U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, seems almost unassailable for re-election, but nonetheless has drawn a crowd of potential Republican opponents, including one, a physician, who faces charges of illegally prescribing opioid painkillers.
Neelam Taneja Perry was charged in September 2022 with felony trafficking in painkillers after an undercover Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office investigation. A news release said she sold hundreds of prescriptions for $450 to $650 each to individuals she hadn’t seen as patients. Detectives searching her house found $1.9 million in cash plus gold bars and jewelry valued at $175,000.
But Perry, who then went by a former married name, Neelam Uppal, said she’s innocent and intends to fight the still-pending charges. She said she was attempting to help addicts kick their addictions gradually while ameliorating the pain that caused the addiction.
“I was practicing addiction medicine,” she said. the charges are one of her reasons for running for office. “These people are in pain. They’re good people but they end up in jail. I want to clear my name on that issue.”
Perry said she lives in Pinellas Park at an address in the Tampa-based district.
Others filed in the GOP primary, like Perry, are all first-time candidates with little or no political experience. They include:
- John Peters of Lakeland, owner of a carpet cleaning franchise, who said he’s running because Democrats “have divided this country.” He said he thinks he can win despite living outside the district and facing an established incumbent because, “God told me to do this.”
- Retired Navy ship captain Robert “Rocky” Rochford of Thonotosassa, who also lives outside the district. He said he’s running because, “I’m very frustrated with watching what’s happening to our country … If you don’t stand up and fight socialism can take over.”
- Renee Marsella of Tampa Heights, a Pasco County elementary school teacher. Marsella said she is an official of the Pasco teachers union and is running in part because of anti-union moves by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The congressional districting map drawn by DeSantis, which he pushed through the GOP-dominated Legislature last year, increased Democratic numbers in Castor’s already blue-leaning district, ensuring that surrounding districts lean Republican. It’s now 42 to 28% Democrat to Republican.
Now in her 8th term, Castor has never won her seat with less than 60 percent of the vote.