The Washington Insider With That “Other” Issue

Most pundits would accord Hillsborough County Commissioner Kathy Castor the early front-runner status in the District 11 congressional race to replace Jim Davis. Among the other Democratic candidates are state Senator Les Miller, child welfare advocate Scott Farrell and attorney Michael Steinberg.

And then there is Al Fox, the wildest of Democratic cards.

“I haven’t raised one penny yet,” acknowledges Fox. “No one knows what kind of candidate I will be. Including me.”

But he’s definitely in, says Fox, and he’ll make that official when he files papers after the 4th of July. Prior to that, he will have closed on a home in Tampa. He expects to begin fund-raising next month.

The 61-year-old is a long-time Washington insider who has worked as a congressional staffer, legislative assistant and lobbyist. He also owns Access Management Inc, a firm specializing in outsourcing of information systems and financial recruiting.

But Fox is best known – and vilified in some quarters — for his outspoken views advocating closer ties with Cuba. He’s the founder and president of the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation.

“I’m not a one-issue candidate,” says Fox, an Ybor City native whose mother was born in Cuba. “There are a number of priorities – the environment, our veterans, immigration, affordable health care, social security. I think the only difference between myself and the other candidates will be on Cuba. They will need an orientation on the subject; I could teach it. But I don’t intend to raise the Cuban issue unless they do with me.”

However it happens, count on Cuba being raised. Fox calls it “the one issue that nobody else has.”

That’s because Fox is defined by neither of the standard positions: that of the ideological hard liners or the pragmatists-playing-it-safe crowd. The latter find humanitarian fault with the Bush Administration’s screw tightening on Cuban family visitations and remittances but are still supportive of the long-running economic embargo, per se.

“Where’s the logic in saying that it’s inhumane to support a policy that limits family visits to once every three years,” asks Fox, “but it’s not inhumane to limit it to once a year? That’s still wrong.

“The embargo is a relic of the Cold War,” points out Fox. “It costs us buckets of money. The day the embargo is lifted, the port of Tampa gets $200 million. My position is what’s best for America. Not what’s best for Cuba – what’s best for America. And I have a lot of support for this position — in Tampa and Miami – by people who just can’t (publicly) say so.”

Moreover, adds Fox, the Cuban government actually wants to help America on terrorism and drug interdiction. And how does he know that?

He’s been to Cuba dozens of times, typically with government officials and businessmen in tow. Audiences with Fidel Castro often result, where such subjects have been broached, explains Fox.

The most recent Fox foray to Havana – in the company of retired Marine Lt. General Michael DeLong, former deputy to Gen. Tommy Franks — was three weeks ago. Fox said he was taken aback by the obvious level of Chinese involvement on the island. He again spent time with Castro.

“Despite what you might hear, he’s in excellent health,” reports Fox. “He wants to have friendly relations with us. He doesn’t want to die without knowing the final chapter of the story.

“I support sitting down with the Cuban government as it is,” states Fox. “It’s a sovereign country, and we don’t have to like it. For that matter, I don’t like North Korea or Saudi Arabia.

“There are people waiting for someone to step out on this issue.”

But, of course, someone will have to raise it first.

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