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Rays Stadium Saga: where Hillsborough commission candidates stand

12:32 PM, Oct 29, 2012   |    comments
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TAMPA, Fla. -- With the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) ready to sit down with the Tampa Bay Rays to discuss their future in the Tampa Bay area, Nov. 6 could prove instrumental in which elected officials decide the team's fate.

Two years ago, 10 News profiled campaigning commissioners' stances on the Stadium Saga, including now-chairman Ken Hagan's push for a new stadium.

TIMELINE: 10 News coverage of the Rays Stadium Saga
BLOG:
Noah Pransky's Shadow of the Stadium

Hagan has kept his promise of playing a pivotal role in the stadium discussions, but doesn't have to run for re-election this fall.  However, 10 News caught up with the candidates who are campaigning for the Hillsborough BOCC and asked their thoughts on the Rays' future:

District 1
Sandy Murman (R) - Unopposed for re-election, Murman told 10 News she is comfortable following Hagan's lead and sitting down with the Rays to discuss their future (but not specific stadium locations).  In 2010, she had indicated she wanted St. Pete and the Rays to drive the debate. 

"My genuine hope," Murman said, "is that the Rays and the City of St. Petersburg find a mutually agreeable approach, one that is both pragmatic and serves to keep the team in the Tampa Bay region.

"The leaders in both communities (should) realize the importance of keeping the Rays in the area and hope they will work together toward that goal and not burden our citizens who will be the potential users with posturing and verbal warfare."

Murman said in 2010 she opposed any Hillsborough County general revenue dollars going toward baseball, but was open to tourist tax commitments.  In 2012, she repeated, "I will not support any increase in taxes to underwrite a new stadium."

Murman added, though, "If we can be creative and leverage existing revenues and/or existing, planned improvements in the area around a new stadium site (i.e. infrastructure), I am open to learning and hearing more about those strategies."

District 2
Victor Crist (R) - Unopposed in the general election after defeating a conservative opponent in the primary, Crist did not reply to 10 News' questionnaire.

Crist voted in August 2012 to meet with the Rays, despite the threat of a lawsuit from St. Petersburg.  But while campaigning in 2010, he also told 10 News that trying to lure a resource from one Tampa Bay community to another "is like competing against yourself."

However, Crist has also repeatedly pushed for more regional collaboration instead of regional competition.  He proposed studying the possibility of a trade where the Rays could come to Hillsborough County and the port could solve its growth issue by re-locating to Pinellas.

District 3
Les Miller, Jr. (D) - Unopposed for re-election, Miller did not reply to 10 News' questionnaire.  And while he said in 2010 he "cannot - in clear judgement - ask the people of Hillsborough County to pay for a new stadium," he voted in 2012 to invite the Rays to discuss their future.

Still, Miller has seemed uncomfortable with the idea of talking about a Hillsborough stadium.  WMNF-FM quoted Miller as simply bringing up the idea of a taxpayer-funded stadium for the Rays would be "the nail in the coffin" to turn the public against the idea.

District 4
Al Higginbotham (R) -  In August, Commissioner Higginbotham voted against inviting the Rays to speak to Hillsborough County.  He tells 10 News it's important to "work as a region to keep the team in Tampa Bay," and has repeatedly said he didn't think Hillsborough County had the public dollars to build a stadium itself.

"As my past vote reflects," Higginbotham told 10 News in an e-mail, "the county should respect the terms of the current contract."

Mark Nash (D) -  A political consultant and former aide, Nash says Hillsborough County should be on stand-by "should Rays management and the City of St. Petersburg/Pinellas County fail to reach an agreement."

But he also thinks St. Petersburg has turned the issue into a "chess match" and Hillsborough County should be working on its next move to make sure the Rays don't leave the region.

"I believe that the county (Hillsborough) and the City of Tampa should work together to bring a plan forward and that the location in Hillsborough County should be where future transit is planned and where the greatest economic impact for local businesses can be felt," he told 10 News in an e-mail.

Nash acknowledges Hillsborough County doesn't have enough money to pay for its current commitments, let alone a new stadium.  And he opposes raising local taxes unless voters agreed to in a referendum. 

"I would like to see local government not 'give away the farm' on any deal with the Rays.  It would be my hope that some sort of cost sharing arrangement could be made to keep the Rays local, and quite possibly in Hillsborough County."

Joy Green (NPA) - Green has did not respond to 10 News' questionnaire but suggested to the Tampa Tribune she would "shy away from using taxpayer money for a baseball stadium."


District 6 (Countywide)
Kevin Beckner (D)
- Beckner was the second Hillsborough commissioner to vote against meeting with the Rays, citing his concern for the potential cost to Hillsborough County.

"As much as I love the Rays," he told 10 News in an e-mail, "we don't have the details about potential taxpayer obligations or potential job gains, therefore this discussion is still premature. When we know all the facts, this conversation should be open and transparent, be focused on our local economy, and not be made without extensive input from taxpayers."

Beckner was cited in recent reports as saying Hillsborough County could potentially pay for roads & development infrastructure around a new stadium, but did not answer 10 News' questions about preferred revenue streams for the possible expenditures.

Margaret Iuculano (R) - A CEO of a non-profit, Iuculano told 10 News any future discussions of MLB baseball in Hillsborough County should be up to the voters.  She would like to see a county-wide referendum asking voters if "Hillsborough County (should) pursue a new Rays stadium and its subsequent financing." 

Iuculano says all Hillsborough County talks with the team should be put on hold for the time being, pending outcome of the referendum.

Read all of 10 News' coverage of the Rays Stadium Saga

Follow 10 News reporter Noah Pransky on Twitter at www.twitter.com/noahpransky, Facebook at www.facebook.com/noahpransky, or on his Sports Business blog, Shadow of the Stadium.

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