Mulhern pumps up

Charlie Justice's former campaign manager reloads; more 'Money Men'

Mary Mulhern is about to add a little bulk to her diminutive frame.

Mulhern is the former Weekly Planet art critic who lost a Hillsborough County Commission campaign to Rose Ferlita in November. Now, as a candidate for Tampa City Council, Mulhern has hired a professional operative to run her campaign — and it's the same former pro wrestler who whipped the Charlie Justice for Florida Senate campaign into shape.

Mitch Kates came on board the Mulhern effort last week, a sign that she is elevating her campaign organization, largely grassroots in the past, in her race against Tampa City Councilman Shawn Harrison. Both are seeking the citywide seat that was formerly held by Ferlita.

Kates is a talented guy who has both run for office and run campaigns, mostly in the Northeast and Pittsburgh. He's been a pro wrestler, as well, working under the political-columnist-friendly name of "Jason the Terrible." His victory in getting Justice into the Florida Senate despite being outspent more than three-to-one by the Republican nominee, Kim Berfield, vaulted him to the top of the local Democratic consultant ranks.

"Anyone curious about how serious my intent is should be aware that I am 'all in' and in this race to win," Mulhern said in a written statement. "Having Mitch on my team brings disciplined campaign experience that will help ensure we do everything necessary to run an effective and successful campaign."

Getting Kates on board was not the only good news in the past week for Mulhern. A potential Democratic rival for the seat, Jason Busto, is supporting Mulhern instead and has written a $500 check to Mulhern's campaign, Mulhern said last Friday.

Busto, who is informally known as the "Mayor of West Tampa" for his civic activism on behalf of that re-emerging neighborhood, would have complicated the race for Mulhern, since the two surely would have split some Democratic allegiances against the Republican Harrison. (Tampa City Council races are nonpartisan on the ballot.)

More "Money Men:" Last month, I did a story about the Top 10 "Money Men," a list of who contributed the most to local county commission races in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties — and what they wanted for their investments.

The St. Petersburg Times has contributed its own nominee for local "Money Man," someone who didn't quite crack my Top 10. Oil executive Tony Ferguson has been trying for years to get an approval to land a helicopter at his home north of Tampa. The four Hillsborough County commissioners who finally OK'ed the landing site despite neighborhood concerns about noise received a total of $15,500 from Ferguson, his family, friends and associates, the Times reported last week.

That amount would put him at No. 6 on my Money Men list. Of course, in order to reach Ferguson's total, the Times may have included some money from CL's Money Man No. 2 (and Ferguson friend) Bing Kearney, who lobbied on behalf of the helicopter approval in six meetings with County Commissioners in 2005, according to county lobbying records. Kearney gave more than $23,000 to those commissioners in the 2006 elections.

Not at the helm anymore: Working with Ed Helm is "not for the faint of heart," as even one of his supporters put it on the Pinellas County Democrats blog. But getting along with Helm is not a problem anymore, following his defeat in a bid for re-election as chairman of the Pinellas Democratic Executive Committee.

Last week, Helm was soundly defeated after the Pinellas Democratic establishment — including a handful of elected officials such as Ken Welch that Helm had attacked as disloyal — circled the wagons and elected a moderate, Toni Molinaro, as the new chairwoman. Molinaro beat him by a 2-to-1 margin.

I know Helm is not going away anytime soon, given that he does have a core of progressive support. But his tenure as a public figure — both in his mayoral campaign and his few months as DEC chairman — has been filled with failure and division. His 15 minutes are officially over.

Disclosure time: Shawn Harrison was a client of mine in my previous line of work as a political consultant.

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