by Joe Shea
March 12, 3014
HOW DO YOU 'RUN' AGAINST A 3-TIME SUPER BOWL LINEMAN?
BRADENTON, Fla., March 11, 2014 -- "The best defense against karate is track," says Mitch Mallett, a well-known Bay Area comedian and entrepreneur who once ran the mile for Iowa's Drake University.
Now, though, he's a Florida Democratic Party state committeeman, and he's about to take on the huge three-time Super Bowl winner for the Oakland Raiders, Henry Lawrence, who was an offensive tackle for the Raiders in Los Angeles and Oakland for 13 years, a two-time star in the Pro Bowl, and now an R&B singer in a band popular in the Sarasota, Fla., area.
With his brand of charm, experience, humor and intelligence, Mallett hopes to outrun Lawrence in the Aug. 26 Democratic primary. And if Mallett can run, as boxer Joe Louis once said, he can't hide - and he won't.
Both men are seeking a chance to run against one of the richest millionaires in Congress (which has 250 of them), 16th Congressional District Republican Vern Buchanan, a car salesman also from Sarasota.
Staring down a 270-lb well-funded behemoth in a Democratic primary is not the only tough challenge Mallett has faced. When his knees betrayed him at Drake - where he was contemporaneous with Manatee Co. Supervisor of Elections Michael Bennett - he went back to New Jersey and took business, labor, sociology and economics classes at Rutgers University.
Soon after graduation, he became a pioneer solar contractor, and built a solar home in Rhode Island. Later, he opened one of the biggest Apple Computer stores in Rhode Island and saw it become a huge success. But when John Scully came in and pushed Steve Jobs out, cutting dealers' margins in the process, 95 percent of the Apple dealers like Mallett were pushed out of business. Mallett moved to Florida in 1996 and never looked back.
Then, in 1998, a catastrophic car accident left one side of his face deeply scarred from brain injuries that produced minor speech deficits that are sometimes evident today - not that he doesn't like to talk.
Mallett, 57, hosted a show called "It's Your Gavel" on Bradenton's WWPR-AM for almost a decade and is now hosting the show, a blend of humor, political harangues and balky GOP callers, on Blog Talk Radio. He's also appeared dozens of times at the famed McCurdy's Comedy Store in Sarasota.
Recently, the big time beckoned when the famously conservative Clear Channel Radio inquired whether he might be interested in hosting one of their shows.
"I thought they had the wrong number," joked the modest but outspoken Mallett. "I'm a social liberal and fiscal Jew - I can say that!"
But Mallett has been anything but frugal in his work for the Democratic Party, making the quarterly 250-mile roundtrips to Orlando for three years since his election and winning friendships with powerful lawmakers like Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
In a heavily contested race, he won a spot as delegate to the party's historic 2008 convention, where the two spent hours seated beside each other in Denver. The friendship has persisted over the intervening years. "She called me a few weeks ago and said, 'This Debbie Wasserman-Schultz - do you remember me?'"
"I got a good laugh out of that," Mallett said. "I told her I had just hugged and kissed her at a state party meeting a few weeks back. She said, 'Well, I hug a lot of people.' She's great," he said.
In 2008, Mallett decided to come to the aid of the party by setting up a booth in the parking lot of the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections polls during two busy weeks of early voting. It was a timely move, as thousands of voters showed up to elect America's first black President.
Pins and bumper stickers went like hotcakes, The booth sold 960 bumper stickers at $2 each the first day. Before the election was over, Mallett had raised more than $17,000 for the party's federal treasury.
Mallett has given thousands of hours to get-out-the-vote door-knocking and other party chores, and contributed thousands of dollars beyond that over the 14 years he has served on the Democratic Executive Committee. It has been a disappointment to him that after all that hard work, local party officials have not encouraged his plucky run against the big lineman.
"My quarterbacks [the party chairs] aren't giving me the ball," he said, "so I have to pick up their fumbles and run with it." Soon, he may be well downfield of Lawrence, he hopes.
But far worse than his treatment by local Democrats was the devastating loss of Mallett's 2-year-old son Reuben at the Malletts' home near the Bradenton Country Club.
More recently, Mallett's wife left him, weary of the candidate's tireless efforts on behalf of Florida voters and Democrats. The two are dating again, he says. "It's a lot cheaper the second time around," he quipped.
Mallett is now a leading producer for Legal Shield, a premium legal service that allows members low-cost access to good lawyers on a 24/7 basis. He is also a graduate in Middle Eastern Studies at the Jewish Agency's WUSJ Institute (now operated by Hadassah in Jerusalem) and active in Bradenton's small Jewish community. He lives in the Bradenton home with his 23-year-old son, Noah, a college student at State College of Florida now on sabbatical.
Out behind the home is a tall shed Mallett built by hand. It is a very sturdy wooden structure that has easily withstood the heavy winds that have sometimes swept this hurricane-prone stretch of Florida's southern Gulf Coast. It has a weathered look, perhaps, but like its builder, it's in no danger of falling down.
Joe Shea is Editor-in-Chief of The American Reporter, the first exclusively elecvtronic daily newspaper on Earth.