Political director leaves Harris team

He gets the blame for the inaccurate excuse his boss gave reporters for a poorly attended rally last week: a fallen tree.

Published August 22, 2006

A top staffer for Republican Senate candidate Katherine Harris left the campaign late last week following the congresswoman's poorly attended Orlando airport rally.

Rhyan Metzler, Harris' political director of three months, left Thursday, the day that Harris blamed the paltry rally turnout on a change in location after a tree fell on the originally planned airport hangar site.

It turns out there was no fallen tree.

Harris spokeswoman Jennifer Marks later said Harris gave reporters the misinformation because "that was the information we were given by our political director."

Reached on Sunday night, Metzler wouldn't say whether his departure had anything to do with the tree.

"I adore her and wish her well," he said of Harris.

Marks, however, said Metzler was "not adequately performing his duties" and that he and the campaign reached a mutual agreement that he should leave.

The Orlando campaign rally - expected to be one of Harris' biggest events leading up to the primary election next month - was attended by 30 to 40 people in a hangar that could hold hundreds.

In press releases and in e-mail to supporters across the state, Harris' beleaguered campaign touted the event as a rally hosted by Sen. Mel Martinez, Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings and a slew of members of Congress and the Florida Legislature. No elected official showed up.

Harris is running in the Sept. 5 primary against retired Adm. LeRoy Collins of Tampa, Orlando lawyer Will McBride and Safety Harbor developer Peter Monroe. The winner faces Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in November.

Anita Kumar can be reached at akumar@sptimes.com or 202 463-0576.