by Mitch Perry
Hillsborough Democrats who thought they had a decent chance of taking the open District 7 countywide seat were crestfallen earlier this year when Tampa City Councilwoman Mary Mulhern dropped out of the contest due to health concerns. But they're feeling a bit more revived today after the announcement that former Hillsborough County Democratic Party chair Pat Kemp is now in the contest to challenge Republican Al Higginbotham.
Higginbotham has had a substantial head start in raising money, having collected over $164,000. Kemp is under no illusions that she'll be able to match him on that front, but says that neither of them has run countywide, and she brings up the strong unrest that's been percolating for nearly a year in Higginbotham's District 4, where a big-box development along Bloomingdale Road has fired up residents.
"The people out there are very, very upset to the point where they collected $5,000 to sue their own County Commission, which is kind of an amazing thing for a neighborhood to do," she says, referring to the Coordinated Active Neighborhoods for Development Organization, or CAN-DO, the eastern Hillsborough County group formed last year in the wake of its collective anger about that development.
A member of that group filed a lawsuit against the county last fall, contesting the 2011 amendment to the land development code that made way for the development.
Kemp alludes to that, as well as similar resentment about a development in the Carrollwood area, as the reason she wants to help stop "dumb growth."
"My focus is on smart growth," she says, emphasizing that it's not just a tired line espoused by Sierra Club types. "It's critical at this time. We cannot afford to be subsidizing bad growth any longer, which is what we’ve been doing over and over again." She calls such big-box developments a "net loss for communities," saying they don't bring much but lots of traffic "and some minimum wage jobs."
Although a planned Wal-Mart along Hillsborough Avenue hasn't generated the kind of revulsion that greeted a Family Dollar store in the area a few years ago, Kemp says she doesn't support that development either.
She also is critical of the BOCC for failing to approve a domestic partnership registry for same-sex couples last year. "The fact that the County failed to adopt something as simple as a domestic partnership registry is shameful in my view, and stands in the way of attracting 21st-century jobs and talent."
Kemp is a longtime Seminole Heights resident. She's a lawyer who lost to Janet Cruz in the Democratic primary for the West Tampa/Seminole Heights House seat in the winter of 2010, and was serving as Democratic Party chairman of Hillsborough County at that time. She was an aide to Kathy Castor when she served on the Hillsborough County Commission. She also co-founded the Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association, and is Legal Chief of the Tampa Bay Sierra Club. A former news director at WUSF-FM, she most recently has been hosting a weekly radio program on WMNF radio.