Former state Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota (Pic by Meredith Hill, via myfloridahouse.gov)

Former state Rep. Keith Fitzgerald is attempting to unseat a three-term incumbent in his bid for Florida’s 13th congressional district seat. We talked to him about his decision to run, what he aims to accomplish and his opponent, incumbent Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota.

Fitzgerald says he didn’t always have a “huge desire” to run for Congress. “I decided to run because, in a sense, I couldn’t not run,” says Fitzgerald.

After being continually approached by friends, neighbors and colleagues about launching a congressional campaign, Fitzgerald started to seriously consider it: “When I started thinking about what’s going on in this country, and the needs of the people … I caved in to myself.”

Fitzgerald, who teaches at Sarasota’s New College of Florida, has been a busy man over the last few days — fielding calls and doing radio and television interviews to discuss his recently announced campaign.

Buchanan, a magnet for controversy, has been accused numerous times of pressuring employees to donate to his various congressional campaigns, and then reimbursing them with funds from his many car dealerships. The allegations have resulted in no less than 14 lawsuits from former employees (none of which have gone to trial), an FEC lawsuit against a former business partner and calls for the FBI to investigate him for corruption.

But Fitzgerald has no plans to go after Buchanan over anything other than politics, and says that he would rather focus on systematic corruption than his opponent’s personal problems.

“Let me put it this way: A lot of people are going to focus on his ethics problems and his ethics issues,” he says. “That’s known and that’s out there. … My focus is more on the systematic corruption in the political process. That needs to be addressed. We need to change the whole way we do business. His personal corruptions issues are out there and he’ll have to deal with those.”

Fitzgerald says he wants to offer up an alternative for politics as usual, and put citizens back in charge.

“We should be focusing on policies that get people back to work and addressing the housing crisis. That should be our primary focus,” he says. “It’s the entire attitude in the system that’s got to change. Government should be more concerned with addressing the pressing issues of average people, rather than playing some big game about who is in control.”

Though he plans on taking the high road when it comes to allegations against his opponent, Fitzgerald isn’t averse to criticizing Buchanan for his ties to special interests.

“[Buchanan] spends way too much time raising money from special interest groups. … We know what that means. He’s going to people with a lot of money and he’s saying, ‘I will protect your special interest giveaways if you give my party a lot of money,’” says Fitzgerald. “No one discusses that as corruption. … That’s a bigger problem with me than his personal corruption issues.”

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