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Opinion Pieces

Here's what Obama did for Tampa Bay

In addition to his dignity in office, scandal-free years and economic progress for America, President Barack Obama leaves a tangible legacy for our Tampa Bay families and businesses.
By U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, published in the Tampa Bay Times on Jan. 19, 2017.

In addition to his dignity in office, scandal-free years and economic progress for America, President Barack Obama leaves a tangible legacy for our Tampa Bay families and businesses.

You save time on every ride across the Selmon Crosstown Connector, the largest road-building investment in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act and linchpin for the future of Port Tampa Bay and Ybor City businesses. Central Tampa was reborn as the Recovery Act breathed life into the Encore redevelopment downtown. The Recovery Act kept teachers in the classroom during the worst economic recession of our lifetimes and lifted students — from those in Head Start to those who needed a Pell grant to afford college.

The Recovery Act created the types of jobs that helped pull us out of tough economic times. Building more new community health centers than any other region in the nation created construction and medical jobs, and opened access to thousands of more patients. Moffitt Cancer Center received a boost for construction and research that will continue with the recent adoption of the 21st Century Cures Act for the Cancer Moonshot and Brain Initiative. USF researchers and all of us who rely on modern medicine benefit as well. Tampa International Airport and MacDill Air Force Base improved their runways. Our law enforcement agencies received added support at a time when local governments were cutting to the bone. Port Tampa Bay, Tampa, St. Petersburg and Hillsborough County received help for vital infrastructure initiatives. Eight years later, our unemployment rate is well under 5 percent.

The Obama administration was particularly devoted to Florida veterans as they partnered with the private sector to boost employment, care and education, and prevent homelessness. Obama was a vital partner for me as I fought for major improvements at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center, like the polytrauma and spinal cord centers.

My favorite memories of Obama's many visits are his two to MacDill to thank our awesome service members. In 2014, the president said, this 9/11 generation of heroes has done everything asked of you, and met every mission tasked to you. … Because of you, Osama bin Laden is no more ... (and) the United States of America will remain the greatest force for freedom that the world has ever known." And again last month: "We should take great pride in the progress that we've made over the last eight years. … No foreign terrorist organization has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland. And it's not because they didn't try. Plots have been disrupted. Terrorists have been taken off the battlefield. … And all of this progress is due to the service of millions of Americans like you — in intelligence and in law enforcement, in homeland security, in diplomacy, in the armed services of the United States of America."

I understood what it meant for our diverse, hard-working neighbors when President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act and protections for Dream Act students. My most searing memories involve working with families who were at risk of losing their American dream due to the mortgage foreclosure crisis. Through seven foreclosure prevention workshops where I looked into the eyes of so many on the brink, and with the help of the president we helped our neighbors save their homes and rebuild.

The University of Tampa was packed the day Obama and Vice President Joe Biden announced that Florida would be awarded the first major high-speed rail line in America with $1.25 billion for construction jobs and a foundation for long-term business growth. When Gov. Rick Scott turned back the jobs and infrastructure investment, Floridians were left wondering what could have been. Think about that in future years as you sit in I-4 traffic.

Floridians have benefited more from the Affordable Care Act than any other state because so many neighbors depend on Medicare, didn't have insurance offered through their job or had a pre-existing condition. Florida has been the leader in sign-ups in the marketplace every year, with more than 1.7 million signing up for 2017. Most of us who have insurance through our employer now have a better policy with vital consumer protections. Medicare is stronger, the trust fund has been extended by 10 years and our seniors saved millions on their prescription drugs.

We were comforted by Obama's strong, clear voice when our nation faced the unspeakable tragedies of Newtown, Charleston and Orlando. And he was our ringing voice of celebration when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that marriage is a right of all Americans. We helped the president normalize the old Cold War policies with Cuba, and families are better for it.

I will remember a very hot Tampa afternoon the Blake High School maritime academy students dressed in their best suits met the president at Port Tampa Bay and he asked them to put down their phones so they could shake his hand. I will miss the grace and dignity of the First Family and the way the vice president Biden relates to our working neighbors and other Gold Star families. Thank you, Mr. President, from a grateful and patriotic community.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat, represents Florida's congressional District 14, which covers Tampa and parts of Hillsborough County. She wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.