Lobbyist's firm tied to Tampa

By Bill Varian, Times Staff Writer
Published February 22, 2008

The lobbyist at the center of reports questioning her relationship with Sen. John McCain is a partner in a lobbying firm that has roots in Tampa.

Vicki Iseman works for Alcalde & Fay, whose founder and chief executive officer, Hector Alcalde, is a University of Tampa grad who was chief of staff to former U.S. Rep. Sam Gibbons, D-Tampa, for a dozen years.

Alcalde & Fay has built itself into a top-tier lobbying firm with corporate clients large and small. It also has carved a niche representing local governments and agencies, particularly smaller governments in Florida. The current client list includes Clearwater, Hillsborough County, the Tampa Port Authority and Hillsborough Community College.

Iseman did not personally work with any of the firm's Tampa Bay area government clients, according to federal lobbying reports.

"The person in the news has never been our account manager," said Edith Stewart, public affairs officer for Hillsborough County, which has contracts totaling $117,500 with Alcalde & Fay and has used the firm since the early 1990s. "And to my knowledge, we've never had any dealings with Sen. McCain."

The firm recently helped Hillsborough land $7-million to repair the Platt Street and Columbus Avenue bridges.

Spokesman John Thorington said the port has used the firm since the 1970s, paying it $86,000 this year. Among other things, Alcalde makes budget requests for dredging and security equipment.

More than 30 other Florida cities, towns or counties used the firm in 2007, according to opensecrets.org, the Web site of the Center for Responsive Politics. Iseman does work for the city of Miami, a spokeswoman for the city confirmed.

Past clients have included the city of Tampa, the University of South Florida and Teco Energy.

A New York Times story said that aides to McCain worried that he was too close to Iseman and that one, John Weaver, said he met with Iseman and urged her to back off.

The story said Iseman and McCain returned from a February 1999 Miami fundraiser in a corporate jet owned by West-Palm Beach-based Paxson Communications, an Iseman client now called Ion Media Networks. The company was founded by Lowell Paxson, who also was a co-founder of St. Petersburg-based Home Shopping Network.

McCain has condemned the story, and Alcalde & Fay issued a statement defending the 18-year employee and calling the story "completely and utterly false."

Times staff writer Steve Huettel and researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387.