd of candidates energizes race for council

Published February 25, 2007

TAMPA - After the Children's Gasparilla Parade last month, Jennifer John walked into Rigatoni Tuscan Oven with her two kids in tow and a slew of Julie Jenkins campaign stickers plastered to her shirt. Did she know she was about to eat in a restaurant owned by one of Jenkins' opponents in the race for the District 1 City Council seat? "Oh, no!" John exclaimed as she yanked off the advertisements, unknowingly leaving one stuck to her back. It's not surprising that during this election season District 1 candidates and their supporters are tripping over each other. It's the most crowded race on the ballot, with five people challenging Gwen Miller for her citywide seat. Here's a look at the candidates:

Rick Barcena

A Hillsborough High School graduate, Barcena is garnering support from old classmates who have risen to prominence in Tampa. Among them: lobbyist Louis Betz, business owner David Caldevilla and Ellen Arena, the wife of attorney Anthony Arena. Barcena, 43, is pledging to apply his experience as a business owner to management of the city budget. How closely does he watch the pennies? Well, Barcena said at the restaurant he owns, a large pizza gets precisely 46 slices of pepperoni; going to up to 48 will impact the bottom line. "I know what it is to write the check," said Barcena.

His top priorities: Safe neighborhoods, lower taxes and reducing flooding and traffic congestion. After fighting rush hour traffic to get to a candidate forum in New Tampa this month, Barcena offered this observation: "You can't live this way any longer."

Randy Baron

Baron, a 45-year-old computer programmer, has cut his teeth on city politics through seven years as a leader in the Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association, fighting against construction of a Walgreens near the historic Sulphur Springs water tower and helping bring Starbucks to the neighborhood. "My job basically pays for my neighborhood association habit. I'm one of those people who watches Channel 15," he said, referring to the city television station that broadcasts City Council meetings.

His take on some of the issues: Light rail is long overdue in Tampa; he supports gradually increasing the flow of freshwater to the lower Hillsborough River; and he wants to see more small business development along busy urban corridors.


Denise Chavez

Chavez is campaigning on the themes of lowering taxes and controlling development. "I feel like I'm being taxed out of my home and my city," says the 59-year-old restaurant owner and caterer. Meanwhile, she says, taxpayers don't seem to be reaping benefits from the rising cost of living in Tampa. "I don't see anything happening to improve our quality of life," she said. She's watched her Hyde Park neighborhood redevelop, she says, and wants to make sure other parts of Tampa redevelop in an appropriate way, with infrastructure keeping up with growth.

Julie Jenkins

The energetic Jenkins, 45, has a support base described by her husband as "moms on steroids." Indeed, Jenkins has frequently campaigned on street corners surrounded by sign-wielding moms and children and a giant blue plastic M&M. One campaign flier titles her commitment to the environment with "Keep Your Room Clean." She wants inspectors to go out and make sure people don't put leaves down storm drains, for example. Other issues important to Jenkins, a real estate investor and former sales exec for Virgin Atlantic Airways: Smart growth, public safety and mass transit.


Gwen Miller

A City Council member for 12 years, Miller, 72, has served as its chairwoman for the past three years. Her supporters include a laundry list of prominent Tampa lawyers, developers and business owners. If re-elected, Miller has promised to demand that developers include affordable housing in major projects, and vote against property tax rate cuts. Miller has pledged to require that 10 percent of the units in large projects are "affordable."


Joe Redner

Redner, 66, has a made a name for himself as a strip club owner, a vocation that apparently is not necessarily a political liability. He received more votes in Tampa than incumbent Jim Norman in the race for the Hillsborough County Commission in November, though Norman won the election. That success prompted Redner to jump into the City Council elections, marking the sixth time he's run for office. Redner is not campaigning hard - no knocking on doors or raising money. But he shows up at candidate forums and hammers on his antidevelopment, pro-environment agenda. "We should have known 10 years ago that we needed a mass transportation system," Redner said at a forum in New Tampa.