Mary Mulhern announced today that she will be soon filing to run for the Florida Congressional District 13 in Pinellas County currently being occupied by Republican incumbent David Jolly.
The 56-year-old former Tampa City Councilwoman floated the idea just 11 days ago that she was contemplating a possible run for the seat, which was held for over 42 years by C.W. Bill Young until his death in late 2013. She said at the time that she had been meeting in recent weeks with many Democratic Party members in Pinellas County, including those who might be considering a run for office — such as St. Petersburg City Councilwoman Darden Rice, who told SaintPetersBlog and the Tampa Tribune Monday night that she was now contemplating a candidacy herself.
Mulhern expressed surprise about Rice’s announcement today. Rice left her a message Monday night to give her a heads up that she was now contemplating her own candidacy, but the two did not speak. However, Mulhern says the two women previously met on June 9.
“I told her that I was looking at running and just wanted to get her advice,” Mulhern said on Tuesday. “I also asked her first off if she had any interest in running and she said no, she was not going to.”
Rice says that when the two did meet for coffee, she was “blindsided” to hear Mulhern discuss the idea of moving from Tampa to St. Petersburg to run for the seat.
“I’ve been pretty much doing my own thing, not paying too much close attention to the numbers in the race,” Rice recounted. “I left the meeting, called around, and got a better picture that the race might be better open than we think it is, and that led me to my process to reevaluate my strengths as a profile as a candidate.”
Rice adds that “it’s well within my purview to change my mind about what I want to do.” She says she’ll make up her final decision to run sometime next month.
One advantage that Rice has over Mulhern is that the St. Petersburg Council member lives in the district. Mulhern resides in South Tampa, but says she will soon be selling her house to move to the district, which encompasses much of Pinellas County, with the exception of the northern part of the county as well as parts of downtown and south St. Petersburg.
“The situation is that it’s not easy to sell and buy a house,” Mulhern admits, but says that’s exactly what her family intends to do. “We’re talking to Realtors, but we haven’t put this house on the market. We wanted to be 100 percent. We’ll definitely be selling this house and buying (in Pinellas County).”
Although Rice told the Tribune that she’s been in contact with Emily’s List, the D.C.-based political action committee that supports pro-choice Democratic women candidates, Mulhern says she too has spoken with the group while in Washington.
Mulhern served on the Tampa City Council from 2007 until this past April, when she was term limited out of office after two four-year terms. Her election victory in ’07 was considered a major upset as she was severely outspent by the then incumbent, Shawn Harrison. She won by a narrow 51-49 percent margin.
It was much different in 2011, where she cruised to a victory in the primary election over two candidates, despite the fact that some thought her outspoken opposition to votes on a panhandling ban against the homeless would hurt her candidacy. If anything, it seemed to strengthen it.
She worked on a number of progressive policies in office, and is in many ways similar to Rice in terms of political philosophy. Mulhern is aware that she could face the same charges of being a “carpetbagger” in running for the seat that dogged Alex Sink during her unsuccessful attempt to win the seat back in the special election of March, 2014. The Democratic Campaign Congressional Committee then plucked another Hillsborough resident, Ed Jany, to be the party’s nominee last fall, but he dropped out shortly after entering the contest.
Rice says the track record isn’t very good when it comes to Hillsborough County Democrats trying to win the seat. “I would sincerely caution anyone to think that moving here from out of the county is a smart choice,” she says.
Meanwhile, word began circulating on Monday night that somehow the only previously declared Democrat in the race, Eric Lynn, might be dropping out of the contest. Lynn’s finance manager, Tom Alte, laughed aloud when asked about this on Tuesday and said that was absolutely not true.
In fact, Lynn is making one of his first public appearances as a candidate tonight, holding a meet and greet with the public at the Veterans of Foreign Wars, 4145 34 St. N. in St. Petersburg at 6:30 p.m.
“I’m not surprised that Democrats are interested in this district because of David Jolly’s failed leadership for Pinellas families,” says Susan McGrath, Pinellas County Democratic Party chair. “Right now, we have one filed Democrat in this race, Eric Lynn. Eric has had extremely strong grassroots and fundraising support, that’s why Democratic club presidents, district leaders and activists all over Pinellas are hosting his Grassroots Kickoff tonight. We are focusing on electing Democrats who represent Pinellas values.”
And what about the GOP incumbent?
David Jolly has not declared for certain that he will be running for re-election for the seat. He has said he will decide sometime in July whether he will try to keep the seat or instead run for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate. So far only one major candidate, Jacksonville Tea Party-backed U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, has officially declared for the seat.