Sniping escalates in District 16 Senate race

Frank Farkas plays the Scientology card, while Kim Berfield complains that her GOP opponent is spreading lies.

Published August 26, 2006

State Senate candidate Frank Farkas has mailed a flier to voters claiming that it "looks like Kim Berfield has answered the Church of Scientology's calling."

It's the latest sharp attack between the two GOP candidates for Senate District 16, which includes eastern Pinellas and western Hillsborough counties.

Farkas has previously criticized Berfield for ties to the church, which has a major presence in Clearwater. But the latest mailing goes further, stating: "Berfield is active with the Church of Scientology."

It doesn't say anything about her actual church affiliation: Baptist.

Berfield had not seen the mailing Friday afternoon, but told the St. Petersburg Times: "I'll probably make some kind of response to address ... his absolutely outrageous untruths.

"I'm a born-again Christian," Berfield added. "I was saved when I was 7 years old, and I've been an active member of a Baptist church my whole life."

On Friday evening, some voters received automated phone messages from Berfield in which she complained that Farkas was spreading lies about her.

The new mailing from Farkas includes documentation that Berfield has had several contacts with Scientologists, including attending the church's 75th anniversary celebration at the Fort Harrison Hotel, attending fashion shows organized partly by church members, and appearing in Winter Wonderland in downtown Clearwater, which is sponsored by Scientology.

In an interview earlier this week, Farkas acknowledged that he, too, has had some dealings with Scientologists. He said he attended a 1996 candidate forum at the Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater.

Farkas said he wouldn't go to another candidate forum there because, "I don't adhere or believe in some of their programs and policies."

The Church of Scientology has strongly denounced Farkas' previous comments, calling them religious bigotry.

The winner of the Sept. 5 primary faces Democrat Charlie Justice in the November general election.