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Pat Kemp says she’s the best Democrat in the Hillsborough County Commission District 6 seat

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On Monday, Pat Kemp made official what she has told anyone who asked since last November’s election– she is running again for a Hillsborough County Commission seat in 2016, this time in the District 6 countywide seat being vacated by Kevin Beckner, whose term ends next year.

Florida Politics originally reported she would run back in late February, but Kemp didn’t officially file until Monday.

The difference since then is that it’s no longer theoretical that she’ll have a challenger in the Democratic primary.  That would be Brian Willis, who like Kemp is a transit activist, who announced his candidacy for the seat last week.

“I’m the strongest person to represent the county going forward to represent the Democratic party,” Kemp said on Tuesday when asked about the challenge from Willis.  She says that she’s battle tested, having narrowly lost to Republican Al Higginbotham in the countywide District 7 seat last November, despite the fact that she was outspent by over $250,000. (Our story in February said it was a $70,000 gap.)

Kemp definitely has a lengthy resume: She’s worked in the Florida Legislature with one-term Democratic state Rep. Sara Romeo and in the office of Hillsborough County Commissioner Kathy Castor; was a news director at WUSF radio and talk-show host at WMNF; and has worked on issues like homelessness and the environment with groups like Tampa Crossroads and the Sierra Club.

And like Willis, she’s also an advocate of more transit options for county residents.

“I am much more prepared to work on the County Commission and bring forward the kinds of changes that Hillsborough County needs,” she says.

Asked her thoughts about Willis, she said she’s known him for a number of years, and considers him “a nice guy.” But she wasn’t so complimentary of probably the biggest public project he’s been involved with — Connect Tampa Bay, an advocacy group he helped form in late 2012 that reignited high-level transportation talks in the county.

She says Connect Tampa Bay can’t be compared to the Sierra Club, which awarded her with the Black Bear Award for outstanding service and dedication in 2014.

“They weren’t a membership organization,” she says. “It’s not like the Sierra Club or something like that where you have a strong base. It’s more like a committee.”

Willis appeared taken aback by Kemp’s comments.

“I was surprised that after being in this race for five days, that she would attack me and attack an organization that has worked to help support transportation across the region,” he told Florida Politics later in the day.

Alluding to Guido Maniscalco’s upset victory over Jackie Toledo in the Tampa City Council District 6 race last month, Willis says he believes the voters are turned off by such attacks.

“I’m gonna run a positive campaign,” he says. “We came out of the gate saying we’re going to get things done. That’s what I’m focused on talking about, and my campaign is focused on.”

This will be Kemp’s third time running for elected office. In addition to her loss to Higginbotham at the BOCC last year, she lost to Janet Cruz in a spirited, intense, short-lived Democratic Primary in the winter of 2010 for a House seat vacated by Mike Scionti.

Kemp did defeat Mark Nash in a contested Democratic Party last year for the County Commission District 7 seat, and says that while it does limit resources and fundraising to run against a fellow Democrat, well, that’s just politics.

“It’d be nice if all the time you could go into a clear deal, but, obviously I’ve never have had the opportunity and… never will I guess,” she surmises. “That’s the way things are.”

There could be more competition. DNC and Florida Committeeman Alan Clendenin has said that he was also looking at the District 6 Board of County Commission seat.

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

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