TAMPA — For 25 years, Mary Mulhern has juggled a career, raising a family and serving two terms on the Tampa City Council, all while suffering from multiple sclerosis.
But doing all that and running for the Hillsborough County Commission? That has proved to be a bit much. On Friday, Mulhern said she was withdrawing from the District 7 race to replace Mark Sharpe, who will leave the commission because of term limits.
It was a difficult decision, she said, and one made after consultation with her doctors and family.
"I've been lucky to have a not real severe case," said Mulhern, 55, who said she has the relapsing-remitting form of the disease. Symptoms come and go, and she's been symptom-free for as long as five years at a time.
But, like many people with multiple sclerosis, she finds fatigue can be an issue, especially when brought on by stress, she said. While she was optimistic going into the race, Mulhern said the traveling and scheduling demands of campaigning throughout Hillsborough were shaping up to be a potential problem.
"The extra burden of trying to run this countywide campaign is what made it relevant," she said.
Mulhern was the only Democrat in the race for commission District 7. Hillsborough County School Board member April Griffin withdrew from the race in August.
At least three Republicans have announced they are running in the GOP primary for that seat, including County Commissioner Al Higginbotham, who currently represents District 4. Higginbotham has led all candidates in that race in fundraising, with nearly $155,000 in contributions.
Through Dec. 31, Mulhern had raised $40,385 for her commission race and had spent about $7,835, according to her most recent campaign fundraising report.
Florida elections law gives candidates who withdraw from a race 90 days to dispose of the unspent funds they have raised. Their options include returning the funds to donors, giving them to charity and giving up to $25,000 to their political party or committee. Mulhern said she had not decided what she will do with the money she has raised.
Mulhern cannot serve past March 2015 in her seat on the City Council because of term limits. Mulhern's is one of three city-wide seats, though she could run for one of the council's four single-member district seats. She lives in District 4, which covers South Tampa, and likely would have to challenge Harry Cohen, who is serving his first term on the council.
That's not going to happen, she said.
"I'm not going to run against any of my colleagues," she said.
On the council, Mulhern has:
• Called for greater care in approving the new bars that increasingly are overwhelming available parking and neighborhoods along S Howard Avenue.
• Voted against the city's ban on panhandling and called for more efforts to fight homelessness.
• Criticized what she described as the militarization of the Tampa Police Department before the Republican National Convention.
• Cast the sole vote against the city's $2 million purchase of downtown surveillance cameras before the convention and backed rules to protect citizens' privacy on how those cameras are used now.
She said she will "continue to give 100 percent" on the council and would like to see the city focus more on environmental issues. At the end of her term, she said she "will evaluate public and private sector opportunities."
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 226-3403, [email protected] or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.