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    Campaign fliers start unfriendly exchange

    Some Clearwater commission candidates are accusing each other of mailing political tracts that are negative or inaccurate.

    By CHRISTINA HEADRICK

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 10, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- Candidates in Tuesday's election for three Clearwater commission seats saved their hardest punches for the end of the campaign, mailing fliers critical of one another this week and prompting complaints of unfair attacks.

    In the race for Seat 5, candidate Frank Hibbard, a banker making his first run for commission, was livid about a flier by opponent Bill Jonson.

    The flier accurately quotes a statement Hibbard made at an early forum: "We are going to have to look at new ways to raise taxes," Hibbard said. The flier then says, "Frankly, no way." The other side tells people to vote for Jonson.

    Hibbard thinks his statement was taken out of context. Hibbard said his position is that the city needs to spur new development, which will raise new sources of tax revenue for the city so property taxes don't have to increase.

    "He waited until the last minute to use this so I wouldn't have time to respond to it," Hibbard said. "I hope people see there's negative campaigning and they don't want that for Clearwater."

    Jonson, a retired accountant and civic activist, said the statement on his flier was fair.

    "That's what he said," Jonson said. "We were kind of surprised that any of the candidates would make that kind of statement. Either he wants to raise taxes, or it was a careless statement."

    Jonson said Hibbard has taken statements out of context on one of Hibbard's final fliers, which quotes an excerpt from a St. Petersburg Times editorial that compliments Hibbard. But the rest of the editorial gave Jonson the Times' endorsement.

    The other two candidates in the race, Jeralne Burt and Lucile Casey, have refrained from attacks.

    The race for Seat 4 on the commission also has become snippy. Whitney Gray, a former teacher who does volunteer work, said she was really upset when she saw the latest flier from her opponent, former Commissioner Lee Regulski.

    The flier uses cartoons to ridicule city decisions, such as the beach roundabout, which Gray had nothing to do with. She says she also is concerned about the roundabout.

    The mailing also attacks Gray for accepting campaign donations from out-of-town residents and attorneys who represent developers, and suggests some "return" is expected for the donations.

    Gray said she has accepted donations from longtime friends and family members, some of whom live out of town, and she doesn't think it's a big deal. For instance, one donation that Regulski has singled out came from her father, who lives on Longboat Key. Gray said she doesn't feel beholden to anybody who's given to her campaign.

    "I thought we were going to be able to keep this campaign above that kind of thing, and really address the more important issues in Clearwater," Gray said. "But this is what we've come to expect from Mr. Regulski, the same kind of scare tactics and half-truths. I really took very personal offense."

    Gray said she has some money saved to run a telephone bank this weekend to respond to Regulski's flier and urge people to vote for her.

    Regulski said that it's perfectly fair to talk about Gray's campaign contributions, which are more than double the $10,000 Regulski has reported.

    He also thinks that Gray has attacked him unfairly in her recent flier. It accuses Regulski of wanting to "keep Clearwater mired in the past" and reject new plans. The flier also suggests the city's water and sewer system was neglected while Regulski was in office, resulting in higher water and sewer charges now to fix problems.

    "I have not been responsible for the neglect of anything in the past nine years, yet I was attacked for being responsible for these things," Regulski said.

    The race for Seat 3, between former Mayor Rita Garvey and beach businessman Hoyt Hamilton, was capped by a flier critical of Garvey's record. Hamilton thought his criticism was fair.

    He noted that, he hasn't brought up personal issues, including Garvey's drunken driving accident before she was ousted as mayor by Brian Aungst in 1999.

    "I haven't mentioned that whatsoever," Hamilton said.

    Garvey declined to address the specific points Hamilton raised about her record, except to say: "I've been getting credit for a lot of things that went wrong. I didn't realize one person had all that power."

    "The only response I have, really, is that I've always believed that people don't want to elect someone who is negative," Garvey said.

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