The battle over Florida's 13th Congressional District may have been won by Charlie Crist in November, but David Jolly's baring his fangs and stealing congressional staffers from under Crist's feet. On Monday, Jolly announced he had hired Vito Sheeley, Crist's district director, as his senior adviser.
Sheeley was a recent hire on the Crist team, but rumors say he was fired after the Martin Luther King, Jr. parade in St. Petersburg -- then rehired -- shortly thereafter. Suspense grew over why, exactly, he had been cut in the first place. Crist's office denies firing Sheeley from its staff.
Now it seems Sheeley has found a new home, nestled close against Crist's bitter rival.
"I've known Vito for years and I had discussed him among the political team during the campaign race," Jolly told Sunshine State News. "There have been many events where I've been able to watch Vito interact with the community. He was and is the right person to be in a district job."
Jolly told SSN Sheeley just happened to be available for the job, so he pounced on the opportunity.
Sheeley said he was excited to get to work with the people of Pinellas County. An African American, Sheely has close ties to the community Jolly scrambled to reach during the last few months of his campaign.
"Helping the citizens of Pinellas County has been and will remain the most important priority of my life," Sheeley said in a statement.
But don't get any ideas about a grudge match, Jolly says. The former congressman for the redrawn district made no official declaration about running for CD13 in 2018 and said this year wasn't about politics -- but the possibility of the Crist-Jolly Showdown Version 2.0 seems more and more likely with each passing week.
Jolly didn't shy away from taking a whack at his former opponent.
"History has shown Charlie is about Charlie," Jolly said. "I'll assemble the best team available to serve the community. It's about doing the right thing for [them]."
In the meantime, Jolly is going all in with Pinellas County, doing all he can to stay involved with his former constituents.
"I made a commitment, win or lose," Jolly said. "What I'm excited about, we have personnel, a team, staying engaged and involved in the issues."
To engage with the community, Sheeley was the man for the job.
"I'd like to do that with Vito," Jolly said. "The community has suggested Vito is committed to (them), and Vito joined us with sincerity in addressing those issues.
Some say CD13 is waking up to a stark contrast between Jolly and Crist.
"South St. Pete realized a bit too late, but they indeed realized that David Jolly was genuine in his concern about their issues and wanting to represent them in action and not just talk," said Democratic African American Women Caucus President Leslie Wimes. "I think taking on Vito Sheeley is a great step, but not the only step, in David Jolly walking the walk, not just talking the talk, unlike the current representative that CD13 has. The good thing about having an election every two years is there's always a comma, never a period."
Crist, roundly criticized for missing his first floor vote, was sworn into the U.S. House earlier this month but began fundraising for his reelection before he became a congressman.
Crist said he hoped Sheeley did well in his new job.
“I only wish the best for Vito," he said. "He did a wonderful job on our campaign, for which I will ever be grateful. I hope for a very bright future for he and his family.”