Anger, one-liners mark election
By JENNIFER FARRELL
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 8, 2000
HERNANDO BEACH -- By the time he sent the e-mail, the battle was over.
But Joe Lentini couldn't resist.
On behalf of all of the members of the Alonzo Merritt campaign committee I wish to thank you for all of your nastiness, troublemaking, lies and mischief. Your actions gave us all of the momentum we needed to win. I thank you, my wife thanks you, the fishermen thank you, the business community thanks you and especially the citizens of Hernando County thank you for helping us to get rid of the rude arrogant Chairman and "Mrs. Commissioner."
Addressed to Julia Jackson, a staunch supporter of Paul Sullivan, Merritt's rival and challenger for the County Commission GOP nomination, the e-mail prompted a terse response the next morning.
Evidently you are doing your best to "Heal the Rift' as your candidate promised. I welcome further conciliatory messages from you. I am proud to have supported Paul Sullivan the "Best Man for the Job!'
And so stands the climate in Hernando Beach.
In the aftermath of the bitter campaign, which deepened the sharp divide between neighbors in this coastal community, there is talk of moving on, of letting go.
But under the surface, animosity lingers.
"If I had been there, I would have punched him," Sullivan said Thursday after relaying an election day exchange between Jackson and a Merritt backer.
Jackson reportedly slapped David Pointec's face after the two argued over the placement of election signs. But only after Pointec called her a "f------ c---," according to Jackson.
Pointec denies he spoke the words.
Sheriff's deputies were called to the polling place repeatedly to separate and monitor supporters of Sullivan and Merritt. At one point, Sheriff Tom Mylander showed up to quell tensions.
To hear Sullivan and Jackson tell it, some of Merritt's supporters are unruly thugs, willing to resort to intimidation. Sullivan said foes drove by his home at 2 a.m. after the election, throwing beer bottles, honking their horn and yelling, "Bye Bye, Paulie." "There's a group out here who believe that they can do whatever they please, regardless of what the law says," Jackson said. "I'm a little concerned about where Hernando Beach is headed."
But supporters of Merritt deny the charges and suggest that some in the Sullivan camp have been behind acts of vandalism.
Lentini tells of friends finding nails in tires and of suspicious circumstances surrounding a sunken airboat.
"Was it on purpose? Is it just a coincidence?" he asked. "I'm worried that these people are going to continue this harassment of anybody who doesn't act the way they think people should act."
And on and on it goes.
It all started with a fight over where commercial fishing boats could dock.
A group of homeowners, led by Jackson and Sullivan's wife, Cathie, succeeded in persuading the County Commission to prohibit docking commercial boats longer than 26 feet behind residential lots.
In the meantime, the business owners association sided with the Marine Industry Council on behalf of the fishermen. And the hard feelings played out publicly in the Hernando Beach Property Owners Association when Mrs. Sullivan and Jackson were displaced by members sympathetic to commercial fishing interests, Lentini's wife, Joan, among them.
Jackson and others left the association and formed the Homeowners Alliance, which fought successfully to deny the rezoning of a marina owner who wanted to create more dock space for commercial fishermen.
Meanwhile, the fishermen formed a political action committee, whose primary goal was to oust Sullivan from the County Commission.
Now that Sullivan has been defeated, his opponents say they are willing to drop the enmity.
"I truly believe that the community's going to come together," said John Saittis, president of the county Marine Industry Council. "The marine council never had a personal vendetta against Paul Sullivan. . . . He would've run unopposed had he simply given us the courtesy of listening to our side of the story."
Merritt said Friday he plans to reach out to Paul Sullivan and Jackson to look for ways to move forward in harmony.
Jackson has her doubts and vowed to support Democratic commission candidate Mary Coyne Aiken in the Nov. 7 election. She fears Merritt will work to repeal the boat ban, signaling a trend toward encroachment of commercial interests on residential areas.
"We're not talking about petty politics here," she said. "This is serious for the whole county.
As for mending fences, she pointed to the fishing boats.
"We could all live in harmony if they just stayed in the commercial area and cleaned up their act," she said.
Any rift on the beach is because of a quest for power by Lentini, who she said was bitter over losing a commission race to Sullivan four years ago.
Lentini acknowledged that, for him, the battle has been largely personal, but not because of any problem with Sullivan.
"These are the people that attacked my wife last year," he said. "They vowed to embarrass her publicly."
Still there are those in the community who have remained relatively unaffected by the discord.
Scott Speakman was one of the majority of Hernando Beach residents who did not cast a vote in Tuesday's election, in which 15 votes were all that separated Merritt and Sullivan in their home precinct.
"I work, I come home, eat dinner and I go to bed," said the 42-year-old, who builds sea walls and has lived in Hernando Beach for 18 years.
Speakman thinks the hard feelings will pass.
"This is a community where you drive down the road and you wave at everybody; everybody knows everybody," he said.
"I think things will get a little better out here."
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