While the efforts at criminal justice reform remain stalled in Washington D.C., the voting public showed up at the polls last year and indicated that they certainly want change at the local level.
In Harris County, Texas (which encompasses Houston), Democrat Kim Ogg defeated Republican Devon Anderson by promising to overhaul drug prosecutions. In Jefferson County, Alabama, Charles Todd Henderson defeated GOP incumbent Brandon Falls in part by campaigning against the “mass incarceration of those with drug addictions and mental illness,” and by revealing that he is “not supportive of the death penalty nor incarcerating our children in adult jails and prisons.”
In Florida’s primary elections last August, voters in Duval and Orange counties ousted their respective incumbent Republican State Attorney’s, and in Hillsborough County last November, Democrat Andrew Warren defeated 16-year GOP incumbent Mark Ober by less than one percentage point.
Warren blasted Ober on the campaign trail, saying he was too focused on conviction rates than in making the community safer, and in running an outdated State Attorney’s office. “We’re like the rotary phone of criminal justice,” Warren said at a debate last September. “We’re in need of an upgrading.”
At the Beck Group building in Tampa Heights on Tuesday night, Warren held a victory party of sorts, nearly two months after his stunning victory.
“I was told I was crazy because I was too young. Hadn’t lived here long enough. The opponent was unbeatable,” Warren recounted to the audience who crowded the building’s third floor.
“But I don’t think I was crazy. I thought I was hopeful. I thought I was hopeful that people would share my vision for criminal justice reform.”
Joined by his two young daughters and later by his wife, Alex, Warren filled in some details of his personal life he hadn’t previously shared with audiences. Working at the Justice Department in Washington, Warren says he learned four years ago that he was likely to be relocated to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Tampa. Like virtually anybody who has moved from a major city to Tampa, he admitted that there was a bit of culture shock at first.
“We were driving down from North Tampa to South Tampa via Dale Mabry, and past a strip mall, and a strip mall, and a strip club, and another strip mall and another strip club,” he said, eliciting laughter from the crowd. “And Alex turned to me in the car and asked, ‘where in the hell are you taking me?’
After promising his wife that they would move back to D.C. if they didn’t acclimate to the community after a year, Warren says by Thanksgiving of 2013, “we realized that we were never leaving.”
Saying that there were too many people to thank for his election victory, Warren then went ahead and praised a few individuals who he said were crucial to his success, including former Hillsborough County DEC Chair Chris Mitchell, as well as transit activist Kevin Thurman and attorney David Singer.
“To be able to knock off a 16-year incumbent who was pretty well liked is nothing short of remarkable,” enthused Democratic strategist Vic DiMaio.
“This was a surprise election,” agreed Cyril Spiro, the independent North Tampa medical professional who lost a bid for the Tampa City Council District 6 race.
Warren was sworn into office earlier in the day. At the same time, approximately a dozen black residents held a demonstration in front of the George E. Edgecomb Courthouse. They weren’t there in protest, however, but instead came out to celebrate his victory, believing his campaign rhetoric that he will enact serious reforms in the office.
“We want equality for everyone,” said Yvette Lewis with the Hillsborough County NAACP at the rally. “We reached out to the other state attorney and didn’t get anywhere, so now we have a new person in, and we’re letting him know the community voted him in.”