Visigoths at the Walls

Tampa Dems beat back the GOP, and it's Redner, Round 2

Mitch Kates — former pro wrestler, political giant killer and budding YouTube star — stood atop a black wrought-iron chair at Mad Dogs & Englishmen restaurant on election night and pronounced that change had come at last.

"This is the new Democratic team and the new Democratic Party in this part of the country," Kates said. "And people better start getting used to it."

Kates was campaign manager for Mary Mulhern, who beat a better-financed eight-year incumbent, Shawn Harrison, for a seat on the Tampa City Council.

All nonpartisan pretenses were dropped. For those Democrats looking to make a stand in the city of Tampa against both the creeping GOP tide in eastern Hillsborough and the northern 'burbs, and against the intrusion of out-of-town political consultants and special interests, last Tuesday was a watershed moment.

Less than a year ago, Mulhern was unknown in politics, a Democratic grassroots organizer who was better known as Creative Loafing's art critic than as a viable political alternative for progressives dying for some good news. After a loss last November in a County Commission race, she rallied to knock off Harrison, who raised a record $211,000. Mulhern raised just $46,000.

As TV cameras shined in Mulhern's eyes Tuesday, she took a cell phone from consultant Ana Cruz, who said, "It's Karen Thurman for you, Mary." And Mulhern savored the win via long distance with the head of the Florida Democratic Party. Not to mention progressives like Councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena and School Board member April Griffin, who were there in person.

Mulhern was the celebrity that night. Joe Redner's second-place finish was the big story the next day. Both papers prepared 1A stories on his ascent to legitimacy, a travail we wrote about two weeks ago in our cover story "Redner: Can He Win?" The answer, as he faces a runoff against 12-year incumbent Gwen Miller, is an emphatic yes. They meet again at the polls March 27.

One political insider I spoke with on election night summed up Miller's problem in the runoff this way: "She's nobody's second vote." What he meant is that in a crowded primary field (there were six in this race), every candidate angles to be a voter's second choice — because, in the runoff, voters whose candidates didn't make the cut are inclined to vote for their "second choice."

BEST OF THE BLURB': Here's a sampling of comments from about the Tampa city elections:

Surprisingly, Randy Baron slipped to last place — so much for the value of [daily newspaper] endorsements. So now we have "meek and mild" Miller vs. "king of porn" — it will be interesting to see where voters place their allegiance.

— Paul W

Fucking A. A progressive is on the City Council.

— Michael Hussey

Six of the seven seats on the Council will be Democrats. That bodes well for the party down the road ... they have a good bench of potential County Commission or state legislative candidates.

— Jim Johnson

The DEC leadership has its head screwed on straight and seems to be willing to deal with the malcontents that past leaders weren't mean enough to put in their place.

— Chris W

Entrance: the Democratic Machine.

— Jeremy

Dist. 1 — Name recognition, good or bad, rules. Also, too many cooks (or similar community/neighborhood types) spoil the broth. Endorsements suck ass. Runoff: With no other races to pull from, good vs. evil brings out the vote — Gwen fairly easy (55-60%) although uninspiring.

Dist. 2 — Despite the Country and County, South Tampa is still blue, West Tampa will always be blue and both kick New Tampa's ass — if it even has one.

Dist. 7 — New Tampa does not deserve a seat on the council.

— Mr. X

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