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Disclosure's role debated

Democrat Mary Brennan doesn't think revealing her depression hurt her, but one observer says it might have cost her a state House race.

By ANNE LINDBERG

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 9, 2000


Confronted with a report that she'd neglected her duties as an advocate for elderly nursing home patients, state House candidate Mary Brennan made a bold decision: She revealed she had been suffering from a deep depression that had interfered with her duties and her campaigning.

Brennan said she would rather have people know about her personal problems than have them think she had merely failed to live up to her commitments.

Brennan doesn't think that disclosure affected the outcome of the District 51 election, which she lost to incumbent Leslie Waters, R-Seminole, by about 2,600 votes. On Wednesday, she instead blamed lack of money, the media and unfair campaign tactics for her loss.

At least one local political analyst, however, thinks her acknowledgement of emotional ill health might have cost her the race.

"I think she lost because of it primarily," said Darryl Paulson, a government professor at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg.

The first was a report that Brennan had missed multiple meetings of an advocates' council after her 1999 appointment as an ombudsman for the elderly who complain about nursing home care. The report told of cases Brennan had allowed to languish for months.

"That's particularly damaging for a political candidate because it becomes an issue of representation," Paulson said. The next day, Brennan blamed the missed meetings and delayed cases on a deep depression that she said was brought about by multiple factors, from a job loss to a death in the family.

Brennan said she had not sought counseling nor taken medication for her condition. She made the disclosure just five days before the election.

Brennan would have been in a much stronger position, Paulson said, had she made the disclosure earlier in the campaign and had she sought help. That way she would have given people time to see she had her problems under control and that they should not worry about it.

For Paul Bedinghaus, head of the Pinellas County Republican Party, the decisive factor was Waters' attention to her district. Since she won the seat two years ago after Brennan vacated it for an unsuccessful Senate run, Waters has been highly visible. But Bedinghaus agreed that if Brennan's depression had an impact, it was something more than just the mere fact of her announcement.

"I think what hurt Mary was not the revelation of her personal challenges, but I think perhaps the way it was perceived she dealt with them or did not deal with them and that her public duties suffered," Bedinghaus said.

Waters could not be reached.

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