ST. PETERSBURG – Former Gov. Charlie Crist is on the campaign trail again.
Crist announced Tuesday that he will run for the District 13 congressional seat in Pinellas County in 2016, saying Congress does not listen to the people and politicians just bicker among themselves.
“It is a dysfunctional body,” he said.
Crist, 59, made his morning announcement at Childs Park, an area of St. Petersburg that is outside the district’s boundaries. Crist said he is confident new boundaries the Florida Supreme Court is expected to rule upon in a few weeks will include south St. Petersburg and unite the county.
The new district is expected to lean in favor of Democrats. A longtime Republican, Crist became a Democrat in 2012, drawing criticism from Republicans and others who questioned his convictions.
Crist, born and raised in St. Petersburg, said running for Congress in his hometown district “is very personal to me.”
Standing in the sunshine, casually dressed in short sleeves, slacks and loafers, he said listening to the people “will be the hallmark of this campaign.”
“Somebody has to step up. Somebody has to lead,” he said.
Crist, Florida’s former governor, education commissioner and attorney general, was surrounded by supporters, including his wife, Carole, Pinellas County commissioners Janet Long and Ken Welch, and St. Petersburg council members Wengay Newton and Karl Nurse.
Long, alluding to Crist’s diverse political career, praised him for having “a servant’s heart,” and said public service is his calling.
Welch, who represents south St. Petersburg, noted it is “in an area that long has been excluded,” and said Crist “will truly represent the people.” He criticized what he called “a shutdown Congress.”
Crist’s announcement also drew current Dist. 13 Rep. David Jolly, who spoke to news reporters as Crist was leaving, calling him “a huckster and a fraud” who makes decision for the sake of getting elected.
Jolly, a Republican from Indian Shores, said he came to Crist’s announcement because he lives in the district and “I care very deeply who represents me.” Jolly is leaving the office to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Marco Rubio.
“I don’t want Charlie Crist to be my next representative in Congress,” Jolly said.
The current congressman said he could support any candidate besides Crist, specifically mentioning former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, a Republican.
“I know Rick Baker to be a person of conviction,” he said. Baker could not be reached by telephone on Tuesday, but is reported to be considering the seat.
No Republicans have entered the race.
Crist first has to contend with fellow Democrat Eric Lynn, a former Obama Administration official at the Pentagon who declared his intention to run in April. Lynn, also a St. Petersburg native, has no intention of backing out.
“Since day one, I’ve been in this race to serve as a voice for the people of Pinellas County,” Lynn said in a written statement released Tuesday, adding that “voters need a fresh face.”
Bill Burton, a campaign spokesman for Lynn, said while Crist initially had said he would not run in 2016, “in the last couple of months he made it clear he was going to get in, so today doesn’t come as a big surprise.”
“It makes for a much more spirited primary than it otherwise would have been, but that’s something Eric welcomes,” Burton said.
Crist lost his past two campaigns – as a Democrat in the governor’s race against Rick Scott in 2014, and as Independent against Marco Rubio for the U.S. Senate in 2010.
“What I’ve learned is you have to listen to the people, you have to go out and talk to the people,” he said. “They’re the boss.”
Crist ran afoul of Republicans when he embraced President Obama, who was in Florida promoting his economic plans in 2009. Crist was governor at the time, and later announced he was running for the U.S. Senate.
Jolly, who defeated Democrat Alex Sink for the seat in 2014, said the redrawn district, which could give Democrats a 15 percent voter advantage, was “a very significant factor” in his decision to seek that same Senate seat Rubio now is leaving to run for president.
Remarks on Crist’s own Twitter account have been mixed since he posted in July that he would enter the District 13 race to serve the people if the new map included his home.
Among them: “OMG. Stop. Just Stop.” “Green Party this time?” “You don’t serve anybody but Charlie Crist.”
Others were more encouraging: “please please PLEASE god let people hear you. We need you in the WORST way to advocate for Floridians Charlie!” “Your long/distinguished service to Florida has always been appreciated. Love to have you back serving in any capacity.”