Activist Aaron Darr to run for Largo City Commission

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Aaron Darr says that Largo is one of the most underdeveloped and underserved cities in all of Pinellas County, but has tremendous potential. That’s one of the reasons why this Ohio native by way of New York City millennial says he wants to serve on its City Commission. He’ll officially declare his candidacy next month for the seat 3 position currently held by incumbent Curtis Holmes.

“I’ve always been a problem solver. I like solving problems,” says the 24-year-old Darr,  who initially flirted with running for the Legislature before opting to run for local office. “I’ve thought about this since December of last year, going to City Commission meetings every month, reading up on the city, looking at budgets and looking at what we have done, what we could do, and what we should be doing.”

Darr describes himself as socially progressive but fiscally conservative, and says he sees a lot of wasteful spending with the current commission.

In speaking to voters throughout the city, the primary issue that he hears about is a clamor to raise the minimum wage, something that he wouldn’t be able to accomplish as a local legislator (there is a proposal in the Legislature next year to raise the minimum wage to $15). But he says it reflects the landscape in the city.

“Overwhelmingly people have said to me, including Republicans, that we need to raise the minimum wage to more of a living wage here in the city of Largo,” he says, adding that “there’s so many people living paycheck to paycheck, who are having to choose between paying their rent and groceries and utilities bill with Duke Energy.”

Before we get deeper into the issues though, it should be noted that Darr is not your run-of-the-mill candidate. He’s not only gay, but also contracted HIV in 2008, while in high school. But he is not remotely shy about talking about it. In fact, he appeared in front of thousands of people at an HIV/AIDS conference in Amsterdam where he discussed his status.

“I talked about the importance of people from all walks of life,” he recounts. “Gay, straight, male, female, young and old, who are living with HIV/AIDS or who have lost somebody to HIV/AIDS, to step up and be a voice in their communities and their leadership within government.”

Darr says he simultaneously informed his friends and family in Florida about his HIV status.

“I came out early on, because if I did not, then others will tell your story for you,” he says, emphasizing that he didn’t want to be described “as some kind of dying AIDS patient, because that is the last thing that I ever will be.”

Darr says it’s all about educating people about a disease that is still infecting on average about 50,000 people annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). He says he was disturbed to learn recently from a Centers for Disease Control report that the Sunshine State leads the nation in teenagers diagnosed with HIV.

“I take a pill once a day, it’s just like taking a vitamin in the morning, and I’m good to go.”

Sally Phillips, president of the Florida LGBT Democratic Caucus, says she’s encouraged anytime a young person wants to run for elected office.

As a young gay man living with HIV/AIDS, Aaron has spoken very candidly about this issue and specifically his story,” she wrote to Florida Politics in an email. “I applaud him for that. With Florida ranking #2 in the nation in the number of pediatric AIDS cases and # 3 in the nation in newly diagnosed HIV infections, Aaron’s advocacy and high profile could bring attention to the epidemic, which, in turn, could save lives – and that’s very positive!”

Although only 24, Darr has a lot of high-level political experience. At 16, he left Ohio to get involved in the Hillary Clinton 2008 presidential campaign. At 18, he enrolled in college at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City, and simultaneously began working in the human resources department of the Clinton Foundation, where one of his colleagues was Chelsea Clinton.

Darr also says he was very familiar with Florida before moving here a few years ago, visiting family members in Largo and Hudson in Pasco County. Last year he began working with Ready for Hillary, the super PAC formed in advance of Clinton’s presidential candidacy that held public fundraising events and collected potential voters contact information a full year out before she officially declared her candidacy.

While still in New York City, Darr worked on former Brooklyn area U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner’s ill-fated run for mayor in 2013. Weiner had resigned from Congress in 2011 after his online risqué behavior with multiple women while married went public, but appeared to still have a chance of succeeding Michael Bloomberg as mayor two years later. Then it was revealed that he had continued to exchange lewd messages with other women over into 2013, and he ended up finishing fifth in the Democratic primary.

“Anthony is really an intelligent, brilliant man who lacks judgment at times, and I say that because as someone who respects him,” Darr says. “One reason I decided to continue to keep supporting him was that one day I probably will feel a call for public service and helping people.”

Unfortunately, Darr has a little of a Weiner-like problem. After he began working for the Waiting for Hillary in 2014, he received an email from an ex-boyfriend whose relationship with Darr ended poorly. The email contained a link to some extremely personal photos of Darr. He ultimately sued Yahoo to get the IP address of the email sender.

“It’s revenge porn,” he says. “It’s not right and it’s not fair and I take responsibility for the fact that I made a mistake in sending an ex-boyfriend pictures when I was with him.” Darr says he wants to be open and transparent with voters, because he says that’s what they deserve and appreciate.

He’ll officially file papers that he’s running for the Largo City Commission on September 1.

 

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.