The Democratic Party's new candidate for Congress in Pinellas County is an unknown who lives in Tampa and — in what may be a first — can't actually run as a Democrat.
Ed Jany is a U.S. Marine Corps Reserve colonel with an accomplished resume. But politically speaking, he's no Alex Sink, the well-known, well-financed candidate who narrowly lost the special election March 11 to Republican David Jolly.
"Just when you think things can't get any more bizarre for the Democrats, they get more bizarre," said Darryl Paulson, professor emeritus of government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
"It certainly is a bit stunning and somewhat surprising," said Pinellas Democratic Commissioner Janet Long.
"Quite frankly under the very best of circumstances, running a congressional race is very difficult. . . . So if you just decide to run for Congress and you don't have an infrastructure and built-in base, I'm not quite sure how that works."
Jany, 49, is officially running as an independent candidate with "no party affiliation," though his campaign was touted heavily on Friday by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which recruited him. The reason is a quirk of state law that says people can't run for a party's nomination unless they have been registered in the party for at least one year. Jany used to be a Republican, but switched to Democrat several months ago out of frustration with last year's federal government shutdown.
Jany will face Jolly, now an incumbent, and Libertarian Lucas Overby in the Nov. 4 general election.
Jany spoke briefly to reporters Friday in a conference call, discussing his interesting personal and professional background. He was born in Brazil and moved as a child with his family to the United States. He is fluent in Portuguese and Spanish. He served in the Army's Special Forces and is a colonel in the Marine Corps, set to retire in July. He has been based at Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force base. He also has been a law enforcement officer, and was once shot in the line of duty. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Tampa near MacDill. They have been looking for several months for a place in Pinellas, possibly on Sand Key.
"To those of you who understand duty and honor, it's very obvious that our representatives in Washington are not serving the country the way that they should," he said.
Partisan fighting, he said, is preventing Congress from "helping businesses grow jobs, cutting wasteful spending, balancing our budget and looking out for our seniors and veterans."
Drawing on his own background, he added, "I think Congress needs more representatives that have the discipline of a Marine, the tenacity of a police officer and the proven ability to bring people together and accomplish these goals."
He declined to get into specific policy positions. When asked if he backed beach renourishment for Treasure Island, Jany said "I'm not going to get into the weeds on details." He said he generally supports helping local businesses and the environment.
Jany's candidacy, announced at the noon filing deadline Friday, came just two days after the news that Pinellas County's Democratic chairman had left a bluntly worded email discouraging the Rev. Manuel Sykes, a well-known St. Petersburg pastor, from entering the race.
Paulson called that an "embarrassing episode for the Democrats." He noted that African-American voters make up about 25 to 30 percent of the party's electorate. Yet with Sykes, he said, "they kick him to the curb and put in somebody that no one knows. All you can say is bizarre, ludicrous, absurd."
Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch said Mark Hanisee has been a good Democratic chairman, but he didn't like the way he handled the message to Sykes. "I'm just concerned about the message of inclusiveness, diversity, opportunity that the Democratic Party's supposed to stand for."
Welch said he didn't know Jany, but had received a voice mail from him earlier in the day, showing Jany is starting to make the rounds already.
Overby, who received nearly 5 percent of the vote in the March 11 special election, said he joined the race again partly because he was disturbed by how the Democrats treated Sykes.
"They tried to dump a good, solid, local candidate for the second election in a row," he said, referring Jessica Ehrlich, the Democratic candidate who dropped out in favor of Sink.
Just a few months ago, it was the Republicans who seemed more in disarray, as Jolly announced his candidacy first, but several local GOP notables sided with another candidate, state Rep. Kathleen Peters.
But this week, the GOP was quietly showing signs of unity for Jolly's re-election campaign. The campaign announced a fundraiser with some sponsors who opposed him during the last primary, including Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, state Sen. Jack Latvala and Peters herself.
Curtis Krueger can be reached at [email protected]pabay.com or (727) 893-9232. Follow him on Twitter @ckruegertimes.