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Sanchez's repeated gaffes don't bode well

By MARY JO MELONE, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2003


To borrow from Brando, Frank Sanchez coulda been a contender.

He has the smarts. He has the connections. He has the money. Most of all he has the money. As the Tampa mayoral campaign draws to a close -- the election is Tuesday -- he has raised $900,000.

But he blew it.

There is a reason for this. Sanchez has leaned on the time-honored practice of blaming reporters for his long shot status in his race against Pam Iorio. But the cause is right in front of Sanchez's nose. Actually, the cause is his nose -- and the rest of him. He's his own problem.

He has flip-flopped more times than a cold fish on a hot dock. Each flip-flop was typically followed by an apology.

First he made Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla mad. Then he backtracked. Then he made the women who dislike the Krewe mad. Then he apologized to the women.

He said more international flights should be coming into Tampa International Airport, which irked the man who runs the airport. Sanchez apologized to him, too.

He charged that Iorio, when she was a Hillsborough County commissioner, proposed raising property taxes to pay for stormwater improvements. He later said, whoops, that wasn't true.

He circulated a letter to voters saying Iorio was tax happy. A campaign official asked a reporter at this newspaper to write about Iorio's tax voting history while on the County Commission. Then another campaign official said no. He didn't want the Times to pursue it.

Sanchez finally said he would not run negative ads, period. He even apologized to Iorio. When an attack ad appeared on a radio station, Sanchez said he hadn't authorized it.

What a nice man. Befuddled, too.

Either he is dangerously mistake-prone, or he has been getting lousy advice. Or both.

On Friday, when Sanchez complained about "the bad stuff," he took particular issue with a story written by my colleague, David Karp, who is covering the mayor's race.

Sanchez has been a business consultant, first in practice with others, then on his own. When he went out on his own in Tampa, he circulated a list of public agencies and private firms who were his clients. Trouble was, as Karp reported, some of the clients weren't his. They were in fact the clients of the firms he had previously worked for.

"Gotcha journalism," Sanchez complained Friday, while at the same time acknowledging that the client list contained mistakes.

There goes that word again. Mistakes.

Reporters get blasted, sometimes fairly, for only concentrating on the horse race and the moments when the candidate stumbles. You might argue that this is the case with Sanchez, but there have been too many mistakes to ignore.

He ends up looking naive at best, sloppy at worst.

The question then becomes, if he screws up like this now, while running for office, what would he do once in office?

This is the one question Sanchez can't duck. It makes his protestations about "the bad stuff" irrelevant. What goes on now does tell you something about the man and his methods, and in Sanchez's case the picture is not at all reassuring.

On Friday, in conversation with me, Sanchez railed again about Iorio's tax votes while on the County Commission. He cited what he said was a 1991 vote to raise property taxes by 25 percent in unincorporated Hillsborough while lowering a countywide property tax. He made it sound as though we had purposely failed to report on this and that we had been unfair to him.

Let me clarify: The claim that Iorio voted to raise property taxes 25 percent in 1991 was in the letter the Sanchez campaign gave to the Times but then withdrew. Somebody had a change of heart, I guess, or decided they'd made a mistake.

Imagine that.

-- You can reach Mary Jo Melone at mjmelone@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3402.

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