TAMPA — The election season may have drawn to a close, but the latest game of musical chairs for the next cycle in Hillsborough County government is already beginning.
Commissioner Al Higginbotham, who currently represents the eastern part of the county, quietly submitted his paperwork Friday to run for an at-large commission seat that Mark Sharpe vacates in 2014.
Sharpe, the current District 7 commissioner, will have to leave due to term limits, opening one of three countywide seats. Higginbotham also is facing the end of his time in the District 4 seat after eight years.
"I think it's important to let people to know your intentions," said Higginbotham, explaining his early declaration while saying it follows a pattern he has set in prior campaigns. "I've had a great number of people who have come to me and encouraged me to run."
While it's early, Higginbotham, a Republican, is not the first to announce his candidacy. Tampa City Council member Mary Mulhern, a Democrat also facing term limits on her board, filed to run for the same seat in September, though she said she has only recently begun raising money and doing actual campaign work.
"I'm running because I want to continue the work that I'm doing to make this a livable community," Mulhern said, "making the city, county and region a place where people want to live and work."
The race is expected to get more crowded, as tends to happen when seats become vacant on political bodies. Hillsborough County School Board member April Griffin said she will announce her candidacy soon as a Democrat. Former Tampa City Council member and county commissioner Tom Scott, a Democrat, said he's "seriously considering" getting into the race.
An attempt to reach former Tampa City Council member and county commissioner Rose Ferlita, another name getting considerable mention on the Republican side, was not successful. She told a Tampa Bay Times columnist recently, when the question was put to her, "We'll see."
Higginbotham, 58, of Plant City touts himself as a budget hawk, and he has indeed questioned spending in some areas of county government while not supporting the local government equivalent of turkeys or pork.
He also highlights his efforts to emphasize economic development and has worked to promote the county for international investment. He is a former chairman of the Hillsborough County Republican Party.
Mulhern, 53, who lives in South Tampa, ran for the County Commission in 2006, losing to Ferlita. She represents District 2 on the City Council, one of three at-large seats on that board. She said she has done her part to bring more scrutiny to the mayor's budget, forming a citizen's panel to review spending plans.
A civil libertarian, she criticized the intense police presence during the Republican National Convention, opposed the installation of surveillance cameras for the event and voted against a ban on panhandling.
Higginbotham's departure from the District 4 post will create another vacancy, though the line to replace him is not as clearly defined and is more rumor than solid at this point.
Socially conservative activist and Republican Terry Kemple, who has twice run unsuccessfully for the School Board, has confirmed he is considering running for the seat. But he's also looking at Sharpe's district, as well as possibly running again for the School Board.
Bill Varian can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3387.