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Former prosecutor will challenge Campbell for Miami-Dade Senate district


Democrat Jason Pizzo says he hopes he'll be "pleasantly surprised" by the work of new state Sen. Daphne Campbell, who took office barely five weeks ago.

But for now, Pizzo is so concerned by the election of the Miami Shores Democrat and former state representative that he's already ramping up plans to run against her again in two years.

Pizzo, a 40-year-old former Miami-Dade prosecutor who unsuccessfully ran against Campbell for an open state Senate seat this year, plans to file paperwork on Wednesday in Tallahassee to launch his 2018 candidacy -- giving him 20 months to take on Campbell, or any other challengers who might arise.

"Unfortunately, the outcome in November was the election of a senator who doesn't and will not and cannot represent our district the way it should be represented, the way it should represent everyone's families -- including mine," Pizzo told the Herald/Times.

Pizzo cited Campbell's recent legislative record in the Florida House where he said she didn't advocate for women's rights for abortion, efforts to halt climate change or proposals to reduce gun violence in vulnerable communities, including Liberty City and parts of Overtown, both of which are in Senate District 38.

"There are so many critical, absolutely critical issues pending right now that will affect everyone's life -- their life, their health, their education, the climate," Pizzo said. "Within the same district, we have kids killing kids, we have climate change occurring and so everyone's interest is for the best, most professional, most ethical representation in the state Senate, and I continue to believe I'm that person."

With one of the most diverse constituencies in the state, Senate District 38 stretches along the Miami-Dade coastline from Aventura south to the northern end of downtown Miami. It leans heavily Democratic so the 2016 race drew no Republican contenders, a scenario that almost effectively determined Campbell as the winner in August through her Democratic primary victory.

In that six-way primary contest, Pizzo came in second -- despite spending $770,000 of his own money to largely self-fund his campaign.

Campbell beat out the crowded primary field by winning 31 percent of the vote -- and garnering 2,129 more votes than Pizzo. She then went on to win the general election with 75 percent of the vote against Democrat Phillip Brutus, who ran as a no-party-affiliated candidate rather than take part in the party primary.

Campbell had been in the Florida House since 2010 -- a time that was marked by controversy for her when she was investigated for Medicare fraud and her home healthcare business was shut down by the state, even as she tried to reduce oversight of assisted-living facilities.

Campbell could prove to be a wild card in the Senate, where Republicans hold 25 seats to Democrats' 15 -- a narrower majority than in the House, amplifying the influence of each senator's vote. During her tenure in the House, Campbell at times broke party lines and sided with Republicans -- a party celebrating her primary win this year was attended by a couple notable Miami-Dade Republicans -- so her sometimes unpredictable positions could decide the outcome of key votes in the Senate. 

Pizzo said a big lesson he learned from the 2016 race was the value of time. He decided to run for state Senate in late May -- giving him about 90 days to campaign. That's why he said he's starting so early this time around.

Expect Pizzo to continue investing his own wealth into his political career, but he said it's too soon to say how much exactly he might spend.

"I'm going to personally do whatever I have to do to make sure my children, and the children in the district and everybody in the district is represented -- and whatever we have to do to get to that goal, we're going to get to that goal," Pizzo said. "If nothing else, it's a takeaway from the last election: We'll do whatever is necessary so that we give the best showing."

Photo credit: Jason Pizzo for Senate

*This post has been updated to correct the number of Republican senators. Apologies for the error.