McBride wants Harris apology

A co-chairwoman of Harris' Senate campaign says she was told by a staffer to ask McBride a racially sensitive question.

Published August 12, 2006

U.S. Senate candidate Will McBride demanded an apology from Republican rival Katherine Harris Friday after learning that the person who asked him a racially charged question at a debate works for Harris.

Jackie Brownhill, identified as a co-chairwoman for the Harris campaign in the Tampa Bay area, asked McBride why he changed his name from Rodriguez in front of a crowd last week at a Pinellas County Republican club forum.

McBride, who has grandmothers from Mexico and the Dominican Republic, denied he had changed his name.

It "is more compelling proof that Ms. Harris should apologize clearly and sincerely for the outrageous remarks of a member of her campaign organization," McBride said Friday. "How sad it is that Katherine Harris lacks the grace to admit that her campaign team has acted at the very least callously, and apologize for their actions."

At the time, Brownhill, who was wearing a Harris sticker, said a Harris campaign staffer had instructed her to ask. She also said of McBride, "He doesn't look American."

Harris' office did not return calls asking about Brownhill late Friday.

In the past week, Harris has refused to apologize and said no one currently affiliated with the campaign asked Brownhill to do that. But she said later an unidentified campaign aide discussed a possible name change with her.

"It would be a stupid campaign strategy to set someone up to do that," Harris said at a later campaign forum. "I can assure you that neither I or anyone on my management team would ever do something like that."

But Harris later told reporters she was investigating the situation and would fire anyone she found who was involved.

On Friday, another Republican candidate, Peter Monroe, said Harris and McBride should move past the incident.

"We need to refocus the Senate race on issues important to Florida voters," he said. "If Harris and McBride find it impossible to either forgive or apologize, they need to take it outside, so the rest of us can get on with a serious Senate campaign based on serious issues."

McBride, Harris and Monroe also face LeRoy Collins of Tampa in the Sept. 5 primary. The winner will challenge Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Anita Kumar can be reached at akumar@sptimes.com or 202 463-0576.