TAMPA — The race to succeed term-limited state Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa, is filling up fast.
With the primary still nearly 16 months away, state House District 61 is the first legislative race in Florida to attract four candidates for the 2014 election. So far, they're all headed for the Democratic primary, where there's a strong possibility the race will be decided.
That's because Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 6-to-1 in District 61, which covers Tampa Heights, Seminole Heights and Temple Crest. Slightly more than 50 percent of the district's registered voters (and nearly two-thirds of its Democrats) are black.
Hillsborough County's African-American community doesn't have a lot of go-to seats for black candidates, so when one opens up, it attracts a lot of interest, especially for candidates seeking to establish themselves.
"Generally with these seats, you've got to get in line pretty early and maybe run a few times," said La Gaceta publisher and Democratic activist Patrick Manteiga.
So far, filing papers to run just since January are:
• Lawyer and consumer advocate Sean Shaw, 35, the son of retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Leander J. Shaw Jr. He is the only candidate to report any substantial campaign fundraising so far, with about $30,000 in contributions. Website: shawforflorida.com
• Community activist Tatiana M. Denson, 34, who ran against Reed in last year's Democratic primary. She has worked as a health care consultant and is currently working on a bachelor's degree in public administration at Barry University. She plans a campaign kickoff in June. Website: votedenson.com
• Sharon Carter, 48, who works in construction project management and is the former vice chairwoman of the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee. She says a website will launch soon and plans a formal campaign kickoff in May.
• Ed Narain, 36, who works as an area manager for AT&T and has volunteered for a variety of community organizations benefiting children and young people. Website: edforflorida.com
There's a similar scramble to line up support, especially since no one has a high degree of name recognition.
Tampa City Council member Frank Reddick said he's met with three of the four candidates so far, but has not committed to any.
Reddick has decided against running, but don't be surprised to see more candidates come forward.
"You might even be looking at seven or eight African-American candidates for this seat," Manteiga said. "More would not shock me. It's an opportunity that hasn't happened in a while."
Richard Danielson can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3403.