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Transit activist Brian Willis files to run for Hillsborough County Commission

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Tampa-based attorney Brian Willis has made it official — he’s now running for the Democratic nomination for Hillsborough County commissioner in the countywide District 6 seat being vacated by a term limited Kevin Beckner in 2016.

“I have always been dedicated to making Hillsborough a better place to live, ” Willis said in a statement early Monday afternoon. “Turning talk into action on transportation will be a key part of my campaign, but transportation is just one piece of the puzzle. I want new ideas and action on vital issues like supporting the first responders that keep our community safe, and keeping Hillsborough special by protecting our diverse neighborhoods, rural lands, and beautiful waterways.”

The 31-year-old Willis has been a community-minded activist for years now, but he’s been most prominent in arguing for transit options like light-rail in Hillsborough County. Along with a few other friends, Willis was one of the co-founders of Connect Tampa Bay, which arguably was the fuse that ignited Hillsborough County officials (led by Mark Sharpe) to begin the public conversation about transit options, years after the Moving Hillsborough Forward transit tax went down to a major defeat in 2010.

“It’s going to be fun,” Willis told Florida Politics in a brief interview Monday afternoon.

Willis is the first official candidate to enter the District 6 race, but there will be plenty more to follow.

Pat Kemp, who narrowly lost the countywide District 7 race to Al Higginbotham last fall, has already said that she’s running for the Democratic nomination for the District 6 race, but has yet to file. National Democratic committeeman Alan Clendenin has also said that he is seriously considering running in District 6.

Among the names being floated on the Republican side include former County Commissioners Jim Norman and Ronda Storms. Norman is reportedly all but officially in the race.

“It’s a huge county and that’s why you get in early,” says Willis, who works as an attorney at the downtown Tampa law firm of Shumaker Loop & Kendrick, where he represents clients in real estate and business issues. He says like most people, he’s a working stiff, which means he’ll be meeting and greeting folks over the next year after working hours in the evening and on weekends. “It’s going to be putting miles in the car, shaking hands and being everywhere I possibly can,” he says.

The Carrollwood native has begun his campaign in grand style, with a new website, and this freshly produced two-and-a-half-minute video. Watch below:

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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