TAMPA, Florida - After Hillsborough County Commissioners voted 5-2 to invite the Rays to come discuss their future this fall, it appears several commissioners shifted stances from what they said on the campaign trail back in 2010.
Commissioner Victor Crist cast a vote Thursday to meet with the Rays despite saying in 2010 that trying to lure a resource from one Tampa Bay community to another is like "competing against yourself." He also said then that Hillsborough commissioners should strive to help keep the Rays in Pinellas County.
While many have said the Hillsborough discussions are in the best interests of the entire region, there has been no formal invitation yet from county commissioners to any other elected leaders.
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Hillsborough Commissioner Les Miller said in 2010 that he didn't think commissioners needed to even discuss the concept until the Rays demonstrated a huge commitment from the private sector. But he voted "yes" as well on Thursday.
Commissioners Mark Sharpe and Sandy Murman "expressed some ambivalence" before voting with the majority Thursday, even though Sharpe admitted in 2010 that the county's tax dollars were practically all committed elsewhere and the only role for his board was to take a "backseat."
And Murman, who in 2010 said she wanted St. Petersburg to drive the discussion with the Rays, said she is now concerned the decision will create an "adversarial" relationship with Pinellas County.
But Chairman Ken Hagan has remained steadfast in his support for open discussions on a new stadium. In 2010, he campaigned on the issues of a new home for the Rays as well as "future sporting events" in Hillsborough County. Hagan has been a strong advocate of a new regional task force to study the issue, but he hasn't suggested a possible funding source, other than saying public dollars were off the table.
Al Higginbotham and Kevin Beckner were the commission's only dissenting votes Thursday.
The Rays have indicated they'd accept the county's invitation to speak at a fall meeting, which would be followed by an open discussion between multiple mayors and county commissions.
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