ST. PETERSBURG — Ed Jany, the Marine and former police officer hailed by national and state Democratic leaders as an ideal challenger to newly elected U.S. Rep. David Jolly, dropped out of Pinellas County's 13th Congressional District race Tuesday.
The sudden and surprise announcement came days after a Tampa Bay Times report about him appearing to pad his educational background and resume.
Jany entered the race at the last minute, after Democrats aggressively moved to keep a prominent African-American minister from St. Petersburg, Manuel Sykes, out of the contest. In a statement, Jany said he realized he does not have the time to run for office:
"In my professional capacity, I am responsible for coordinating some of the Command and Control for Security at the World Cup in Brazil this year, something I committed to doing some time ago. I wrongly assumed that I could maintain my professional work requirements while running for office, just as I was able to work full-time as a police officer while pursuing a full-time education and balancing my military service in the past," said Jany, who talked about his enthusiasm for the campaign less than three days earlier at a Pinellas Democratic party dinner.
"Unfortunately, the political process does not allow for me to continue my professional work, and I cannot afford to support my family while campaigning without an income. This has been a very tough decision that I've considered thoughtfully over the course of the last week, but it's the best choice for my family right now."
The 13th Congressional District, which includes much of Pinellas County, is one of the most competitive in the country. But it appears now that Jolly will walk into a second term without a serious challenge.
With the filing deadline passed, the only other name on the ballot will be Libertarian candidate Lucas Overby, who received less than 5 percent of the vote when he ran for the seat in a March special election.
Darryl Paulson, a retired USF St. Petersburg political scientist, said the Jany saga should be a case study on how not to handle candidate recruitment.
"What have the Democrats accomplished?" he asked. "They have alienated their core constituency by assaulting Rev. Sykes and now are left with no candidate to run in what was considered one of the most competitive districts in the nation and a district that Democrats said was a must-win."
Local Democratic leaders and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent much of the year employing hardball tactics to clear the field for their preferred candidates. Ultimately they managed to antagonize many local Democrats and wound up without even a token opponent to take on Jolly in November.
After Rep. C.W. Bill Young's sudden death in October, Democrats pushed out candidate Jessica Ehrlich, who previously had run against Young, to clear the field for former gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink of Hillsborough County. Party leaders saw her as a shoo-in against little-known lobbyist and former congressional aide Jolly, but he beat her by nearly 2 percentage points.
Party leaders encouraged Sink to run again in November, but she eventually declined.
When Sykes prepared to run, Democratic officials from Washington to Pinellas sought to discourage him. Pinellas Democratic chairman Mark Hanisee left a voice mail for Sykes promising the respected minister he would be "persona non grata" among political leaders if he ran.
The Democrats' preferred candidate: Jany, a Marine Corps Reserve colonel and first-time candidate who lives outside the district in Tampa. While embraced by the state and national Democratic party, Jany would have been listed on the ballot with no party affiliation because he had not been registered as a Democratic long enough under state law.
"I'm not sure the DCCC has the best interest of Pinellas County at heart," said County Commissioner Janet Long. "To come up at the 11th hour with a candidate who doesn't live here, isn't known by anyone I've been able to identify here in Pinellas County, and hasn't taken the time to be strategic and develop a plan is somewhat misguided in my opinion."
The Tampa Bay Times revealed on Saturday that one of Jany's degrees came from the unaccredited Madison University, widely viewed as a "diploma mill," and that he falsely claimed a degree from the University of Minnesota.
"Words cannot describe what an epic failure this congressional race has become for the DCCC and Florida Democrats," crowed National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Katie Prill. "After a devastating loss and wasting millions in the special election, one thing remains very clear: President Obama's toxic agenda has cost the DCCC another seat that they couldn't afford to lose."
Meanwhile, anger over Sykes' treatment continues to simmer. This week elected Democrats in Pinellas — county commissioners, School Board members, legislators and municipal leaders — signed a letter to Sykes and other Democrats decrying Hanisee's behavior and apologizing:
"In our view, the tone and content of Chairman Hanisee's comments, left in a voice mail to Reverend Sykes (and publicly available on the Tampa Bay Times web site), were inappropriate and do not reflect the Democratic Party's long-standing commitment to inclusion, fairness and equal opportunity. Furthermore, the Chair's refusal to provide a straightforward apology has allowed the situation to deteriorate, and has drawn negative commentary from a diverse group of local thought leaders and longtime Democratic supporters,'' the letter said in part.
Jolly's office brushed off the news of Jany's departure.
"From day one, congressman Jolly has been focused on doing the job he was elected to do on behalf of Pinellas County and he remains focused on how to best advocate for his home community and the people of Florida's 13th Congressional District," said a spokeswoman. "Today's development only strengthens congressman Jolly's commitment to representing all of Pinellas County, as we continue toward the path to victory in November for every Pinellas County resident."
Times staff writer Tony Marrero contributed to this report.