Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Politics

Sue Carlton: Alex Sink won't run if voting is about ideology

You would think Alex Sink would need a minute.

Just two months ago, Florida's former chief financial officer lost a close special-election to Congress — her second such narrow loss, the first giving us Republican Rick Scott for governor.

Then last month, despite her name recognition and her fundraising chops, Sink, 65, made the "very personal" choice not to run again for that congressional seat against David Jolly in November.

On this day, we are chatting over orange blossom ice tea at Tampa's hipster Oxford Exchange. Sink is dressed very Sophisticated Banker and sounding jazzed about Give Day Tampa Bay, this week's 24-hour online fundraising campaign that netted more than $1 million for local charities, about her work with the United Way and her alma mater Wake Forest, about projects for supporting innovative economy. Among other things.

As we talk, people recognize her — a busboy, two leisurely lunchers with tennis sweaters tied around their necks, downtowners in ties and heels. "Hey!" she says to each of them, dividing the word into two very Southern syllables.

I ask why she thinks she lost, and she quotes something someone Not In Politics said to her, that "it's not really about the person anymore, it's about the party, what's going on in the country" — like back when the tea party became a force, or opposition to Obamacare.

"This feeling of frustration — there's a lot of anger out there. Stuff like that has nothing to do with me, nothing to do with my message." Democrats, she says, need to "figure out how to motivate our voters with that same kind of passion."

Speaking of Democrats, she'll be supporting still-newish one Charlie Crist for governor. She goes a little steely-eyed on those criticisms that he's a flip-flopper not to be trusted: "You can choose Rick Scott or you can choose Charlie Crist. Take your pick."

No question her campaign style has its critics. Some said she should have bought a home and become a Pinellas resident rather than renting a condo. And maybe this is no small thing in side-by-side counties that historically pretended to have nothing to do with each other, just places you passed through on the way to the beach or Disney World.

Sink says this is changing, pointing to the relationship between St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman and Tampa's Bob Buckhorn. But the carpetbagger thing seems to perplex her. In her banking career, she managed Pinellas banks, knows the county well and has business relationships there. Who cares where she sleeps?

There is this about that Feather Sound condo: She leaves it sometimes to head back to the family spread in east Hillsborough she shared with husband Bill McBride, himself the Democratic nominee for governor in 2002, who died unexpectedly in 2012. Her dogs, Thunder and Boo, are Labs not made for condo living.

But Sink says there are no memories at the condo. "I create my own memories," she says.

So the inevitable question: Will she run again? "I can only run when I believe it's going to be about the person and the leadership ability," not voters going to the polls on ideology, she says.

The answer seeming to be: when and if the world shifts surprisingly again.

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