ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — St. Petersburg-based House Democrat Ben Diamond announced Monday morning that he is now a candidate to run for the Florida Congressional District 13 seat next year.

The seat became open last week following the announcement that incumbent Charlie Crist will run for governor in 2022.

“Our duty is to renew the promise of American life and preserve the future of our American Dream,” Diamond said while speaking on the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus. “And that’s why today I’m announcing that I’m running for Congress.”

A host of the St. Petersburg/Pinellas County Democratic establishment was in attendance in showing their support for Diamond, including council members Gina Driscoll and Brandi Gabbard; former council member/state legislator and now mayoral candidate Wengay Newton, and county commissioners Janet Long and Pat Gerard.

Diamond, 42, grew up in Pinellas County. An attorney, he served as special counsel to former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink from 2007-2011. 

“He joined me because my late husband, Bill McBride said he was phenomenal,” Sink said on Monday. “He came in as my lawyer and started working right away. We started working 14 years ago on issues like climate change and sea level rise and the insurance crisis.”

Diamond’s grandfather was Dante Fascell, who represented Dade and Monroe Counties in the U.S. House from 1955 to 1993.

“He had a way of being very effective in public life and it was because he treated people with respect,” Diamond said. “He was honest. He was humble. And he always put the people he served first. And that has provided me with a very good model to follow in the way that I approach public service.”

Diamond is not the first Democrat to enter the still evolving race. That would be Eric Lynn, a former national security adviser in the Obama administration who announced his candidacy last Wednesday. Lynn said today that he has already raised more than $100,000 since that announcement.

This is a bit of déjà vu for the two St. Petersburg Democrats. Diamond and Lynn ran against each other for the Democratic primary for the House District 68 in 2016, with Diamond coming out on top before defeating Republican JB Benshimen in the general election. 

Florida’s 13th Congressional District was held for more than 40 years by Republican Bill Young. After Young’s death in the fall of 2013, David Jolly defeated Sink in a special election in 2014 and held it until 2016.

But CD 13 was found to be one of eight congressional districts that the Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2015 had been drawn up in violation of the state’s fair district constitutional amendments back in 2012, the last time there was redistricting. The newly drawn lines (which drew back south St. Petersburg back into the district) made the district more Democratic leaning, and it’s been held by Democrat Charlie Crist since then.

“This will be a tough race,” Diamond acknowledged in his speech. “It will be one of the most competitive congressional races in the nation, and one of the most expensive.”

Diamond also said that he expects “that that you will see a lot of outside forces with unfamiliar names flooding our TV’s and our computers, and iPhones and radios with breathless ads and wild claims,” adding that it’s “absolutely critical” that the seat continued to be held by a Democrat.

Anna Paulina Luna, the 31-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran who won the Republican nomination for the seat last year, announced that she would run again for the seat last week. 

Diamond was slated to head the Democratic House Caucus from 2022-2024. Although considered a plum leadership role, the fact of the matter is that House Democrats are in the significant minority in Tallahassee, with just 42 members in the 120-member chamber.

In that respect, his departure to run for Congress is similar to the path taken in 2020 by Democrats Adam Hattersley and Margaret Good, who left their House district seats last year to run (unsuccessfully) for congress.

Speaking with reporters after his speech, Diamond denied that his leaving the House is a statement about his feelings about serving in the minority. 

“Not at all,” he insisted. “This is just an incredible opportunity to serve the place that I care very deeply about and want to continue serving and hopefully make a bigger impact on the issues that I mentioned in my talk that are so important to our future.”