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Darden Rice seriously contemplating challenging David Jolly in CD 13

Another Democrat is looking at the possibility of challenging Republican David Jolly in 2016, and this one actually lives in the district.

St. Petersburg City Councilwoman Darden Rice says she’s been asked “for some time” to consider running for the Democratic nomination for the CD 13 seat, and she says she is giving it the serious consideration that it deserves. She says she will make her decision shortly after returning from an upcoming vacation.

Among those interested in a possibly Rice candidacy is Emily’s List, the D.C. based group that backs pro-choice female Democrats.

After two previous attempts at local office in the aughts, Rice finally earned a seat in local government by winning the St. Pete City Council District 4 seat in November of 2013, easily defeating Carolyn Fries. “I love my job with my city of St Pete,” she acknowledged in an interview on Monday evening. “I’ve put my heart and soul into that work.”

Rice previously worked with the League of Women Voters and the Sierra Club, and says she will always work on issues like transportation and the environment, whether it’s at the local or national level.

There is already one declared Democrat in the race, Eric Lynn, who previously served as a senior administration adviser in the Defense Department under President Obama.

Jolly himself has a decision to make. The GOP incumbent has not taken himself out of contention to run for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate next year. Only Jacksonville area Congressman Ron DeSantis has formally declared his candidacy, though Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera announced last weekend that he will announce whether he will run by mid-July (and is expected to do so).

Jolly has said he will make his decision shortly after he gets married in early July.

Rice says that her decision will not be affected by what Jolly does.

“I’m focused on doing on what I can do that’s best for St. Pete and Pinellas County,” she says. “What other candidates are doing or not doing is really not much of my focus right now.”

When asked if she was willing to take the chance of leaving a place in local government that she aspired to for so long to take the risk of running and losing a congressional seat, Rice said serving in public office and in a leadership role is always inherit with risks and rewards.

“At the end of the day, you make these decisions based on what your own contribution and experience is going to be, and that’s something that can’t be formulated based on constantly worrying and calculating about what other people are doing.”

Democrats have been snakebitten in trying to win the CD 13 seat ever since the longtime incumbent C.W. Bill Young died in the fall of 2013. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee pushed out Jessica Ehrlich in favor of Hillsborough County resident Alex Sink to run in the special election in 2014.

After Sink lost to Jolly and announced she would not run again in the fall of 2014, the DCCC ended up choosing retired Marine Ed Jany, who lived in South Tampa. Jany ended up dropping out of the race.

And recently former Tampa City Council member Mary Mulhern, who also lives in South Tampa, said she was considering moving to Pinellas to run for the seat.

“It’s something else, isn’t it?” Rice says about the lack of indigenous Democrats vying for the seat. “I certainly understand what the families in Pinellas County and St. Petersburg are facing. Not everyone has benefited from the stabilization of the economy, and I hear from the residents everyday who are struggling, and that’s something I take to heart when I make a decision like this about the best role to serve the people I represent.”

Written By

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was 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 and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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