Miami commissioner Ken Russell joins race to replace Ros-Lehtinen

Congress could get its first professional yo-yo player if Ken Russell makes it to Washington.

The current Miami city commissioner, who once traveled around the world to showcase his yo-yo skills, told the Miami Herald that he is officially joining the crowded Democratic primary to replace retiring Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

“I love my job as city commissioner and once Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced her retirement it started a new conversation,” Russell said. “It’s almost serendipity that [her retirement] is coinciding with what’s going on with the federal government. Instantly, I felt inside this is something I want to do.”

Russell set up an exploratory committee in May to gauge his electoral prospects and begin fundraising. After conducting internal polling, Russell concluded that there was a path to victory, even though other Democrats jumped in the race.

The 44-year-old, who won a Miami city commission seat in 2015, is now the eighth Democrat who has declared a candidacy for a Miami-based district that national Democrats hope they can flip in 2018. The district is among the most Democratic-leaning in the country that is currently represented by a Republican.

“There’s a lot of good people running, we’re all very different,” Russell said. We come from different backgrounds, we appeal to different backgrounds, we all have different visions.”

Seven others are vying for the party’s nomination to the rare open seat: former state Judge Mary Barzee Flores, state Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez of Miami, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn, Mark Anthony Person and former Knight Foundation director Matt Haggman.

Russell, who said his interest in politics started when the park across the street from his house was fenced off because of environmental neglect, plans to highlight the need for infrastructure development to offset sea level rise during his campaign.

“In Miami it’s more prevalent than anywhere else in the country, we cannot expel the water from our streets,” Russell said, adding that the Trump presidency will dominate a lot of the conversation during a Democratic primary but that the electorate will be attracted to a candidate “who is looking beyond the Trump years and has a vision.”

Russell told the Miami Herald that he raised around $220,000 during the most recent fundraising quarter that ended on Sept. 30.

“Some might say that Washington has enough yo-yos so that one more won’t be noticed,” Russell said.