ST. PETERSBURG — Alex Sink is running for Congress.
Florida's former chief financial officer and Democratic gubernatorial nominee on Tuesday confirmed exclusively to the Tampa Bay Times that she is jumping into the race to succeed late Republican U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young in a district covering much of Pinellas County.
Sink, 65, has begun looking for a Pinellas home and said she will move "imminently" into the district from her east Hillsborough home 45 minutes away.
"Washington's broken. And I, like everybody else I know, is angry and mad about the logjam, about shutting down the government, about not understanding the impact it was going to have on small businesses and people. The people up there just don't seem to be able to work together," said Sink, who had considered running for governor again but ruled that out in late September.
"I'm somebody who's solved problems, has a long history of working with Republicans and Democrats to get things done," said Sink, who used to run Bank of America's Florida operations and was the state's CFO from 2007-11. "I believe I can be an effective advocate for the people of Pinellas County and get to Washington and make a difference."
The special election campaign for one of the country's most competitive seats won't last long.
The offices of the governor and Pinellas elections supervisor are looking at scheduling the primary for Jan. 14 and the general election for March 11, though nothing has been finalized.
The winner of that special election could face another election less than six months later — an Aug. 26 primary, then a general election on Nov. 4, 2014.
Democrats would be hard-pressed to find a higher-profile candidate than Sink for the special election already drawing national attention. Republicans were treating her like their chief opponent even before she announced her candidacy.
"Their candidate, Alex Sink, has to move in from another city to even run in this district, and she couldn't get elected governor," U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Tuesday on MSNBC. "I think you'll find she's not compatible in this district, although she'll start with high name ID."
Sink lives in Thonotosassa, closer to downtown Lakeland than downtown Clearwater. She built the sprawling lakefront home with her husband, lawyer Bill McBride, the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial nominee who died in December at age 67.
The carpetbagger attack on Sink is inevitable and not unprecedented. Democrat Karen Moffitt faced the same criticism when she unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Young in 1992, moving from Tampa to a rented condo on the beach.
"I am no stranger to Pinellas County," Sink stressed. "I have a long history here. I have been involved in doing business in Pinellas County for decades, and the people of Pinellas County have elected me twice. They voted for me to be their CFO and they voted for me to be their governor, in this very district."
In addition to helping lead four banks doing business in Pinellas, Sink said that as CFO she worked closely on the BP oil spill that affected the county, helped crack down on insurance agents scamming victims in Pinellas, and selected Largo to be the site of one of her office's two call centers, after consolidating 11 centers to save money.
"Do I know everything there is to know? Of course not," Sink said. "But I'm no stranger, and it has to be about whether or not I can be a leader and an advocate and a voice for the people of this district in Washington. I think I'm the best person to do that."
Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice, a Democrat who ran for the seat in 2010 and looked at running again this year, said Sink can't be compared to someone unknown moving into the area.
"Her unique history and resume will allow her to be successful," Justice said.
Several other prominent Democrats, including Pinellas Commissioners Janet Long and Ken Welch, opted out of the race, but St. Petersburg lawyer Jessica Ehrlich launched her second bid for the seat months ago.
"Regardless of who plans on getting in the race," Ehrlich said before Sink's announcement, she's eager to debate the issues. "Right now I am running for Congress."
The Republican field is not set, but the major contenders include former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, former Pinellas Commissioner Neil Brickfield, former Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard, former state Rep. Larry Crow, Pinellas Commissioner Karen Seel, Rep. Young's widow, Beverly Young, and son, Bill Young II.
About 37 percent of the more than 455,000 voters in Congressional District 13 are Republican, 35 percent Democrat, and about 28 percent independent or other party. George W. Bush won the district in 2004 and Barack Obama won it in 2008 and 2012, while Young overwhelmingly won, too.
Sink hailed Young as a leader who represented not just Pinellas but looked out for the military and the Tampa Bay region.
She said her experience dealing with insurance as CFO will help her protect Pinellas from potentially steep flood insurance rates. She supports comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship, and generally supports the Affordable Care Act, though she would rescind a tax on medical devices.
She spent a couple of hours Sunday looking at real estate, but friends keep suggesting new areas for her to consider.
"There are so many good choices of places to live," she said.
Times staff writers Steve Bousquet and Curtis Krueger contributed to this report.