TAMPA — Tampa City Council member Mary Mulhern has filed to run for the Hillsborough County Commission seat that will open up in 2014 when Mark Sharpe leaves because of term limits.
"I'd just like to continue the work that I'm doing and do it on the county level," Mulhern said Monday. "I really think it's a natural transition."
By filing early, she said, "it gives me time to spread out the work I need to do in a campaign so that it doesn't distract from the work I need to do on City Council." Still, she said she does not plan to campaign actively or raise money until after the November elections.
Mulhern is the first candidate to file to run for Sharpe's job, a countywide seat that is expected to draw a lot of interest. Already, the Rev. Thomas Scott, a former chairman of the City Council and the County Commission, and Hillsborough County School Board member April Griffin have been mentioned as possible candidates.
Mulhern, 53, is a Democrat who lives in South Tampa. A graduate of the University of Michigan, she worked as an arts administrator at the Art Institute of Chicago for 13 years and as a freelance journalist before going into politics.
In 2006, Mulhern ran for the County Commission, losing to Rose Ferlita. The next year, she was elected to the City Council, and she was re-elected in 2011. She represents City Council District 2, one of three at-large council districts that cover the entire city. Term limits prevent her from seeking that seat again.
As a commissioner, Mulhern said she would try to use the same "pragmatic, problem-solving, progressive approach" she has used on the City Council. There, she said, she has worked as a budget watchdog, creating a citizens advisory committee on the budget four years ago, and has focused on economic development, transportation and public services. She also said the county board is much more involved in environmental protection, a priority for her, than is the City Council.
An outspoken civil libertarian, Mulhern was skeptical of what she described as the militarization of the Tampa Police Department in the city's preparations to host the Republican National Convention. She opposed the first, larger version of what became the RNC Event Zone as too big and invasive. She also was the only council member to vote against the $2 million purchase of what turned out to be 119 surveillance cameras installed around downtown Tampa.
Over the past year, Mulhern voted against the city's ban on panhandling, saying it was "a beginning of criminalizing poverty." She supported the city's creation of a domestic partnership registry for unmarried couples and said she would support a similar measure if it came before the County Commission. She also said she would support expanding county human rights laws to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
"They've had those battles all through the years, and, obviously, my stand is quite clear, and it's not going to change," Mulhern said. But increasingly, she said, public opinion is changing, and she thinks it's moving in her direction.
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403.