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Mary Mulhern ‘investigating’ a run for Pinellas County CD 13 seat

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Former Tampa City Council member Mary Mulhern says she is “investigating” running for political office in 2016, and that includes the possibility of moving to Pinellas County this summer to compete for the CD 13 congressional seat currently held by Republican David Jolly.

“I’ve been crunching numbers for months, and networking, and talking to people at all levels of government in Pinellas County, and here (in Hillsborough County), so it’s a definite possibility,” Mulhern told Florida Politics on Thursday night. “But I haven’t decided, and we will move over there right away if I decide to run,” she added, referring to the fact that she currently lives in South Tampa and not in the congressional district, which encompasses most of Pinellas County, with the exception of parts of Northern Pinellas as well as downtown and South St. Petersburg.

For some Pinellas Democrats, it could be a case of deja vu all over again.

When the CD 13 seat became open in the fall of 2013 after the death of longtime U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chose former CFO and gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink to become the Democratic nominee, despite the fact that she had never lived in Pinellas County (while big-footing 2012 nominee Jessica Ehrlich in the process).  And a year ago, the DCCC opted for another Hillsborough County resident, retired Marine Col. Ed Jany,  to be its nominee. Jany ultimately dropped out of the race, allowing Jolly to run without Democratic opposition in 2014.

There is already one declared Democrat in the race to challenge Jolly next year — 36-year-old former Obama Defense Department official Eric Lynn, who has lived mostly outside of the district since graduating from St. Petersburg High before moving back last fall. He declared his candidacy in April, though he has stayed under the radar working on fundraising since he announced.

Meanwhile, there is still some question about whether Jolly himself will be the GOP incumbent in 2016. The 42-year-old Indian Rocks Beach resident is considering a run for the Republican nomination for Senate next year. He has said he will make a decision regarding his future in the next month.

When asked about her own lack of bona fides about living in Pinellas County, Mulhern, a native of Chicago who moved to Tampa in 1998 after meeting her husband, advertising director Cam Dilly, on an airplane flight, said she has always wanted to live near the Pinellas beaches.

“It’s really a move that we’ve been planning to do,” the 56-year-old mother of two says. “We were waiting for Miles (her younger son) to be done with school in Hillsborough public schools. He’s going to be a sophomore next year. I’ve been wanting to move there since I moved here. I never understood why Cam didn’t live by the water, so you know, we’ve been pretty much planning on it, and we almost downsized in Hillsborough last year. We went as far as putting our house on the market, but then we decided that it was foolish to do that when we were going to move in a few years anyway.”

Mulhern acknowledges that her lack of roots in the district will be a “big talking point,” if she were to get into the contest, but says that she has spoken with “many” Pinellas Democrats who might be candidates, “and nobody wants to run.”

But Eric Lynn is running, and on Friday morning his campaign adviser, Nick Janovsky, fired back.

“Pinellas County deserves someone from Pinellas County,” he said. “We cannot afford people to come from outside the region and make a run, and try to be in touch with the values of Pinellas County, and that can truly sit there and say they understand the issues we care about, without living here and working here.”

Mulhern served on the Tampa City Council from 2007 to just a few months ago, when she was term-limited after eight years. In 2013 she filed to run for the countywide Hillsborough County Commission seat that was being vacated last fall by Mark Sharpe, but announced in early 2014 that she was dropping out of that race, attributing her withdrawal to symptoms involved with her multiple sclerosis, an ailment she has suffered from for years (though she recently told this reporter in an interview on WMNF radio that it’s not a major problem for her).

She has said even before her departure from the Council in April that she has been looking for other opportunities for office, but said last night that the fact that 2016 was a presidential election year when Democrats are expected to come out in big numbers is something that is inspiring her to find a place to run now.

Although she says she has reached out to Democratic women who might be potential candidates, Jessica Ehrlich told Florida Politics that she and Mulhern have only played phone tag. “I really can’t comment other than to say she has called me to talk about it and she seems to be exploring it!” Ehrlich wrote in an email.

Mulhern also hasn’t spoken with Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, a rumored Democratic candidate for the seat in both the 2014 special election and last fall. The usually voluable Long initially said she didn’t want to comment, saying she has her own race for re-election to the County Commission in 2016 to concentrate on. But she did seem to imply that she doesn’t appreciate those who don’t call Pinellas home at the moment to run for such a major seat.

“I do live here, and I’ve lived here since 1972, and I built a home here, and a life, and I’m invested in my community and I brought up my children up here and so, yeah, I think District 13 seems to attract candidates that come from far away and then set up roots and then run for Congress,” she said.

Long says she considers Eric Lynn a “formidable candidate,” but hasn’t endorsed anyone in the race yet.

Janovsky was Alex Sink’s political director for her campaign for CD13 in 2013-2014.  “If Alex can’t pull this race off, what’s to say that someone like Mary Mulhern can?” he asks, adding, “There are a good number of candidates looking at the seat, and we need real leadership that’s going to try to solve problems for Pinellas County, not someone who is try(ing) to elevate their political careers.”

Mulhern cautions that she’s still in the research and exploratory mode, and says she may ultimately decide not to pull the trigger. But it seems like even the possibility of her candidacy has ignited some passions in Pinellas County.

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.

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