With a little more than two months before the Aug. 30 primary, Seminole Heights small businesswoman and volunteer/activist Kimberly Overman admits that it’s a bit of a “mad dash.”
It’s obvious that the Hillsborough County Commission is in desperate need for leadership, Overman added, and thus her entry into the District 3 race against Democratic incumbent Les Miller.
“I have no lack of respect for Les Miller,” she said in a phone interview last Thursday. “I’m glad he’s served us as he has. I am concerned, however, that it’s going to take a very loud voice to redirect the conversation, and I haven’t seen that. So I recognize that this is going to be the mad dash of the century. I’m not ignorant to that effect. I recognize that it’s going to be very difficult to take on a very well respected legislator in our community, but I do believe that District 3 hasn’t had a really loud voice for it, and I think it’s time that we have to have that.”
Overman talks a lot about transportation, an issue that all the candidates running for county commission this year are focusing on this year. She’s focused on getting more buses to run in the county, while acknowledging that it’s going to take some “serious capital investment” to pay for that. “It’s going to be a real tough thing to do, but it matters if we want to be a competitive city,” she argues.
Critics of the Go Hillsborough plan (or plans) said that it wasn’t necessary for the county to put a referendum on the ballot, which in fact there is money in the existing budget to pay for the most immediate transportation needs of the county. When asked if she agreed, Overman said, “I don’t know that the money’s not there. I’m sure it’s not being allocated in the right way, but that’s going to take an awful lot of commitment from the board to make that happen.”
The 57-year-old Washington D.C. native has volunteered in local government positions for years. She served as a member of the 2011-2016 City of Tampa Citizen Advisory Council, and in the early 90’s, she was the Chairman of the Hillsborough County Housing Finance Authority.
Overman said she originally was content to wait to run for a Tampa City Council seat in 2019, but said that now that she lives in Guido Maniscalco’s district, she wouldn’t want to oppose him in three years. The County Commission does appeal to her, though, as she says that she’s simply not seeing the leadership required for the community to be an economic powerhouse. She says that there are three things that any community needs to thrive — education, transportation and economic development. She says the community is on the cusp of that right now, but worries it won’t be for long.
“We are not going to be able to attract the folks that (Jeff) Vinik is speaking to on CNBC when he tells everyone how awesome Tampa is, and how he’s fallen in love with it?” she says. “That’s terrific, but…we lose out on employers that are looking at our area because they are asking that question: What’s the level of education? What are your transportation opportunities?”
Miller says that he will take Overman seriously as an opponent. “I can’t afford not to take her seriously,” he says. But he’s proud of what he’s accomplished in his six years in office, following his tenure in Tallahassee representing East Tampa and other parts of the Hillsborough County in the Legislature.
“I think I’ve represented my constituents extremely well since 2010,” he says, referring to how he didn’t even get an opponent when he ran for reelection in 2012. “I’ve tried to meet their needs. My door is always open. I return phone calls. I do whatever I can to hear what they have to say, and represent them on the county commission, so I feel I’ve done a very good job as a county commissioner since 2010, and I hope to do the same thing for the next four years.”
Overman said she’s thrilled that Miller has come out in opposition to the Tampa Bay Express project, the controversial multi-billion-dollar proposal that would add express toll lanes on I-275. The proposal comes back before the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization this Wednesday.
“I did learn that he had received a phone call the night before indicating that someone was going to run against him, but he came out against it. That was great. That showed leadership,” she says.
Miller chuckles upon hearing that anecdote, saying that he had put the Florida Department of Transportation on notice a year ago that unless they stepped up their outreach efforts, he would not support the project going forward. “I made it be known, well in advance before she made her announcement. So I did not make a decision that I was going to vote against after TBX after she made her announcement,” he says.
Overman acknowledges the elephant in the room, so to speak. District 3 was created as a “minority district” under the federal Voting Rights Act, and has a majority of black and Hispanic voters.
“Every advisor or consultant so far has said you’ll never win,” Overman says of conversations she’s had with local political strategists. “You might win because you’re a woman but you’re not a person of color, and that’s going to work against you,” she says she’s been told.
But Overman says that she grew up in a city that’s “99 percent black” in Washington D.C., and doesn’t think it’s an impossible task.
“It’s not that I’m oblivious, and I thought that race wasn’t supposed to be the primary issue I think that it can be, but I don’t think it’s the ultimate decider when you’re looking for somebody to advocate for your community, and I ‘ve been doing that for this community for a long time.”