The leading Florida Democrat challenging U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is coming under fire over whether his office sought to delay the opening of a center that would help businesses hurt by a massive algae outbreak.
Emails made public by the administration of Republican Gov. Rick Scott show that an aide to U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy asked the U.S. Small Business Administration to hold the announcement of federal assistance so Murphy could present it Thursday. Murphy represents part of the area in the state that has been hit hard by the smelly algae blooms that have fouled rivers, streams and beaches.
“Is it possible for you to hold the announcement until Thursday and allow Congressman Murphy to announce it at a press conference?” wrote Candace Wells, an aide to Murphy, to a public affairs specialist with the federal office distributing aid to businesses.
The SBA asked the Scott administration about delaying until Friday the opening of a center that would offer loans to affected businesses. The emails show that Scott administration officials opposed the delay and the center opened Wednesday instead.
Normally the Scott administration – which set up an online site to post the emails of Scott and some of his aides – does not disclose emails the same day that it receives them. But the administration posted the email chain Wednesday and, after it was first reported by The Tampa Bay Times, Republicans quickly criticized Murphy.
Carlos Beruff, a Manatee County homebuilder who is friends with Scott and running in the GOP primary against Rubio, quickly called on Murphy to resign from office and called his actions “sickening.”
“Delaying federal disaster assistance to Floridians in need is perhaps one of the grossest abuses of power imaginable,” Beruff said in a statement. “People in South Florida are suffering, and they need – and deserve – assistance. But Congressman Murphy is more focused on his desire to hold a higher office.”
A spokesman for Murphy, however, said the congressman’s office had not requested that the center opening be delayed and that it was the Scott administration looking to politicize the ongoing crisis in Florida’s Treasure Coast region
Anthony Kusich said that, on its website, the Scott administration had omitted the first email that showed SBA officials had not yet told Murphy’s office when the center would be opened.
“It is unacceptable that Governor Rick Scott is looking to score partisan points over a federal emergency relief program that Congressman Murphy has vocally supported,” Kusich said in a statement. “As soon as our office became aware of Martin County’s desire to make the announcement on Wednesday, we fully supported them. It is deeply disappointing that Governor Rick Scott’s office would take out of context this standard request to coordinate a media strategy with a federal agency.”
Scott’s office did not immediately respond to the statement from Murphy.
Murphy, who has already been endorsed by President Barack Obama, is one of several people who jumped into the race for U.S. Senate after Rubio initially said he would not seek a second term. Rubio, who mounted an unsuccessful campaign for president, changed his mind in June, leading many GOP challengers to drop out of the race.