Six Candidates Jump Into Bay Area Special Election
Six candidates ranging from well known local activists to up-and-coming lawyers are vying to fill the seat of state Rep. Mike Scionti, who is vacating his west Tampa seat to work for the Obama administration.
The seat opened up in late September when President Barack Obama appointed Scionti, an army reservist who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, to be a deputy assistant secretary of defense. The district stretches across west Tampa and neighboring communities like Northeast MacFarlane, Riverside Heights, Seminole Heights and Wellswood.
The seat quickly drew six candidates, two Republicans and four Democrats, including well known Tampa-area activist Janet Cruz and Hillsborough County Democratic Chairwoman Patricia Kemp.
The two women are the best known of the six candidates and especially of the four Democrats in the race. The other two Democrats are Tampa lawyer Gil Sanchez and write-in candidate Jose Vazquez, whose name won't appear on the ballot. Accountant and Tampa Latin Chamber President Jackie Rojas-Quinones and Tampa attorney Hunter Chamberlin are running on the Republican side.
An issue facing the candidates right now is a crushed time period that makes it difficult for the lesser known candidates to get their name out to the voters and for the better known ones to let people know they're actually running. The primary for the race is set for Jan. 26 and the general election is set for Feb. 23.
“It's just been insane,” Kemp said. “I've been spending as much time as I can contacting everybody.”
The district is largely Democratic, with Obama, U.S Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink winning the area by large margins in their last elections, and it's considered likely stay in Democratic hands.
Rojas-Quinones and Chamberlin downplayed the district's Democrat leanings.
“Political labels of Republican and Democrat mean a lot less today than five,10 years ago,” Chamberlin said.
Rojas-Quinones said she is hoping that her business ties give her a leg up on the competition. The Tampa accountant owns her own firm, which she said does the books for many of the businesses in the district. And the district's Democratic history is only pushing her more, she said.
“To me when I hear that [that the area leans Democrat], it almost encourages me more and gives me that feeling that I've got to try harder,” she said.
But Cruz and Kemp, with clear ties to the local Democratic party, likely have an advantage over the Republicans and their other primary opponent Gil Sanchez.
Cruz has also gone by the last name of Rifkin since getting married six years ago. But she said she is known throughout the district as Cruz and so she opted to use that name on the ballot.
Kemp has brought in $12,595 according to the latest campaign finance records and Cruz said she has raised about $30,000. Both women have worked in the district for years in grassroots organizing and in local and state party politics.
Also, both want to focus on issues like jobs and schools.
“My kids go to school in these districts which are not the best funded schools,” Kemp said.
And Cruz said she knows how to relate to families who have lost their jobs and have had to struggle to make ends meet. She grew up as the child of parents who worked in the Tampa cigar factories.
“I'm one of those poor kids,” she said. “I came from nothing.”
Sanchez, a Tampa lawyer who practices mainly business law, said he has been interested in running for office, and when Scionti's seat opened, he jumped at the opportunity. He had to take time off from the campaign trail though because he recently got married and left for several days for his honeymoon. He returned Wednesday and said he is now focusing his time on meeting the voters of the district.
The sixth candidate, Vazquez, is a Democrat who is running as a write-in candidate and said his main issue is to cut costs within the correctional system.