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Ferlita draws fire from primary foe

In a five way race, one candidate zeroes in on the City Council member, questioning her Republican credentials.

By JANET ZINK, Times Staff Writer
Published July 26, 2006

TAMPA - Brad Swanson has three opponents in the Republican primary for Hillsborough County Commission, but he's coming out swinging at one: City Council member Rose Ferlita.

In at least three mailings this month, Swanson took shots at Ferlita's Republican credentials, claiming she supports higher taxes, defends gay issues and gets money from Democrats.

"Our party is littered with these liberals," one flier says. "It's time to put a stop to it - and we can start with our local races."

Ferlita, a council member since 1999, on Tuesday defended her commitment to Republican values.

"I am not a liberal cloaked as a Republican. I am a Republican because I want to be one," she said.

Ferlita said her record shows she has been very conservative on new taxes and higher fees. Most recently, she supported rolling back Tampa's property taxes.

In 2003, she voted against a stormwater fee, and in 2005 she voted against increasing the fee. In 2004, she voted against a business tax increase, and last year, she voted against raising utility rates. The measures passed, anyway.

"My philosophy is this: My obligation to the people I represent citywide is to look at every alternative instead of increasing taxes or fees," she said. "Local government should spend money on the important things instead of the pretty things."

If government is run efficiently, there should be money enough to pay for necessities without raising taxes, she said.

But Swanson said that by voting to approve the city budget each year, Ferlita is endorsing tax increases approved by other council members and the city administration.

"She certainly didn't vote for it to stop," he said. "Under her tenure as a city councilwoman she stood by."

The increases, he said, do "not bode well for her being a fiscal conservative."

A Swanson mailer sent July 13 says the local gay community has endorsed Ferlita. In an interview, Swanson said he's referring to a Brandon Pride Web site. The organization's president, Mark Ferguson, lists candidates who would get his vote. Ferlita is the only Republican among them.

"She repeatedly votes in favor of the gay agenda," Swanson said. "It is her responsibility to explain to the voters why at every turn she pushes the gay agenda and every vote opportunity she supports it."

Swanson said Ferlita voted in support of domestic partner benefits for city employees. The benefits were actually created by an executive order from Mayor Pam Iorio.

Ferlita did publicly criticize the Hillsborough County Commission last year when the board passed a resolution banning county government from acknowledging or supporting gay pride events.

"I am not going to discriminate against anybody," said Ferlita, who is Hispanic. She said she remembers growing up in Tampa and seeing signs on a Tampa beach that warned "no dogs, no Latins."

"When you know about discrimination firsthand, you go out of your way not to discriminate against anyone else," she said. "I am not protecting the gay community. All I am saying is that everyone in the city of Tampa has rights, whether we agree with their position or not."

Contributions to her campaign from Democrats, she said, are a sign that she has fairly represented all Tampa residents.

Swanson's mailers tout his endorsement by George Sucarichi, a Hillsborough County fire rescue captain who was chided in 2000 for being paid for shifts covered by other firefighters.

Ferlita has been endorsed by Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee, State Attorney Mark Ober and Tampa firefighters.

Despite Swanson's attacks, Ferlita said she won't jab back.

"We are going to win this on issues, and we are going to win it on integrity," she said.

Swanson and Ferlita will face Gary Santti and Don Kruse in the September primary.

Janet Zink can be reached at 813 226-3401 or [email protected].

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