It’s official: Shalala for Congress. Former University of Miami President Donna Shalala filed to run for Congress on March 5 and made an official video announcement on March 7 on her website. Shalala, 77, joins eight Democrats in the running for Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s seat in Congress.
In the video, Shalala says she decided to run for Congress because she saw rights she had “fought for” throughout her life “under attack.”
She says her goal is to create a truly “great” America – not the one envisioned during President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign – that has good-paying jobs, a fair immigration policy, well-funded educational systems, accessible and affordable healthcare, gender equity, equal rights for the LGBTQ community, a protected environment and safety in schools.
Shalala also touched upon her hope for bipartisan policy efforts.
“We all remember a time when we could disagree, but in the end, like family, we worked together to do truly great things for our country,” she says in the video.
Her slogan, “Ready on day one,” underlines her experience when compared to some of the newcomer candidates vying for Ros-Lehtinen’s seat.
Ros-Lehtinen, an incumbent since 1989 and an alumna who earned her doctoral degree at UM in 2004, represents Florida’s 27th District in Congress but will retire after this year.
“I’m excited that so many excellent candidates are running to represent the best Congressional district in our nation,” Ros-Lehtinen said in an email. “It has been the honor of my life to represent South Florida in Congress and I know that Donna will provide voters with a great policy platform like many others in the race. I always root for Canes and in this race, I’m rooting for our community to pick the best candidate, whoever the voters decide that is.”
Shalala, who served as the fifth and first female president of UM from 2001 to 2015, was known as a political and financial powerhouse. She raised $3 billion over the 14 years she spent at the helm of UM, and she helped raise the university from a No. 64 spot to a No. 48 spot in the U.S. News & World Report rankings during her tenure.
Throughout her presidency and through this spring, Shalala taught courses in political science and public policy. She will retire from teaching at the end of this academic year.
Some of her biggest physical contributions to campus were the addition of the Shalala Student Center and the construction of the University Village housing complex.
Before Shalala’s tenure at UM, she served as the nation’s secretary of Health and Human Services under the Clinton Administration. Since then, Shalala has maintained strong ties to the Clinton family, bringing the Clinton Global Initiative University to UM and becoming president of the Clinton Foundation in 2015.
The Clinton Foundation came under scrutiny for certain corporate donations to the foundation following State Department actions by Hillary Clinton. Possible links between the donations and official actions was under investigation by the FBI as of Jan. 2018.
Shalala suffered a stroke in Sept. 2015 after a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York and was released a few days later. The CGI program was later ended in 2016. After a two year tenure Shalala left the foundation in April 2017 to pursue teaching full time.
Shalala’s run could mean using Clinton connections to her advantage, though many have voiced criticism because Hillary Clinton won the Democratic-leaning 27th district by a 20-point margin in 2016 – the largest margin in the country for Clinton in a Republican-led congressional district.
Shalala is remembered as a fierce leader and student-centric president, as well as a top-notch fundraiser. She said her trick is instilling confidence in constituents and donors.
“People like to support winners,” she said in a 2015 interview with The Miami Hurricane. “Once you have the smell of a winner, people come and want to make investments, and we could constantly show them that making an investment made a difference in terms of our quality.”
Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Whitely worked alongside Shalala throughout her presidency. She said Shalala never “ceases to amaze” her.
“I wish her the best of luck!” Whitely wrote in an email.
Associate Professor of Political Science Joseph Uscinski said Shalala will be a tough competitor in the race for the 27th congressional district seat.
“Shalala not only would bring name recognition and political experience to the race, but she brings a wealth of policy experience in both Washington, D.C. and in South Florida,” Uscinski said. “If she runs, her entrance into the race would likely deter many other candidates from entering because she would be such a strong candidate.”
Fernand Amandi, UM political science professor and managing partner of polling firm Bendixen & Amandi, has been working closely with Shalala’s campaign. Amandi taught the Election 2016 course with Uscinski, has been an outspoken anti-Trump voice on local radio. His firm helped produce Hillary Clinton’s Spanish-language “Nuestra Amiga” TV spot during the presidential race.
As for Shalala’s students, they appear to be on board, too. Senior communications major Virgilio Capote is taking Shalala’s “U.S. Healthcare Crisis: Politics and Policy” course this semester. He said she would be a great fit for Florida because of her history of leadership and her knowledge about politics and health care.
“She’s more than just a professor, she’s a role model,” he said.
The candidate filing deadline is May 4, primary elections are Aug. 28 and the general election is Nov. 6.
Democrats: Mark Anthony Person, State Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, former Knight Foundation Program Director Matt Haggman, University of Miami Academic Adviser Michael Hepburn, State Sen. José Javier Rodriguez of Miami, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, Miami Commissioner Ken Russell and former State Judge Mary Barzee Flores
Republicans: Angie Chirino of the Voices for Children Foundation, former Doral Vice-Mayor Bettina Rodriguez-Aguilera, County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, former Miami-Dade County Public Schools teacher Maria Peiro, retiree and missionary Gabe Ferrer, Miami broadcast journalist Maria Elvira Salazar and Miami-Dade County Republican Executive Committee member Gina Sosa-Suarez
Independents: Cassandra Anna Hefton and immigration attorney Mayra Joli
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.
Correction, March 5, 10:00 p.m.: An earlier version of this story stated Miami historian Marvin Dunn was running as a Democratic opponent in the race for the 27th Congressional District seat. The story has been updated to reflect that Dunn dropped out of the race in Jan. 2018.