Darden Rice will not run for David Jolly's seat in Congress

Darden Rice says that her role in St. Petersburg is her calling for now.

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Published July 3 2015
Updated July 4 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — Darden Rice thought about jumping in the political fray to challenge incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly, but said Friday that she had decided her spot on the City Council was where she should stay — for now.

But if the state Supreme Court redraws the lines of the 13th Congressional District to include the Democrat-heavy southern neighborhoods of St. Petersburg, the 45-year-old first-term council member said she might reconsider.

"Who wouldn't?" she said.

Rice said she didn't change her mind because of the $400,000 in contributions raised by Eric Lynn, the one Democratic candidate who has filed to run in that race.

"When you don't have widespread name recognition, you need to raise a lot of money," Rice said. "I have name recognition. That doesn't keep me out. But he does get credit for doing exactly what he's supposed to do."

Lynn issued a statement praising Rice's decision.

"I respect Darden's decision not to run. It is definitely better that the resources that would have been put towards an expensive primary fight are much better put towards taking on David Jolly next November," he said.

Tampa Democrat Mary Mulhern, who is planning to move to St. Petersburg and enter the race, said Lynn's cash haul is "impressive."

But she wants more details on who is giving and where they live.

"I'm waiting to see where the money comes from," Mulhern said.

The former Tampa City Council member said she is busy laying the groundwork for a campaign and intends to run.

Rice said she realized that there is more that she wants to accomplish on the City Council.

"I'm in a great spot right now," she said. "I love the work I'm doing."

In her first 18 months on the council, Rice has proved to be a reliable political ally of Mayor Rick Kriseman, supporting him on his failed plan to let the Tampa Bay Rays look outside the city for possible stadium sites. She also backed him on the initial hitches with the city's debut of universal curbside recycling, although she recently called for changes to accommodate neighborhoods that want alley pickups.

After the Tampa Bay Times reported early Friday that she wasn't running for Congress, Kriseman's chief of staff, Kevin King, tweeted: "We need her in St. Pete, working with @Kriseman to bring about change, attain city's vision. We're getting there."

Council member Karl Nurse, a close Rice confidant, said he had urged her not to run and was happy to learn she'll stay on the council.

Nurse predicted a bright political future for his friend.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see Mayor Rice down the road," he said.

Florida's 13th Congressional District covers most of Pinellas County. Jolly won the seat in a March 2014 special election after the death of Republican U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young. Jolly was re-elected in November 2014 after the Democratic Party failed to field a candidate.

Contact Charlie Frago at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.