Weeks after deciding not to mount another campaign for Florida governor, former state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink is poised to run for the Pinellas County congressional seat now held by U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young.
"I'm very interested,'' Sink, 65, said Saturday, adding she would move into the district from her home in Thonotosassa in eastern Hillsborough County.
Sounding more likely to run than not as she spoke to the Tampa Bay Times at a Florida Education Association gathering in Orlando, the Democrat said she was days away from deciding, but later amended that to say she would decide within 30 days.
"Most people who are talking to me are saying, 'Alex, just be sure you would enjoy being a congressperson.' … That's the bottom line — would I enjoy it?," said Sink, the former Florida chief for Bank of America, noting she had just spoken to a representative from Washington state about that question.
"He said, 'I just felt I had to come here and be part of the solution. And you can make a difference, you can get things done,' " recounted Sink.
Republicans already are preparing to cast her as a carpetbagger.
"If she does decide to run, I hope she has the good manners to hire a Pinellas-based moving company," said former Pinellas County Commissioner Neil Brickfield, a likely candidate for the Republican nomination.
Bill Young II, son of the congressman and potential Republican candidate to replace his father, weighed in on Twitter: "Interested to see how voters in CD13, who vote thoughtfully, not always party line, will take to a non Pinellas resident."
Sink narrowly lost her 2010 campaign for governor to Republican Rick Scott, and her name recognition and political and fundraising network would make her an instant front-runner who could clear the potentially crowded field of Democratic candidates.
St. Petersburg lawyer Jessica Ehrlich, 39, who ran unsuccessfully against Young in 2012 and already has been campaigning for months for 2014, declined to talk to a reporter about Sink on Saturday, but released a statement: "I have a lot of respect for Alex Sink, but I'm not in the business of talking about hypotheticals so I'm focused on one campaign, my own to fight for middle-class families in Pinellas County."
Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice, another likely Democratic candidate who ran unsuccessfully against Young in 2010, brushed off talk that Sink could walk into the nomination for a rare open seat.
"A congressional seat in Pinellas is maybe a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Not sure anyone steps aside for anyone," said Justice, 45. "I think people will make up their own minds on their own terms."
Sink spent months saying she might run again for governor, her decision colored in large part by the sudden death in December of her husband, 2002 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Bill McBride, at age 67.
Sink ruled out the governor's race in September, citing personal and family considerations as well as the prospect of having to raise tens of millions of dollars to take on Scott, an incumbent who spent about $75 million of his own money in 2010 and is talking about spending $100 million for his re-election.
"I'm enjoying the possibility of making a difference in private life," she said at the time.
But then U.S. Rep. Young, 82, announced Wednesday he will not seek a 23rd term, and Sink began talking to Florida supporters and national Democrats about entering the race for one of the country's most competitive U.S. House districts.
Despite the attention of running in a closely watched congressional race, it would be far less grueling than running statewide in Florida, which includes 27 House districts.
"I have been listening to what's going on in Washington with this whole government shutdown business, thinking this is so bad for our country, why can't these people get it together? They're hurting people," Sink said Saturday. "We need some kind of change up there. We need better people, or different people. Maybe I can be part of the solution."
Barack Obama narrowly won Congressional District 13 in 2012 and 2008, and George W. Bush won it in 2004. Sink barely beat Scott in the district with 51.1 percent of the vote in 2010.
Sink said she would live in the district, which covers most of Pinellas south of Dunedin but excludes most of southern and downtown St. Petersburg. Sink currently lives in a sprawling, lakefront farmhouse in rural Thonotosassa and left open the possibility that she would not buy a home in the district until after the election.
She brushed off any suggestion that she might be unfamiliar with that district, living nearly 40 miles away.
"The whole reason I moved to Tampa Bay in the first place in 1989 is because I was given a job managing all the branch banks in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties," said Sink, who now runs an economic development foundation, works for an investment firm and serves on several boards.
"It's your job to get to know the area and the economies. Many of the organizations I'm involved in are regional."
Likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, a lifelong Pinellas resident, also dismissed the residency question.
"I think she knows the area very well, and I don't think that would be a factor," Crist said. "She's highly qualified and I think would do a great job if she enters. That's a decision for her."
Other prospective Republican candidates include Brickfield, Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, former Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard, former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker and Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel.
"If Alex Sink decides to run, she will have a record that we are more than happy to remind voters of," said Florida Republican Party spokeswoman Susan Hepworth. "When we have a president that is running record deficits, why would we send to Washington a former CFO who added $5.2 billion to Florida's debt?"
Contact Adam C. Smith at [email protected]