William March: Alan Cohn files to run for Ross Spano’s congressional seat

Cohn joins State Rep. Adam Hattersley of Riverview in the running for the Democratic nomination in District 15.
Former Tampa Bay area broadcast reporter and anchor Alan Cohn announced this week he’ll run in the Democratic primary for the congressional seat held by Republican Ross Spano of Dover. [Photo courtesy of Alan Cohn]
Former Tampa Bay area broadcast reporter and anchor Alan Cohn announced this week he’ll run in the Democratic primary for the congressional seat held by Republican Ross Spano of Dover. [Photo courtesy of Alan Cohn]
Published Sept. 9, 2019|Updated Sept. 10, 2019

Former Tampa Bay area broadcast reporter and anchor Alan Cohn announced this week he’ll run in the Democratic primary for the congressional seat held by Republican Ross Spano of Dover.

State Rep. Adam Hattersley, D-Riverview, is already running for the nomination in District 15, which covers eastern Hillsborough and the Lakeland and Clermont areas. Cohn’s announcement presages a tough primary battle.

Cohn, formerly with WFTS-Ch. 28 in Tampa, ran unsuccessfully for the congressional seat in 2014 against its previous occupant, Republican Dennis Ross. He then became anchor and managing editor of a news and talk show on Sarasota’s WWSB-Ch. 7, and he now has a local communications consulting company.

Cohn, 58, has won awards as an investigative reporter, including the prestigious Peabody Award in 2007 for a lengthy investigation of defective parts sold to the military for Blackhawk helicopters.

Hattersley became a rising star among local Democrats in 2018 by flipping his Brandon-based state House seat, long held by Republicans, but he recently announced that he would switch to the congressional race instead of running for re-election.

Democrat Andrew Learned, who ran unsuccessfully for the congressional seat in 2018 and planned to do so again, switched to Hattersley’s state House seat.

Democrats consider Spano vulnerable because he’s under investigation by federal authorities over $165,000 of potentially illegal campaign contributions.

Cohn said he’s running because the economy “is not working for middle class families in this district,” most of whom he said haven’t fully recovered from the 2008 financial collapse or are living paycheck-to-paycheck.

“I will focus on that like a laser beam.”

But he also said Spano “is damaged and ineffective as a representative” because of the investigations and alleged ethical problems.

“My unique background makes me the best candidate to deliver that message,” he said. “The distinction is clear – a first-term congressman under federal investigation for campaign finance fraud against an award-winning investigative reporter who’s made a career of chasing unethical politicians.”

Cohn’s campaign team includes operatives from the 2018 leadership of the national party’s congressional campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which claims credit for the 40-seat gain that flipped the House majority last year.

Former DCCC executive director Dan Sena and political director Jason Bresler will handle media and direct mail, and former candidate fundraising director Emily Crerand will manage the campaign.

His campaign chairman will be Ken Wood, a recently retired, high-level local Tampa Teamsters official, and supporters include prominent local fundraiser Peggy Land.

Cohn and his wife, Patricia, president of the Hillsborough County Democratic Women’s Club, have two children. They live in the Grand Hampton neighborhood, just west of the district boundary. Cohn said it isn’t unusual for Florida congress members to live just outside their districts.

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The primary winner will face a tough general election battle in the GOP-leaning district.

In 2018, Spano won by six points and Republicans Rick Scott for Senate and Ron DeSantis for governor won in the district by similar margins, according to Matt Isbell’s MCI Maps. In 2016, Trump won the district by 10 points.

Dems file in 2 legislative districts

Democrat Scott Hottenstein of Lithia, who ran unsuccessfully for the Hillsborough County School Board in 2018, has filed to run for the state House in District 57 against Republican incumbent Rep. Mike Beltran.

In addition, Mark Oliver, a former University of South Florida football player who now runs a fitness program for people with intellectual disabilities, has filed to run in the Brandon-based District 59 open seat, creating a primary with Andrew Learned.

Hottenstein, 48, known as “Mr. H,” is social studies department head at Rodgers Middle School and was a 2018 finalist for county teacher of the year.

He’s a Naval Academy graduate and veteran of numerous deployments. He retired as a lieutenant commander in 2012 after being second in command of the Naval Air Station in Sigonella, Italy, and moved to Lithia, he said. His wife Laura is a counselor at Rodgers Middle, and they have two teenage sons.

Hottenstein said he’s running largely because of failure of the state Legislature to support public education.

Beltran won the seat by 11 points in 2018.

In District 59, Adam Hattersley is leaving the seat open to run for Congress.

Oliver, 27, of Brandon, became a personal trainer and gym operator after graduating from USF in 2015, then started a charitable foundation providing fitness training at adult day-training locations in the Tampa and Orlando areas. He said he’s running in part because of Florida’s low ranking in support for people with intellectual disabilities.

Learned, meanwhile, announced this week he raised $20,877 since filing July 30, despite having spent much of the month of August on deployment to Tajikistan as a lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserve.

Two Republicans, Mike Owen and Melissa Haskins, are also running.

Local party says fundraiser breaks records

Hillsborough County Democrats will hold their Kennedy-King Dinner Saturday with Michael Blake, national Democratic Party vice chair and New York State assemblyman, as keynote speaker.

Party Chair Ione Townsend said the event will set records with more than 700 tickets sold and more than $130,000 raised before expenses.

Contact William March at