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Political junkie

Consultant seeking positive relationship with Scientologists

By DAVID KARP and ROBERT FARLEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2003


Several weeks ago, political consultant Mary Repper told mayoral candidate Pam Iorio that several friends wanted to meet her. But the introduction came with a warning.

Her friends included prominent members of the Church of Scientology, Repper said. For years the church has been a subject of controversy in Clearwater, where it has its international spiritual headquarters.

"Do you have a problem with this?" Repper asked Iorio.

No, she said.

"They were interested in my candidacy," Iorio said Friday, adding she doesn't ask supporters about their religious backgrounds.

"I viewed them as individuals who lived in Tampa and knew of my record ... and wanted to offer support. I truly treat all people the same and all people with respect."

Years ago, Repper said, she would have never introduced a mayoral candidate to a group of Scientologists. The church was too much of an issue.

"Ten years ago, I was skeptical," Repper said. "But things have changed."

Now, Repper said she has invited Hillsborough County commissioners, City Council members and other elected officials to meet Scientologists.

"I work with a lot of elected officials who turn to the church," Repper said. "Everyone goes now and visits. Ten years ago, it was a different thing. It's a new day. It's been for quite a few years."

Repper said she wanted the church to have a positive relationship with Tampa officials.

When Iorio met the Scientologists -- at a fundraiser March 14 at a South Tampa home -- she said they mentioned the church's new Tampa facility, which will open next Saturday in West Tampa.

Repper, who is not a Scientologist, was listed as a host.

It wasn't known Friday how much money Iorio raised.

Repper said the Scientologists who held the fundraiser for Iorio also helped her opponent, Frank Sanchez. Campaign finance records show the three Scientologists gave a total of $800 to Sanchez.

THE LAST SHOW: The last debate of the mayoral campaign was Friday. Sitting around a table at the WEDU-Ch.3 studio, Sanchez and Iorio dug into topics they've skimmed in other forums:

Sanchez said he may keep some of Greco's top team at City Hall. It's not clear if that includes consultant Ron Rotella, who has said he would stay on.

Iorio said she opposes free speech zones that force protesters to confined areas during public events. "I think people should be able to speak their minds in any zones," she said.

Sanchez said he wants the Tampa Police Department to review its policies and training for dealing with mentally-ill persons. In the last decade, seven mentally-ill people have died in encounters with police . Iorio said Tampa police already had excellent training.

STOKES' SALVO: After a sleepy race between Curtis Stokes and Gwen Miller for a citywide City Council seat, Stokes has finally come out swinging.

In a flier mailed to voters Friday, Stokes says, "Tampa deserves better than Gwen Miller." The flier cites stories about Miller's use of city equipment and staff to work on her campaign. It also quotes from newspaper editorials. One says, "Gwen Miller has been a disappointment."

Miller called the flier unfair. "I don't play dirty politics," she said.

Stokes was unrepentant. "I think voters have the right to know what was presented in the newspaper," he said. "It's clippings from the Tribune and Times. There is nothing fabricated, no lies."

PATRIOTIC SPOT: With bombs dropping on Iraq, Frank Sanchez began airing a radio ad about the war. Sanchez tells listeners that the soldiers have "our full support ... All of America prays for their safe return."

-- Got a tip? Times staff writer David Karp can be reached at 226-3376 or karp@sptimes.com. Times Staff Writer Robert Farley contributed to this column.

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