TAMPA — When Republican state Rep. Trey Traviesa abandoned his bid for re-election two weeks ago, the political world suddenly took notice of an obscure Valrico man who had quietly signed up for what seemed at the time an electoral suicide mission.
Traviesa was powerful and popular, in a district that stretches east from Davis Islands through Republican-rich suburbs. Judging from his Web site, Lewis LaRicchia, the 59-year-old political novice, is a man with a beef about homeowners associations.
To replace Traviesa on the general election ballot, Republicans settled upon a 26-year-old political intern named Rachel Burgin. This had some Democrats wondering if maybe they needed a new nominee, too, now that the District 56 race had suddenly become competitive.
Through all the intrigue, LaRicchia has remained silent. On Wednesday, in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times, he broke his silence.
"I am here to stay," he said, adding that he had "never considered withdrawing."
He would have commented sooner, but "I did not want to become part of the 'circus' that reporters and others were creating," he wrote in one of three "official statements."
A former union organizer, LaRicchia said he had been assured by Democratic leaders that they supported him as the nominee, and that any reports to the contrary are "in direct conflict with what he was told."
In response to complaints from some Democrats that he registered as a party member only after qualifying to run, LaRicchia said he's required to be a Democrat only upon taking office.
Even though he has barely raised enough money to cover the qualifying fee, LaRicchia said he's a serious candidate who can beat Burgin.
"The only thing that has changed is, my opponent and I are known very little in the public life," he said. "This does not make either one of us poor candidates or poor representatives."