Hillsborough County Democrats say they're closer than they've been in recent history to fielding a candidate in every spot on the local ballot.

Many of those candidates are long-shots or first-timers facing established incumbent Republicans and have slender chances. But the Democrats say the full ballot shows the enthusiasm in their grass roots.

Of 25 local, legislative and congressional races, only one doesn't have a Democrat running, said Ione Townsend, county Democratic Party chairwoman. That's the non-partisan race for the school board District 2 seat held by Sally Harris.

Townsend said 17 of those candidates are women, including 10 women of color.

In state Senate District 20, two comparatively little-known black Democrats, Kathy Lynn Lewis and Joy Ellen Gibson, have filed to challenge well-known, heavily funded Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa.

Lee said Thursday he won't enter the race for the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, but he didn't say whether he intends to run for re-election or pursue some other option.

In Congressional District 15, Democratic first-timer Andrew Learned is campaigning hard and drawing attention from national Democrats, but is almost certain to face a better-funded and better-known Republican – possibly Lee, Rep. Ross Spano of Dover or former Rep. Neil Combee of Polk City.

Democrats filled their last legislative ballot slot this week when Phil Hornback left the District 15 race to challenge Rep. Lawrence McClure of Plant City in state House District 58.

"From what I understand it's more than 20 years" since local Dems came this close to filling the ballot, Townsend said. "It's testimony to us building our bench, to the enthusiasm out there."

Aakash Patel Todd Marks battle continues

In the District 1 county commissioner Republican primary, Aakash Patel is continuing to boast strong fundraising while Todd Marks is continuing to attack Patel's conservative credentials.

Patel announced another $28,616 raised in April for his campaign and political committee, bringing his total so far to $433,288, a lot for a first-time candidate. He has also spent heavily, however, with less than $300,000 cash on hand.

Marks said he did comparatively little fundraising during the month and won't show a large total when his report is filed next week.

But he also spoke of a photo on the web of Patel's business showing Patel in a chummy pose with Barack Obama.

"Nobody's going to have to question my conservative philosophy because they won't see any picture of me hugging Obama," he said.

Asked if he intends to use the photo in his campaign, he said, "I don't have to – he's posted it."

Patel said the photo is from 2007. "I also have a photo with Donald Trump and one with Mike Pence."

Marks recently sent mailers to all of Patel's donors highlighting an interview in which Patel described himself as having a bi-partisan political philosophy, suggesting he's not a true Republican and that his donors should demand contribution refunds.

Patel said his strong fundraising month shows the only effect of the action was to anger his supporters against Marks.

Tom Hall's 4 ideas to make Tampa great

Public relations executive and liberal political activist Tom Hall's "Four Ideas to Make Tampa Great," which he discussed at Café Con Tampa Friday, may sound like pie in the sky — but who doesn't like pie?

The ideas, he said, are aimed at the area's quality of life:

■         A large central park in the channel district where the ConAgra flour plant is now. "Right now we don't have a downtown park people can walk to" except Curtis Hixon, a working space for events, he said. "We need an oasis in the center of the city where kids can play."

■         "Make downtown a beautifully lighted city at night" like Hong Kong, Sydney or Singapore. "It makes downtown come alive at night and it's not that hard to do today with computers and LEDs."

■         A Cuban art festival. "The art coming out of Cuba is extraordinary and several people are major collectors," said Hall, himself an art collector. "It would become a signature Tampa event."

■         Transportation – "We're 35 years behind," he said. "We've got to get cars off the road." Hall advocates a monorail system from downtown to the airport, university area, St. Pete, Brandon and Ruskin. Monorails can go anywhere, above roads and flooding, he said. "We need a regional system run by an independent agency with bonding power."