Freddie Pitts protests use of name in ad

Published August 31, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - Call it the calm before the political storm.

After one day of silence, both Democratic gubernatorial campaigns returned full force with new attacks as Tropical Storm Ernesto blustered through South Florida on Wednesday.

Yet Democratic bomb throwing will be limited to ads and e-mails because NBC affiliate WPTV canceled a debate that had been postponed Tuesday due to the storm, and a new debate could not fit into state Sen. Rod Smith's schedule.

The latest flap is over a new ad airing on adult African-American radio stations (at least one smooth jazz station had it) blasting U.S. Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa for voting in 1990 not to compensate two wrongfully convicted black men, Freddie Pitts and Wilbert Lee of Miami. The ad was paid for by a political group funded by U.S. Sugar.

The radio ad features an announcer who says, "Listen to the words of Freddie Pitts." Then a different man with a deeper voice calls Davis a backwater politician, among other things.

It isn't Pitts speaking. And while the words spoken are similar to what Pitts told the Miami Herald, they are not completely accurate. The same character voices comments made by Lee, calling Davis a coldhearted man.

On Wednesday, Pitts told the Times that while he was not happy with the way Davis voted in 1990, he did not want any part of the current politics. "For them to use my name, to say it was me, somebody's got to do some answering," he said.

Today, a revised ad will run with no "dramatization of the facts in this matter," said Stuart Rosenfeldt, the Boca Raton lawyer behind the political group, Coalition for Justice and Equality. "We do not want this to be a distraction from the seriousness of the questionable act by Jim Davis."

The Davis campaign spent the day calling for Smith to denounce the ad, complete with a conference call with Davis' black supporters, including U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown. "This country has a race problem we need to talk about," she said, "but we don't need people trying to further divide us."

Smith's campaign responded with statements from state Sen. Al Lawson of Tallahassee and Smith himself, who called the vote indefensible and "the result of a failure to exercise political courage."

The radio ad takes additional liberties with Smith's record on the controversial death of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson in a Panama City boot camp in January. The spot states Smith led the fight to close the boot camp, but other lawmakers, most of them members of the black caucus, were more visible on that issue.

On Wednesday television, it was all Smith all the time in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. Davis yanked his television ads on Tuesday afternoon in those markets, citing concern about the tropical storm. By contrast, Smith's campaign unveiled an ad that began playing statewide on a day when most South Floridians stayed home from work while the storm passed.

Davis' campaign will return to the air in those two markets today and will be joined by a new commercial that bashes Smith's environmental record. It's funded by a political committee formed on Monday called Save Our Everglades Trust, whose chairwoman, Mary Barley, also runs Save Our Everglades. It promises to "expose Big Sugar's lies."

Most of the ads attacking Davis have been funded by political committees largely financed by U.S. Sugar to the tune of $2 million.

Later in the day, the Davis campaign accused the Smith campaign of ducking out of the televised debates, so Smith wouldn't have to answer questions about sugar money.

Smith's campaign told WPTV that it couldn't fit in a rescheduled Friday night debate, because it's kicking off a four-day statewide tour that morning, said Smith spokesman David Kochman.