Ask the Locals: Kevin Beckner, Hillsborough trailblazer


  • Photo by Heidi Kurpiela

Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner is in his sixth year in office. A financial planner and former police officer from Michigan City, Indiana, the 43-year-old Democrat famously ousted Republican incumbent (and former pro wrestler) Brian Blair in 2008.

The upset was historic for two reasons: Sitting county commissioners rarely get unseated by first-time candidates and Beckner, a relative unknown until his run for office, did it as an openly gay man.

Now in his second term, the commissioner has made good on his promise to champion fiscal responsibility, sustainable growth, government transparency and LGBT equality. In 2013, at Beckner’s urging, the seven-member Board of County Commissioners repealed an 8-year policy banning the promotion of gay pride events in Hillsborough County. (Former Commissioner Ronda Storms, a religious conservative, introduced the policy in 2005.)

Beckner moved to Tampa in 1998 after spending several years working as a financial planner outside of Chicago. He currently serves as chair of the Hillsborough County Community Violence Prevention Collaborative and the Juvenile Justice Task Force, which he created to help provide outreach to at-risk youth and families. He sits on the Environmental Protection Commission, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, the Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Public Safety Coordinating Council, among others.

He lives in Citrus Park with his husband, Hillsborough County Sgt. Gil Sainz. The couple has been together for 15 years and married for nine years.

Favorite Sunday excursion: Wat Mongkolratanaram Thai Temple. “They have quality Thai food at a reasonable price and the outdoor atmosphere makes for a perfect place for a couple or family to get away. More and more people are finding out about the place, so it seems you have to get there earlier and earlier before they run out of food.”

Favorite Asian staple: Yummy House. “Their combination of chicken and broccoli is one of my favorites. The fresh rolls with peanut sauce and a big bowl of wonton soup absolutely hit the spot.”

Favorite guilt-free eating: Seasons 52. “All of their dishes are supposed to be under 500 calories and the menu constantly changes to reflect what’s in season. My favorite is the garlic chicken flatbread. If you’re a fish eater, the plank-roasted salmon is incredible.”

Favorite place to meet for drinks: The rooftop bar at the Epicurean Hotel. “It’s a little more upscale with a fantastic view looking out over the city. There are lounge chairs where you can sit and have intimate conversations with friends or a significant other.”

Favorite little-known obsession: Busch Gardens. “My spouse and I are big theme park people. We have annual passes to Busch Gardens. We’re so bummed they postponed the opening of Falcon’s Fury. I’ve heard it takes you up a tower, turns you at a 90-degree angle and drops you face first to the ground.”

Favorite seafood spot: Guppy’s on Indian Rocks Beach. “It’s a laid-back beachy joint. They have one of the best grouper sandwiches I’ve ever had ––next to Frenchy’s, of course.”

Favorite place to Zen out: Lettuce Lake Park. “It’s one of the area’s hidden treasures. It’s right on the river. It’s a beautiful place to get away and think. You’ll find artists working along the nature trail or people just sitting on a bench taking in a book.”

Favorite local celebration: St. Pete Pride Parade. “It’s one of the largest pride parades in the state and the country. I love it for the simple fact that it’s a gathering of eclectic people taking pride in who they are.”

Favorite meat market: Land & Sea Market. “You can get everything from whole lobsters to fresh grouper. I go to the one off Gunn Highway because they seem to have a greater variety of fresh seafood. I get salmon and mahi-mahi.”

Favorite date night destination: The Redbox kiosk. “My spouse and I both work in the public sector, so on Friday and Saturday nights we’re homebodies. We get the greatest enjoyment out of getting a movie and staying in. I can list all the locations of the Redboxes in Tampa.”

Favorite performance venue: Straz Center. “We love going to the Straz for their Broadway series. We go to the matinees on Saturday afternoons, so we can grab dinner afterward and not get home at midnight.”

Favorite suit makers: Tom James of Tampa. “They come to your office or home to measure you. Everything they make is custom-tailored to fit your body.”

Favorite break from the norm: Drag Queen Bingo at Hamburger Mary’s. “It’s absolutely hysterical and the hamburgers are pretty decent too.”

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