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Bilirakis uses same format to fight back

The congressional candidate's TV ad calls his opponent a "negative campaigner."

Published October 18, 2006

For months, Phyllis Busansky has jabbed at Gus Bilirakis, calling her 9th Congressional District opponent weak on homeland security, a rubber stamp for Republicans and absent as Floridians watched property insurance rates spiral.

She even launched a Web site:

Bilirakis was unprovoked.

Last week, though, his campaign came out swinging.

Busansky rolled out a set of television spots ridiculing Bilirakis' response to the Mark Foley scandal. She is one of four Democratic candidates nationally to use the Foley fallout to attack a Republican opponent on the airwaves, according to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Her 15-second television ad opens with a voice-over: "Gus Bilirakis commenting on Foley sex scandal in Washington."

On screen, letters are typed out one by one.

"We have no stance on that right now - we'll worry about that after we win." The quote is attributed to the Hill, a Washington, D.C., newspaper.

Hours after the ad's release, Bilirakis' campaign shifted to rapid response mode.

Aides visited three bay area television stations to argue that the ad should be pulled. They said it distorts Bilirakis' words, said Liz Hittos, his deputy campaign manager.

When that didn't work, his staffers briefly contemplated seeking an injunction to keep it off the air. Instead, Hittos said, they opted to attack the attack.

The next day, a statement from the state Republican Party asserted that Busansky's ad was an attempt to distract voters from the fact that she was "quietly collecting money from two congressmen who protected a pedophile in the 1980s."

A second release, this one from the Bilirakis campaign, accused Busansky of lying to voters. The release said her ad failed to indicate that Bilirakis' "no stance" remark was a response to a question about his support for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, not Foley's indiscretions.

"She should be ashamed," Hittos said in the statement.

The Bilirakis camp unleashed a counterattack spot, branding Busansky, a former Hillsborough County commissioner, as a "negative campaigner."

Meanwhile, Busansky's team stands by the ad, said campaign manager Robert Becker.

"One time last week, they had three different responses, so I just sat back and watched," he said.

He scoffed at allegations that Busansky lied.

"We wouldn't have been talking about Hastert unless we were talking about Foley," Becker said.

Some voters and donors found the "no stance" remark arrogant, Becker said. He accused Bilirakis, a four-term state legislator, of being slow to address questions that the Foley matter raised about Republican leaders in the U.S. House.

"Gus Bilirakis is one of the few candidates in the country who (has) not taken a position on Dennis Hastert," Becker said.

Days after the Foley scandal broke, Bilirakis told the St. Petersburg Times: "Let's see what the facts are. ... Whoever tried to cover it up should be prosecuted."

Reached by phone Monday, Bilirakis said his position had not changed.

"I think that we need to let the investigation play out - uncover all the facts. And I said no one is above the law."


The candidates:


Gus M. Bilirakis, 43, grew up in Tarpon Springs, lives in Palm Harbor and is a probate lawyer in Holiday. He attended St. Petersburg College, earned a degree in political science from the University of Florida and graduated from Stetson University College of Law. He was an adjunct professor teaching American government at St. Petersburg College during the 2002-03 academic year. Since 1998, Bilirakis has been a state representative for House District 48, which covers northern Pinellas and part of southern Pasco. He is married and has four sons. Assets: House in Palm Harbor, securities, joint business venture, property in Holiday where law practice is located, stock in law practice and title company, bank accounts and prepaid tuition accounts for four sons. Liabilities: Mortgage. Sources of income: Probate law practice, title company, state representative's salary. Web site:


Phyllis H. Busansky, 69, was born in Connecticut and has lived in Tampa for 27 years. After graduating from Wheaton College, she earned a master's degree from Brandeis University's School for Social Policy. Busansky was a commissioner for Hillsborough County from 1988 to 1996. She is on the faculty of the School of Public Health at Columbia University, where she teaches a seminar in leadership and coalition building. She has served on numerous civic boards, including the Hillsborough County Hospital Authority. Busansky was named Outstanding Public Official by Governing magazine for her indigent health care program in 1996. She and her husband have three adult children and nine grandchildren. Assets: Home, checking account, bank certificates of deposit, mutual funds, municipal bonds, money market funds. Liabilities: None. Sources of income: Columbia University, consultant's work, state pension. Web site: www.busansky


[Last modified October 18, 2006, 07:11:04]

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