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Tampa Democrats McDonald and Cohen ready for primary battle in District 1

The race will be to replace term-limited Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman. So far, there’s no sign of a Republican candidate.

Jen McDonald says she’s ready for a primary battle against fellow Democrat Harry Cohen for the District 1 Hillsborough County commissioner’s seat, despite Cohen’s likely advantages in fundraising and name recognition.

“It’s about giving people what they’re looking for — fresh perspective and new leadership,” said McDonald, a 39-year-old commercial insurance agent and Hyde Park-based civic activist. “I think I’m bringing something the public is looking for, a new face with new ideas.”

Some insiders questioned whether McDonald would remain in the race after Cohen filed last week. But she’s not backing down, even though she acknowledged, “A lot of people aren’t happy that there are two candidates they like in one race.”

Cohen, meanwhile, said he welcomes a primary contest.

“Campaigns give the voters an opportunity to evaluate the candidates and focus on what our community priorities ought to be,” he said. “I look forward to debating the issues with anybody of either party who runs.”

So far, there’s no clear sign of a Republican candidate.

Republicans Todd Marks and Aakash Patel each filed for the seat in 2018 before switching to a countywide race that was won by Kimberly Overman. But both were noncommittal when asked this week about running again.

The race will replace term-limited Commissioner Sandy Murman.

The district extends from northwest Hillsborough to South Shore, but its population center is South Tampa, home of both Cohen and McDonald.

Cohen, 49, a lawyer and official in clerk of court Pat Frank’s office, represented South Tampa on the City Council before running for mayor last spring and is known as a strong fundraiser.

McDonald, a first-time candidate, is a former Hyde Park Neighborhood Association president and South Tampa Chamber board member, active in the Junior League and popular among progressives.

She’s raised just $16,460 since filing in May, 2018, but hasn’t been fundraising seriously for much of the time. Some insiders say she may get a boost as a female candidate in an election year expected to include intense political activism by women.

Competitive judicial race in Group 30

Hillsborough County’s 2020 ballot will feature what may be an unusually competitive and high-spending judicial race with possible involvement by political parties.

The three candidates for the Group 30 circuit judgeship, being left vacant by the retirement of Judge Martha Cook, are:

  • Danny Alvarez, a Tampa lawyer and Army veteran well known in Republican circles who’s now an official in the office of Sheriff Chad Chronister.
  • Helene L. Daniel, a long-time lawyer and Valrico civic activist and first-time candidate for office.
  • Gary Dolgin, who specializes in family law and has been involved in the local Democratic Party. He has run for judgeships three previous times since 2002.

“All three are working hard. It’s going to be a tough race. May the best woman win,” said Mark Proctor, a Tampa political consultant advising Daniel.

Gender could be an advantage for Daniel facing two male opponents, particularly in a judicial race with voters unfamiliar with the candidates.

She has raised $48,305 since filing in May including $20,000 of her own money.

She’s a civil litigator and mediator focusing on physician malpractice defense, who said she had criminal and family law experience in the past. She moved here from Miami with her husband, now also her law partner, in 1992. They have two grown children.

Dolgin, married with three children, has raised $20,695 since filing in April, and loaned his campaign $100,000. His previous campaigns may boost his name recognition.

Dolgin has also done past criminal court work, but said it makes sense to elect a family law specialist because a new circuit judge’s initial assignment is likely to be in juvenile or family law, which usually uses bench trials rather than jury trials.

Alvarez, who filed in September, is the son of a Cuban refugee family, a former Army paratrooper and Hispanic community activist who has focused on corporate and business law in Tampa since 2011. He has four children.

His political involvement includes serving as Tampa Hispanic outreach director in Rick Scott’s 2014 governor’s race; such connections may boost his fundraising.

In non-partisan judicial races, candidates are strictly prohibited from attending partisan events or even talking about their party affiliations. But that doesn’t prevent parties from publicizing and supporting candidacies of their members. It’s likely Dolgin will get support from local Democrats and Alvarez from Republicans, while Daniel is a no-party registrant.

Stuart out of the running for clerk

Hillsborough County School Board member Cindy Stuart won’t be a candidate for clerk of court next year.

Hillsborough County School Board member Cindy Stuart won’t be a candidate for clerk of court next year.
Hillsborough County School Board member Cindy Stuart won’t be a candidate for clerk of court next year. [ WALLACE, DANIEL | Tampa Bay Times ]

Stuart said she thought about the possibility before county Commissioner Les Miller filed for the office. But even though he’s now out of the race, she said, she believes she needs to stay on the school board for the critical job of searching for a new superintendent to replace Jeff Eakins, who has announced he’ll retire next summer.

Stuart filed for re-election Friday.

Contact William March at