Donna Shalala speaks out on Congress run amid crowded field

CORAL GABLES, FLA. (WSVN) - Former University of Miami President Donna Shalala discussed her recently announced bid to fill the Congressional seat occupied by outgoing U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Shalala, who served as Health and Human Services Secretary under President Bill Clinton and in more recent years as the head of the Clinton Foundation, may be the biggest Democratic name to enter the race for the Florida 27th Congressional District so far.

In an ad posted to social media, Shalala expressed her intent to take her storied career one step further. “We know what great is: creating good paying jobs, fairness in immigration,” she said in the spot.

When asked what she thinks about the perception that she might be too old to run for Congress, the 77-year-old replied, “Age is a number. I think most people in Miami think age is a number. My mother won a tennis tournament in her 80s,” she said during an interview with 7News. “She practiced law into her 90s.”

Shalala praised Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring after nearly 30 years in office, for her years of service and willingness to reach across the aisle. “She gets support from Democrats and Republicans. She’s an outstanding leader,” she said. “She has struggled with her own party.”

Shalala joins a crowded Democratic primary race. Her opponents to date are former state judge Mary Barzee Flores, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, from Knight Foundation program director Matt Haggman, UM academic advisor Michael Hepburn, Florida Rep. David Richardson, Florida Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez and City of Miami Commissioner Ken Russell.

In an ad posted to social media, Richardson accused Shalala of not having Florida residents’ best interests at heart. “We can clearly see who she’s fighting for: big corporations, big money,” he said in the ad. “People know who I’m fighting for.”

“It’s unfortunate when our leaders from the past don’t want to let go and don’t want to allow this new generation of younger leaders come forward with different ideas,” said Rosen Gonzalez.

But it’s not only Democrats already on the attack. The Republican National Committee released a statement that reads, “Donna Shalala represents everything Floridians dislike about the Clintons — elitist, disconnected and delusional about the working class and their needs. She proved this by leading the Clinton Foundation and covering up scandalous international fundraising activities, as well as the Clintons’ lifetime record of corruption.”

The Clinton Foundation has been accused of accepting donations from foreign dignitaries who were allegedly pursuing interests in the United States.

Regarding the criticism from the Republican Party, Shalala said, “Bring it on. I’m not afraid of them. I’m going to run a positive campaign. They come from a party that doesn’t get the facts right.”

Even though she stepped down as UM president in 2015, Shalala continues to teach a political science class at the Coral Gables campus.

She said she will not use the Clintons to help her campaign, at least not in the primaries. If she wins the primaries, she will go head to head with a Republican challenger for the November midterm elections.

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