Pharmacist, USF alumnus square off for City Council

A former radio activist is making a comeback to expose, reinvent and rejuvenate Tampa’s City Hall.

Kelly Benjamin, who is running for the District 2 seat in the Tampa City Council in today’s election, said he wants to focus on creating a more inclusive decision-making process in Tampa City Hall.

“I’m interested in creating safer neighborhoods, improving the conditions of public housing and bringing better public transportation in Tampa into the 21st century,” Benjamin, a USF alumnus, said.

Benjamin, a 27-year-old Tampa native, said he believes there have been several issues, such as transportation, that have been neglected in City Hall for some time.

Benjamin first became involved in politics at an alternative radio station. Known as Kelly “Kombat,” he talked about issues affecting the community. The Federal Communications Commission banned his broadcast under a law that no longer exists for operating a low-powered radio station from his home.

Benjamin is not the only candidate running today for the seat on the council. His opponent, Rose Ferlita, is an award-winning pharmacist who has been a city councilwoman for the past four years.

Ferlita said her most passionate platform is neighborhood improvement.

“I think if we clean out neighborhoods, crime lessens and people would have quality of life that they deserve,” Ferlita said.

Benjamin, who has recently been endorsed by the Sierra Club as well as the Hillsborough Green Party, said he agrees with that party’s 10 key values, though he said he is only ideologically aligned with the organization. Some of those principles include social justice, community-based economics, environmental issues, feminism and respect for diversity.

However, Ferlita, the 57-year-old Ybor City native, has been endorsed by the Firefighters and Police Associations for her efforts to create more funding for them with projects such as the $12 stormwater tax.

Another issue Benjamin plans to tackle is a more affordable and environmentally progressive rail system. This plan is an important issue, but it can’t solely be funded by the city of Tampa because of the current economy, he says.

“We’ve put taxpayers’ money into citizen-funded private football stadiums,” Benjamin said. “And we also put taxpayers’ money into developing places, like Channelside and Centro Ybor, things that I don’t really think benefit the vast majority of people who live here in Tampa.”

If elected as city councilman, one of Benjamin’s goals is to relocate the funding for projects such as the transportation system.

According to Benjamin, the funding for public transportation in the federal budget is about $41 billion.

Benjamin said, “including funding for urban development, (the transportation system) would cost about $176 billion.”

“I would like to see destination points within Tampa’s neighborhoods to create more of an infrastructure in the downtown area and in the inner city and to provide more transportation,” Benjamin said.

However, Ferlita said urban sprawl is a problem right now because it raises transportation issues.

“We have to continue helping transportation, encouraging mass transit. We’re looking at the high-speed rail and in the light rail, and those type of things would alleviate some of the congestion on the highways,” Ferlita said.

When it comes to urban redevelopment, both candidates have the same goals but different ways to accomplish them.

“I have opened a small business in the urban core. We need to have businesses in that sector. We need to have people living close to those small businesses so we can redevelop,” Ferlita said.

Benjamin said he would like to see a more progressive and logical approach to urban redevelopment.

“(I want an approach) that focuses on small business growth in the inner city, one that possibly offers incentives and a small business enterprise program that would make it easier for people who live here to have entrepreneurial opportunities and not to be displaced,” he said.