TAMPA – City Council President Joseph Citro had three dreams he didn’t want to give up when he fell into a financial crisis: live on Bayshore Boulevard, own his own business and run for political office.
The price of those dreams was a lawsuit filed by Bank of America to collect about $20,000 in unpaid credit card debt and, eventually, the garnishment of his councilman’s salary.
Although the 2019 lawsuit has been public knowledge since his fourth run for City Council, it came to light recently as his re-election campaign heated up.
He said three separate water leaks occurred at his apartment at 4015 Bayshore Blvd. 2015, forcing him to undertake a major remodel of the 700-square-foot unit to address mold and water damage. It took several years to get an insurance payout of approximately $45,000, which is roughly the cost of the remodeling, he said. He did not return to the unit until late 2018 or 2019.
Meanwhile, he took out credit card debt with Bank of America to pay the $1,000-a-month rent on the house and to maintain Studio B, his hair salon in Midtown.
“Things got tight,” Citro said. “I had to start living off credit cards.”
His financial problems didn’t stop him from launching his fourth bid for city council in late 2017. A month before he was elected, Bank of America filed a debt collection suit in Hillsborough County District Court, saying he defaulted on payments.
From December 2021, he will be paid a councilor’s salary. As of Dec. 30, $11,325 had been withheld from his council wages, city records show. His December 30 paycheck had $408 withheld, including a $2 processing fee.
Citro said he has about $5,000 left to pay off.
Citro said he made a conscious decision not to pay his credit card debt or declare bankruptcy. Had he done so, he said, he would have jeopardized his job, his apartment repairs and his political ambitions.
The coronavirus pandemic, which closed his salon for two months, only made his troubles worse. And his attempts to create some kind of debt repayment plan failed, he said.
“I could have gone and filed for bankruptcy. That’s not me,” Citro said in an interview on Tuesday.
Citro said he spent “several thousand” on his 2019 campaign and is unapologetic about it. Campaign finance records show he gave $1,000 to his campaign.
“I had to follow my dream,” he said.
His financial difficulties surfaced earlier this week in a Creative Loafing story.
Citro said he doesn’t think the news will hurt his chances for a second term in the city’s District 1 seat. He faces three challengers so far: Sonja Brookins, Alan Clendenin and Chase Harrison.
“The public has seen my file. The public knows what kind of person I am. The public knows how much effort it took to get here. And the hard work I will continue to do for the citizens of Tampa,” he said.
Citro (64) said that he takes responsibility for his decisions.
“I don’t blame anything or anyone,” he said. “This was just bad luck after bad luck. It was just a series of events.”