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March column: Cohen working hard for Mark Ober's opponent

Lawyer Barry Cohen is working to promote Andrew Warren for state attorney in Hillsborough. [EVE EDELHEIT | Times] 
Lawyer Barry Cohen is working to promote Andrew Warren for state attorney in Hillsborough. [EVE EDELHEIT | Times] 
Published Apr. 8, 2016

Prominent Tampa lawyer Barry Cohen is backing Andrew Warren, the Democratic candidate challenging Republican State Attorney Mark Ober. It's a bold move for a lawyer who has to work with the State Attorney's Office.

Cohen, a high-level Democratic fundraiser, has been introducing Warren in legal and political circles and will raise money for him.

Cohen has clashed with Ober recently, notably over a town hall meeting on race and law enforcement that Cohen organized last spring, which Ober declined to attend. A harsh public exchange ensued.

Cohen accuses Ober of being insensitive to black citizens' complaints over police harassment; paying inadequate attention to white-collar crime and fraud; failing to work on preventing juvenile crime; and being part of Tampa's "good ol' boy system." Ober calls Cohen an attention-seeker promoting himself and his law firm and seeking to benefit from national tension between law enforcement and the black community.

Legal community insiders say Warren is campaigning hard on the chicken dinner and lunch club circuit. He's raising money quickly but still trailed Ober, who's been in the race longer, with $82,643 to Ober's $138,935 as of Feb. 29. Warren says he'll show about $30,000 more on his next report, putting him ahead of where Ober was after Ober's first three months of campaigning. But Ober expects to add about $40,000.

Some Ober backers criticize Warren for raising his money from outside the county or state. In his first two months, 176 of his 273 donors were from Florida, including 103 from Hillsborough and 29 from Gainesville, where he grew up. Warren said he gets contributions from people who knew him as a federal prosecutor in New York, Washington and elsewhere.

Lee CFO polling?

GOP insiders are talking about a poll testing state Sen. Tom Lee's chances for chief financial officer. Lee's comment: "I had not heard that and it isn't me" doing the poll, if there is one.

But Lee, R-Brandon, has acknowledged he's "at an inflection point" in his political career, trying to decide whether to stay in the Legislature, and that a county commission race or another statewide run are alternatives. He ran for CFO in 2006.

Norman vs. Schock

Republican Hillsborough County Commission primary candidates Tim Schock and Jim Norman will square off in a forum Monday hosted by Tampa Republican Women Federated and the Tampa Republican Club. Social hour is 6 p.m. and the forum at 7 p.m. at Square One Burgers, 3701 Henderson Blvd., Tampa.

District 61 primary

State Rep. Ed Narain's move to a Senate race has set the stage for a primary battle to replace him in the majority-black District 61 House seat, featuring veteran civic activist Dianne Hart and insurance attorney Sean Shaw, a newcomer viewed by some Democratic leaders as a potential rising star. The primary almost certainly will decide the race in the heavily Democratic district.

Hart, 61, is a beauty shop owner and local Democratic Party official who also is CEO of the East Tampa Business and Civic Association, which promotes economic development and affordable housing. She's making her first run for public office but has lived in the district her entire life and knows the community well, she said.

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Shaw, 38, is the son of the late Leander Shaw, the first black Florida Supreme Court chief justice. He grew up in Tallahassee, went to Princeton and to the University of Florida law school, and was appointed state insurance consumer advocate by then-state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink. He works for a law firm that represents policyholders against insurance companies.

Shaw ran unsuccessfully for the state House in Tallahassee in 2008, then lost to Narain in the District 61 primary in 2014 in a campaign marked by negativity, despite backing from party leaders including Sink and state Sen. Arthenia Joyner. He said he's learned a lesson from that race and will avoid the negative tone this time.

The district covers east Tampa, Ybor City and parts of the university area and Progress Village.

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