Ken Hagan has built a formidable war chest as he attempts to parlay name recognition and extensive local government experience into staying on the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners for another term this year.
Challenger Angela Birdsong, however, is not deterred.
“He has amassed a lot of power and money and friends, but I think that things are changing. People want to hear a fresh voice, they want a fresh perspective,” the 57-year-old Democrat said Wednesday afternoon to a reporter at a South Tampa coffee shop.
Birdsong is calling her candidacy “We The People” to broadcast that she’s for “the average guy to come out, stand up and be counted.”
A native of Queens, New York, Birdsong is the child of immigrants. Her father was a police officer from Barbados, her mother from Guyana. She’s lived in the Carrollwood area for 28 years.
Birdsong hired the Democratic Blue Ticket Consulting firm to help her fundraise, but she doesn’t expect to come close to the prodigious numbers that Hagan has been bringing in as he attempts to switch seats.
Now in his 16th year on the board, Hagan raised over $459,000 in his bid to win the northern Hillsborough District 2 seat, which he previously held from 2002-2010, before serving the countywide District 5 seat the past eight years.
Birdsong said that those gaudy fundraising numbers are intended as a “scare tactic” to clear the field for Hagan to waltz back into the seat.
“The good news is I think it’s a good time to run as a woman candidate,” she said confidently. “The electorate was sleeping, and they are now awake.”
No question about that. Hillsborough Democrats had a good 2016, and the party has been successful in early 2018 in finding candidates to oppose incumbent Republicans in certain races that were a struggle in previous election cycles.
Birdsong became involved with the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee approximately two years ago, and she’s a member of the Black and Veterans Caucuses.
She was recruited to run for the seat about a year ago by members from Ruth’s List. That’s the self-touted progressive organization that recruits and assists pro-choice Democrats to run for political office in Florida.
Transportation heads her list of priorities she would tackle if elected, she said. That includes a prescription for more funding for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART). The two Democrats on the current BOCC—Les Miller and Pat Kemp—have advocated that the county contribute more to the agency, but have been denied by the majority GOP controlled board.
She calls the lack of affordable housing a “looming crisis,” and encourages the idea of the county donating land to developers to build such units.
A former commercial real estate agent, Birdsong understands the risks developers take but said at “some point” they need to be held more accountable to pay for the infrastructure they build in parts of the county.
Birdsong has made a living for the past three years as a health and life insurance agent, where she helps baby boomers and retirees transition into Medicare.
Regarding education, Birdsong would love to see more children get into Head Start, where there’s already a formidable waiting list for parents to send their children. She also encourages getting teenagers into apprenticeship programs and is working with a local pastor in her area on providing transpiration for such youths.
“We need to give our children more options besides just a four-year college degree,” she said.
Hagan faces Chris Paradies in a GOP primary this summer. Currently, Birdsong is the only Democrat in the contest.