tampabay.com

Candidate's e-mails lob invective and share gossip

Messages from Curtis Holmes' account call a King memorial "foolish." He wanted Stanton fired without pay.

By LORRI HELFAND, Times Staff Writer
Published October 28, 2007


City Commission candidate Curtis Holmes campaigns as someone who could deftly navigate the nuances of city politics.

But in many e-mails to city officials, Holmes has pursued a particular style of politics, one that is highly personal, gossipy and sometimes ventures into potentially volatile rhetoric.

Since late February, Holmes, who is vying for a commission seat against Woody Brown, has sent more than 55 e-mails to the personal e-mail account of at least one city commissioner.

In those e-mails, which Commissioner Mary Gray Black released in response to public records requests, Holmes:

- Lobbied to have former City Manager Steve Stanton fired with no severance pay.

- Speculated about the sexual orientation of certain commissioners or their children.

- Wrote that, under Islamic law, a local minister who supported Stanton would be executed along with Stanton and others.

When asked last week about two e-mails sent to Black, Holmes said they didn't sound familiar. He did not challenge whether they came from his computer and e-mail account. Instead, he suggested that someone else might have sent them.

"These things are easily hacked," he said. "Without seeing these things I can't comment."

Holmes hung up on a reporter and did not respond to two more messages and an e-mail sent to him that included examples of his e-mails.

* * *

On May 1, Holmes sent Black and others e-mails about an educational seminar on transgender issues hosted by the Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County, a group that supports gay and transgender people.

The e-mail included an event flier that described one of the panelists, the Rev. Abhi Janamanchi, as someone who relates to Islamic teachings of "religious tolerance and human equality."

In his e-mail, Holmes said he attended the seminar and described Janamanchi as one of Stanton's most ardent defenders.

"Under Islamic Sharia law, Mr. (Ms) Stanton would be stoned to death," Holmes wrote. "With few exceptions everyone who attended last night's meeting would be executed, especially Rev. Janamanchi. Thought you too would find this interesting."

When the Times asked about the e-mail last week, Holmes said, "I never heard of (Janamanchi). I have no idea what you're talking about."

Holmes also said he didn't recall attending the seminar, although Janamanchi remembers seeing Holmes there.

"People continue to amaze me with their shallow understanding of religion," said Janamanchi, senior minister of the Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater, who is not Muslim and who said he does not guide his daily affairs by Islamic law.

City Commissioner Gay Gentry, who is leaving the seat Holmes is running for, called his comments about people being executed "disturbing."

"You don't play around with those phrases anymore," Gentry said. "Anything like that shouldn't be said. And if it is said, it should be taken very seriously."

Gentry also said those comments and others Holmes made don't jibe with the judgment expected of a city leader.

"I see him as a lone wolf," she said. "I can't imagine he would suddenly enjoy having to work with six other individuals."

* * *

At city meetings, Holmes openly pushed for Stanton's firing.

Behind the scenes, he advised Black just how to go about it.

"I'd suggest you consider upping the ante. After reading today's latest Times/Stanton episode, and I'm sure more to come perhaps we should entertain introducing a TERMINATION FOR CAUSE," Holmes wrote March 9.

That would have prevented Stanton from collecting any severance pay.

Black did not take Holmes' advice and wrote back saying she stood firm on her already proposed resolution to fire Stanton, chiefly because it was in the best interest of the city.

"The idea of upping the ante is nothing more than a poker play," Holmes wrote back later that day.

Black said last week she would not comment about Holmes, as he is one of the candidates for the Nov. 6 election.

Holmes also forwarded numerous e-mails to Black in which he and others, including Clearwater Gazette columnist Leo Coughlin, discussed Stanton's firing and other officials.

In one, Holmes called Commissioner Rodney Woods an "a--" for supporting Stanton.

Black said just because e-mails are in her in-box doesn't mean she defends them. The e-mails are there because she's legally responsible for keeping them, she said.

* * *

In an April 4 e-mail, Holmes mentioned Steve Stanton, two current city commissioners and one former commissioner. He speculated that one official wanted "special" rights because that person is homosexual and that others wanted them because, he contended, they have gay children.

"Methinks Largo is being deliberately led astray," Holmes wrote on April 4. "Seems positively unusual that Largo could have so many 'alternative lifestyle' individuals in a leadership role. Statistically it's not possible, but ..."

Asked about the e-mail last week, Holmes said that did not sound familiar to him, either.

Two city officials not mentioned in Holmes' e-mail did not embrace its contents.

"I don't believe in that," said Commissioner Andy Guyette, who called the e-mail "personal."

"I don't participate in rumors," Black said. "I ignore all of those."

* * *

In e-mails, Holmes also exaggerated comments from a commissioner to fuel opposition to a proposed Martin Luther King Jr. memorial.

Last week, commissioners agreed to move forward with the stalled proposal to honor King. A fundraising campaign would help build a memorial plaza honoring King in the Largo Central Park.

For months, however, the project was the center of controversy.

At city meetings, on his Web site - www.largofuture.com - and in several e-mails to city officials, Holmes repeatedly said that the money for the memorial would be better spent on sidewalks.

In recent months, Holmes called the memorial a "foolish scheme" and said the city could be sued for discrimination if the memorial was built. He also declared that the city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars less than it actually did for sidewalks.

Commissioner Woods, who is Largo's first black commissioner, sat on the city's memorial committee before he was elected and advocated for the project afterward.

After Guyette said there was opposition to the project, Woods said the rationale raised by Holmes and some critics was a thinly veiled excuse for racism. He later apologized.

But, in urging people to write to City Hall and oppose the memorial, Holmes framed Woods' comments as a sweeping attack.

"I'm shocked at the latest foolishness emanating from Commissioner Woods' mouth," Holmes wrote on Aug. 23. "In today's Times, link below, he states that anyone that opposes the spending of your $60,000 to build a monument to MLK, in Central Park, rather than sidewalks for the safety of Largo residents is a RACIST."

Holmes accused Woods of "using the RACE card to nix safety for the kids."

* * *

Before Holmes announced his candidacy, he talked to Commissioner Gigi Arntzen about running. She said she gave him a few pieces of advice.

Be positive, she said she told him. Also, it takes four votes to get anything done, so come in as a team player, she said.

Arntzen didn't speak specifically about Holmes' e-mails last week. But she said he did not take her advice.

"He just could have run his campaign so much differently," she said.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or 445-4155.