TAMPA — Wednesday was Sally Harris’s trivia night, so the Tampa Bay Times did not hear from her in time for our story announcing her candidacy for Hillsborough County School Board.
She did, however, call back on Thursday to discuss her 2018 loss and her reasons for seeking a different seat on the board in 2020.
Harris, who represented South Tampa and southern Hillsborough was “primaried out,” which means she took just a third of the votes in a three-way primary. Challenger Stacy Hahn won more than 50 percent, avoiding a November runoff.
“The loss was devastating,” Harris said.
It’s not that she lacked for campaign advisers. “People kept saying, ‘Sally, you need to get out,’” she said. “And I did get out. I went to everything I was invited to. But I wasn’t pounding the streets. I guess I was just loyal to the job. And it was graduation [season].”
Harris said she campaigned in May, June and July. “But Stacy [Hahn] started in January! She literally outworked me, 100 percent.”
People told Harris, “pretend you don’t work for the district.” In other words, stop praising the school system so effusively.
“But felt I had seen so many changes, in a positive way,” she said.
“We had a balanced budget. We had the half penny tax [which was then in the campaign stage], the graduation rate, vocational education, early childhood education. We had done so many great things. I thought the whole world knew, and I’m naive, which is what everybody says all along. Sometimes I don’t look at reality as far as how the world looks at things, especially in politics. I loved what I was doing. I loved the way we drove things into a whole new direction.” When the August returns came in, “I was devastated.”
Harris told the Times in 2014, “I’m only going to do one term."
But, she said, “I loved it, you know? I loved every minute of it.” And, she added, "there is so much more to do,” which is why she is now challenging incumbent Lynn Gray in countywide District 7.
She wants to look for ways to provide more affordable health insurance to the district’s employees. And she wants to do something about the bullying that so many children experience from about the fourth grade through middle school.
She insisted that “I never left a school, with a problem, that I didn’t put it in writing and give it to Jeff” meaning Jeff Eakins, the superintendent. “I just didn’t advertise it.”
There will be no lack for strong opinions in that race.
Gray has established herself as an outspoken board member who doesn’t mind taking a minority position on issues, especially the growth of charter schools.
And that race has also attracted Josephine Amato, a visible presence ever since the district cut back on school busing.