Incumbents: Challengers misleading
By PAUL SWIDER
Published March 12, 2006
ST. PETE BEACH - Incumbents are feeling the brunt of what they consider to be untruths spread as part of the endgame before Tuesday's election for two City Commission seats.
In District 1, Commissioner Deborah Martohue is considering suing for slander a new political group that put out a flier suggesting she profited illegally, while she served on the City Commission, from a relationship with a former client.
"I can't imagine anything more shocking or misleading," Martohue said of the brochure put out by St. Pete Beach Citizens for Unity, a group formed just this month.
The flier says Martohue was a real estate agent for a former owner of the Travelodge who made millions from its sale.
Martohue said she has never been a real estate agent and was only Tony Amico's registered agent, meaning she created a corporation for him and nothing else.
The relationship is the subject of an ethics charge Martohue is facing, but she maintains that city, county and other legal opinions confirmed she had no conflict.
"This (flier) went beyond politics," said Martohue, a land-use attorney. "This could affect my professional career."
St. Pete Beach Citizens for Unity consists of Deborah Schechner and Gary Krauthamer, according to forms filed with the city. Neither responded to calls for comment.
Krauthamer is the sole contributor and has put $5,000 into the new group, almost half of which was spent on an advertisement in the St. Petersburg Times.
Schechner and Krauthamer are both members of Citizens for Responsible Growth, the political committee that has been opposing the city's redevelopment plans and that has inserted itself into the District 1 race.
Krauthamer is also a donor to CRG as well as the campaigns of Mike Finnerty, Martohue's opponent, and Commissioner Ed Ruttencutter, who is a CRG favorite and is running for re-election in District 3.
Ruttencutter is also crying foul over an issue raised by his challenger, Chris Leonard, who pointed out an August workshop when Ruttencutter talked of allowing 20-story hotels as part of tourist redevelopment.
Tall hotels are the central issue in CRG's opposition to the city's plans to use them to bolster tourism.
"The suggestion I was making was that no residential would be allowed above 10 stories," Ruttencutter said in describing the August meeting.
He has earlier said he was merely conceding 20 stories in order to end an argument among commission members. Minutes of the meeting say Ruttencutter proposed allowing hotels up to 20 stories, but he says the minutes are wrong and is seeking to have them changed.
A video recording of the meeting shows a constructive give and take among a commission that often fought over details while refining the redevelopment plan.
Ruttencutter asks his colleagues "would you agree to" a proposal that would allow buildings as tall as 20 stories if they would be strictly hotels, and then repeats and clarifies the point.
He later expresses surprise that he has gone along with a tall-building proposal. An opposing political brochure calls this "measured" support, which Ruttencutter calls an "outright lie."
"It's a credibility issue," Leonard said, adding that it wouldn't be an issue if Ruttencutter just said he had a change of heart.
"My opponent will use meeting minutes when they are favorable to him, but now when something hurts him politically, he wants to change the minutes."
Leonard said Ruttencutter, who prides himself on examining details of city business, had approved the minutes when they were published in October. Any change to the minutes would have to be approved by the commission as well.
Leonard raised the issue during last week's candidate forum, which was otherwise tame because Leonard and Ruttencutter often take similar positions.
As the campaign wears on, Ruttencutter sometimes seems to be running more against Martohue than Leonard.
Responding to questions about his race, Ruttencutter sometimes criticizes Martohue, calling her untruthful and argumentative. The two often spar during commission meetings, a point Finnerty used to criticize his opponent.
"I listen. My opponent yells," Finnerty said during the forum. He and Martohue had had an agreement not to attack one another during the campaign.
Paul Swider can be reached at 892-2271 or email@example.com or by participating in itsyourtimes.com.
[Last modified March 12, 2006, 01:18:21]
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