Usually a sleepy affair, this year’s Hillsborough County Tax Collector’s race has been anything but.
Two Democrats will appear on Tuesday’s Democratic primary ballot — former School Board member April Griffin and Tax Collector executive Nancy Millan.
Griffin, long a lightning rod in Hillsborough politics, has faced an onslaught of attacks in the race, most significantly over her own tax record.
Public records with the office she seeks is showing Griffin was delinquent for years on property taxes on a Tampa home she and her husband owned until this month.
She also faced heat in a Tampa Bay Times report documenting a political action committee her husband established to support her candidacy, which is funded mostly through a New York-based political committee fueled by dark money.
Repeated attacks against Griffin highlight what has become in recent years her Achilles heel. Griffin, as a School Board member, led the charge in 2015 to oust then-superintendent MaryEllen Elia, a move that cost Hillsborough taxpayers about $1 million to buy out Elia’s contract.
The issue saw Hillsborough’s establishment class rally behind Elia, and many of those supporters are clearly still salty, now rallying behind Griffin’s opponent.
As Florida Politics’ columnist Joe Henderson pointed out, Millan’s endorsement list reads like a who’s who of Tampa political might: former Mayor Bob Buckhorn, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, former Florida CFO Alex Sink, Former State Senator and USF President Betty Castor, state Sen. Janet Cruz, County Commissioner Les Miller, and longtime Hillsborough Clerk Pat Frank. The Tampa Bay Times, whose editorial board supported Elia, also endorsed Millan.
Even former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio chimed in last week with an endorsement for Millan.
The money followed. Millan raised $158,995, far surpassing Griffin’s $59,659.
But none of that counts Griffin out. She has survived attacks before, garnering community support even as the political class vows a takedown. When she ran for a third term on the School Board, Griffin won easily despite her enemies’ efforts to dethrone her. In all, she’s undefeated in three countywide elections.
Still, her race this time around could present a political challenge like none other with money flowing and negative attacks flooding the race.
Whoever emerges victorious Tuesday will still have another fight on their hands. The winner will face Republican TK Mathew in the Nov. 3 general election.
Candidates are running to replace incumbent Doug Belden, who has held the seat since 1998 and is retiring.
Belden endorsed Millan.