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Candidates rush to fill void left by Murman’s withdrawal from District 7

Ten candidates are now vying for the open Hillsborough County Commission District 7 seat.
Democratic Hillsborough County Commission candidate Mark Nash has jumped from the District 5 to  District 7.
Democratic Hillsborough County Commission candidate Mark Nash has jumped from the District 5 to District 7.
Published Jun. 19, 2018|Updated Jun. 19, 2018

TAMPA – The chance to run for an open seat on the Hillsborough County Commission doesn't come along often.

That might explain why there are now 10 wannabe commissioners vying for the countywide District 7 seat.

Democrat Mark Nash became the latest candidate to file to contest the seat  Friday after he switched over from the District 5 race.

He is the fourth candidate to jump into the race following Republican Commission Chairwoman Sandra Murman's surprise decision to withdraw from the race. She will, instead, see out the final two years of her term in District 1.

Republicans Aakash Patel, a local businessman, and attorney Todd Marks both switched to run in District 7 after initially filing to run for Murman's current seat.

And Ray Chiaramonte, the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority executive director, also entered the race last week saying that Murman's absence had created a rare opportunity.

Murman had already raised $180,000 in political contributions and had name recognition that likely scared off potential challengers until her late withdrawal, said Darryl Paulson, professor emeritus of government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

"It means everything is turned upside down," he said. "With so many candidates and no clear favorite, it becomes very difficult to predict how the election will turn out."

Without an obvious front-runner, the race may come down to which candidate does the best job of getting their name and message in front of voters, Paulson said. That may be expensive in a countywide election.

Patel has a big lead over the field in fundraising with a combined total of $460,000 including donations to his Elevate Tampa political committee.

He also recently earned endorsements from two big-name Republicans: House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Marks has raised the second most, with about $85,000 in donations and is endorsed by Murman.

"When you get strong endorsements from those individuals who are leaders in the Republican party, it opens up the political gates to people making financial contributions," Paulson said.

Nash, who has lost in two previous bids for office, said Murman's decision opened the door to switch to District 7. It also means he and fellow Democrat Mariella Smith would not have to compete in the same Democratic primary, he said.

"It didn't make any sense for the top two contenders to knock each other off," Nash said. "I decided to move to 7 so we would have a chance to change the DNA of our County Commission, which seems to be fearful of fixing the problems in our community."

The Democratic field for the countywide seat also includes Charles Davis III, Kimberly Overman, Corey L. Reynolds and Sky U. White.

Nash is the leading fundraiser among Democrats with almost $75,000 in donations.

Republican Cherie L. Denham and Green Party candidate Kim O'Connor round out the field, which could be pared down by Friday's deadline to qualify.

The cut-off period to qualify by petition has already passed. The other option is to pay a fee of about $6,000.

Contact Christopher O'Donnell at codonnell@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times

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