Gwen Graham’s Woeful Hillsborough Performance Reflects on Tampa Bay Times

Tampa Bay Times endorsement meant very little to its readers

By JIM BLEYER for Sunshine State News

The Tampa Bay Times once meant something in Hillsborough County despite its sparring with a credible rival in the Tampa Tribune. But that era ended years ago.

Someone forgot to pass that info on to Times publisher Paul Tash and the self-important, ivory-towered Poynter Institute executives who still fantasize their editorial endorsements and biased news coverage cut any ice on the Tampa side of the water.

The financially-strapped Times went all in for former one-term Congresswoman Gwen Graham, publishing slanted articles for months prior to the inevitable editorial endorsement.  Graham’s father, former governor and U. S. Sen. Bob Graham, sits on the Poynter Foundation board and it’s a good bet that the struggling Times was angling for more than exclusive access to the state’s chief executive if Gwen prevailed.

Tuesday’s Waterloo primary flushed that plan. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, whom the Times mercilessly attacked with inane and unfounded innuendo during the campaign, foiled his tormentors by beating Graham and three other hopefuls.

Statewide, Gillum won by 34.4 percent to 31.3 over Graham.  In Hillsborough, the 39-year-old chief executive of Florida’s capital city overwhelmed his legacy opponent, 40 to 34.6.

Those numbers are telling. The Times’ incessant lambasting of Gillum, coupled with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s endorsement of Graham, only proved their impotence after the votes were counted. Buckhorn coveted the lieutenant governor’s slot on a Graham ticket.

The irony: the Democratic base would have deserted a Graham-Buckhorn combo in droves. Gillum has a clear shot at beating the extremely vulnerable Republican nominee Ron DeSantis.

Independent-minded Hillsborough voters proved less an embarrassment for Buckhorn than the Times. The mayor has no illusions that he is despised in the county’s unincorporated areas where he has indirectly referred to residents as rubes and worse.

The ineffectualness of whatever the Times reports/endorses and Buckhorn’s rambling rhetoric has ramifications for two pivotal, imminent local issues:  the November referendum on a 1 percent “transit” tax and next spring’s Tampa mayoral race.

The Times and Buckhorn have been promoting the “Jeff Vinik Tax” for months. Opponents of the regressive and special-interest levy are girding for an explosion of misinformation from mainstream media leading up to the vote in two months.

Term-limited Buckhorn and the newspaper are already in the tank for controversial former police chief Jane Castor in the seven-way mayor’s race.

Tampa’s future direction will be determined over the next eight months and indications are the Times and Buckhorn will have minuscule to no influence.

Jim Bleyer, a former reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and Tampa Tribune, writes the Tampa Bay Beat blog.


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