Official's holiday greeting falls flat

An activist accuses Al Higginbotham of using the video as a campaign message.

By BILL VARIAN, Times Staff Writer
Published December 5, 2007

TAMPA - One Hillsborough County commissioner's attempt to spread holiday cheer has gone over like a batch of bad eggnog to some.

Like other commissioners, Al Higginbotham has filmed a holiday greeting to air on the county's government television station. Unlike the others, Higginbotham had a county employee travel across his east county district Monday, filming him and his constituents expressing warm wishes.

East county activist Mariella Smith dismisses the greeting as nothing more than a taxpayer-funded campaign commercial for Higginbotham, who is up for re-election next year. She says as much in a post to the Sticks of Fire blog, on which she is a regular contributor, and got some amens.

"What's most galling to me is the unfair advantage in looking toward his election and framing himself on television that is not available to other candidates," Smith said in an interview Tuesday. "It's just an unfair use of our taxes for self-promotion in his campaign."

Part of Smith's ammunition is a copy of an e-mail from another active east county resident, Debbie Cox-Roush, to members of the FishHawk Republican Club.In it, Cox-Roush, who is president of the club, says Higginbotham has invited them to participate in the shoot.

Higginbotham said he invited Cox-Roush because she is active in the community generally and he never asked her to invite the club. He said his intent with the holiday greeting was actually to take the attention off himself and put it on constituents.

"This thing wasn't about me," Higginbotham said. "It was about east Hillsborough sending a holiday greeting to the rest of the county."

Cox-Roush confirmed that the e-mail to the Republican club was her choice. She said she received the invitation from one of the commissioner's aides, and took it upon herself to invite the club.

"That is my wording, not his," Cox-Roush said. "He invited people from FishHawk. Because I'm president of the Republican club, I invited them, too."

As it turns out, Cox-Roush wasn't able to make the shoot. Higginbotham said several others didn't show either, including several other community activists who have been on the opposite side of issues from him.

He said he only shows up at the end of the video, which mostly features others.

Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com or 813 226-3387.