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Cannon became his 'own worst enemy'

By TAMARA LUSH

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 9, 2000


Pasco's top Republicans say Sheriff Lee Cannon, an upset loser in Tuesday's election, finally paid the price for his arrogance.

"Cannon is his own worst enemy," said state Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. "I truly believe Cannon started in the right direction and tried to mold a sheriff's department that needed to be molded. Somewhere along the road he lost touch with his constituents and working with other elected officials and he became very arrogant. He just had the demeanor of confrontation all the time."

Fasano used his considerable influence to help raise a portion of fellow Republican Bob White's $83,000 campaign war chest. Cannon, a Democrat, lost to White by 4,835 votes.

Fasano cited Cannon's recent blowup at County Commissioner Pat Mulieri (who had asked the sheriff for some staffing numbers) as classic Cannon arrogance.

"His attitude and the way he treated individuals -- constituents, deputies and other elected officials -- was what caused his defeat, along with a very good candidate who was running against him," said Fasano.

Cannon declined an interview request on Wednesday.

But on Tuesday night shortly before delivering an emotional goodbye speech to supporters, Cannon told the Times that White's supporters -- Fasano and his friend, former County Commissioner Ed Collins -- wanted to sink him in this race.

The bad blood between Cannon and Collins goes back to 1993. Collins supported Jim Gillum, Cannon's predecessor, and when Cannon took office, he and Collins fought over everything from the number of deputies on the streets to the amount of the agency's budget.

At one point, Collins accused Cannon of threatening to squash him "like the bug that you are." Collins later passed a polygraph test on the accusation. Cannon denied making the remark. In 1998, Cannon publicly supported Steve Simon, the man who defeated Collins, adding to the enmity.

Collins says that he helped White because he thought White was a good candidate -- and because Cannon worked hard to oust him from the County Commission in 1998.

"It seems like Mr. Cannon got squashed," said Collins, who is now a lobbyist. "I am returning what would be called a payback to him."

Others wondered why Cannon spent his $133,000 in campaign contributions on television and radio ads instead of fliers. He also did little door-to-door campaigning, and relied on one poll.

"It just didn't seem like Cannon had worked his race," said state Rep. Heather Fiorentino, R-New Port Richey. "When I was walking the streets, I never saw him walking the streets. I didn't receive many fliers . . . you've got to get out in the community."

Cannon repeatedly expressed concern about the amount of out-of-county contributions and so-called "soft money" that was donated to White's campaign.

As of Oct. 22, White had raised 40 percent of his contributions from out of the county, compared with 22 percent of Cannon's $105,000. Cannon estimated White's final out-of-county tally to be closer to three quarters of his total donations, but contribution information was not available from the Supervisor of Elections Web site on Wednesday because of a computer glitch.

"If that's the bar and the field that we have to operate under and campaign under, then fine," said Cannon. He added that the Police Benevolent Association -- which hired Collins as its lobbyist -- and other political action committees linked to Fasano helped White substantially by mailing fliers to Pasco voters.

"Mike Fasano had the PBA do a mailer. Mike did a mailer under his stationery. He also did a phone bank that ran all night last night," said Cannon. "All of those activities that were done for (White) by other people, he really should have claimed them."

Under Florida law, candidates do not have to claim on their contribution statementsfliers mailed by political action committees.

Mike Cox, head of the Pasco Democratic Party, said he was "surprised and not surprised" by Cannon's defeat. Cox said there was a "ton of soft money" that came into the sheriff's race for White, and that changed the race.

"The bar has been raised obviously in sheriff's races," Cox said.

Cannon denied that his own missteps had anything to do with his loss.

A handful of voters at the polls on Tuesday told Times reporters that Cannon's inaccurate statistics to support a proposed tax to pay for hundreds more deputies rubbed them the wrong way. And his harsh remarks to a 16-year-old Ridgewood High School student after her friend was shot in January also irked some people.

"I don't think that anything like that had anything to do with this," said Cannon. "You make decisions as sheriff, you literally make hundreds and hundreds of decisions every week. Both of those decisions that I made were correct. After the (failed tax vote), we got more deputies than we ever did in the history of the Sheriff's Office."

But Fasano and Collins say that Cannon's remarks show that he is simply making excuses for running a lackluster campaign.

"Sheriff Cannon has always looked for excuses and he's always blamed someone for all of his shortcomings," said Collins. "The citizens have spoken. They're tired of his arrogance, and they're tired of him."

- Times staff writer Matthew Waite contributed to this report.

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