TAMPA — Alan Cohn, a Democratic candidate challenging Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, blasted Ross at a Tampa forum Friday for not having an adequate presence in Hillsborough County.
Cohn, who lives in New Tampa on the western side of Ross’s District 15, noted that Ross has no office in Hillsborough County even though nearly 60 percent of the registered voters in the district live in Hillsborough. Ross lives in Lakeland on the eastern side of the district.
According to state voter registration figures, 249,260 of the district’s 418,817 voters are in Hillsborough. The redistricting that took effect in 2012 increased the proportion of Hillsborough residents in what had been a mainly Polk County district, won by Ross in 2010.
“This is a Hillsborough County congressional seat ... and guess what -- my opponent does not have an office in Tampa or Hillsborough County, in the majority of the district,” Cohn said. “If you have a problem with Social Security, or a problem with the VA or the IRS, good luck. No one’s home.”
“I am from this community. I live in this community ... and I will be the congressman from this community.”
Ross spokeswoman Monica Rodriguez responded, “Usually with a district the size of Congressman Ross’s we would only have one office” in the district.
She said Ross’s staff holds “mobile office hours” on the first Tuesday of every month in four locations -- city halls in Plant City and Temple Terrace, and public libraries in Brandon and Lutz.
All congressional districts are roughly the same size by population, but District 15 is more compact than many Florida districts, some of which cover several sparsely populated counties while others are irregularly shaped.
Nonetheless, Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, has offices in both counties in her district, Hillsborough and Pinellas, and Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, has offices in his three counties: Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas.
Cohn spoke at a meeting of the Tampa Tiger Bay Club, a bipartisan political group that hosts political speakers. Ross declined to appear.
Republican club member Adam Bantner said he invited Ross and offered to change the date to suit Ross, but to no avail.
That gave Cohn more ammunition against Ross. He said Ross “is not here because he’s not too concerned about this race,” and didn’t want to compare issue stances with Cohn. He called Ross “part of the group that is responsible for the political paralysis in Washington.”
Cohn said he favors comprehensive immigration reform, increasing the minimum wage and ending the Cuba trade embargo, and that his views are more consistent with the district than Ross’s.
Cohn, a former television investigative reporter making his first try for public office, has lived in Tampa since 2009 and is a decided underdog against Ross in the conservative district.
Ross, a former state legislator from Polk, was unopposed in 2012 after defeating Lori Edwards to win the seat in 2010.
But Cohn said polls show he’s competitive with Ross if voters are given information about him and his stances on issues.