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Anti-Will Newton mailer attacks family ties

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

In what has turned out to be the most creative campaign mail artwork so far, a pro-Lisa Wheeler-Brown flier goes negative by showing City Council member Wengay Newton and his brother Will Newton as bobblehead dolls. Will Newton is running against Wheeler-Brown to replace his brother in District 7.

The mailer compares Will Newton to his brother and makes the argument that Newton 2.0 would be repeat of the current Newton who’s all about saying ‘No.’

“Moving our city forward is about working with Mayor Kriseman, the City Council and the people of St. Pete. It’s about doing more than just saying no. It’s about vision and leadership – things the Newtons just don’t have,” the flier reads.

It is very much true that Wengay Newton has often served as a check on St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration. He constantly questions motives and processes and has particularly been a vocal outlier in the Pier process.

But the flier references four specific areas in which both Newtons are obstructionist when only one of the points flies.

Both Newtons have publicly stated that they did not think the Mayor’s Memorandum of Understanding with the Rays to allow them to search for stadium sites outside the city would have provided enough compensation to the city. But even in that claim, Will Newton’s willingness to compromise has been pitched as more broad than his brother.

The other three claims should be taken with a grain of salt.

They write that both Newtons said no to the Pier. Wengay was a constant no-vote for any Pier design that was not Destination St. Pete Pier – the design that earned the most public votes in an online survey.

However, his brother had zero say in that and was not vocal in the process. During an interview with SaintPetersblog in July Will Newton admitted he wasn’t the biggest fan of the city’s choice, but that he believed the process needs to continue.The mailer references that article.

“Will Newton didn’t say whether he favored the iconic existing pyramid or not, but he does support moving forward with the process,” the article reads. Newton was then quoted.

“Could the process have been better? Of course,” he said. “But this has been going on a long time and we are at a place now where things are happening.”

Another claim lumps Will Newton into his brother’s comments against the Carter G. Woodson African-American History Museum. The flier references a public event for showing the two opposed saving the museum. It’s unclear what event that may have been, but Wengay Newton has a documented history of opposing funding for the museum. Will has had no say in the matter.

Then there’s a claim that both brothers say “no” to the Mayor’s plan for a stronger St. Pete. The reference they cite is a Tampa Bay Times report from September 28 about Will Newton’s impasse history with the City of St. Pete as a negotiator for the city’s firefighter union.

The article makes no reference to Kriseman or his vision. In fact, the years where Newton was unsuccessful at reaching a deal at the bargaining table each occurred before Kriseman ever took office.

“It is unfortunate that Lisa Wheeler-Brown, her campaign manager and her campaign manager’s fiance have decided that it is fair game to launch negative and misleading attacks against Will Newton’s family,” Newton’s campaign wrote in a statement. “It is disheartening that our opponent’s team has launched yet another mudslinging attack.”

The statement references Wheeler-Brown, her campaign manager and that campaign manager’s fiance because the fiance was behind the campaign mailer.

The mail piece was paid for by the Florida Voter’s Fund, Tom Alte, who is engaged to campaign manager Meagan Salisbury, is a registered agent of that PAC.

Both Alte and Salisbury work under the company name, Blue Ticket Consulting. Though Alte has not been working directly with the campaign, he has fielded some questions when Salisbury was unable.

The mailer came to voters just as news was spreading of back taxes Will Newton owed until 2012. Amounting to more than $30,000, the campaign explained there were taxes owed from Newton’s self-employed work as an independent contractor for the firefighter’s union. When the tax bill dispute was settled, he paid the amount owed in full.

Wheeler-Brown isn’t without her own controversy. The candidate is still shouldering heat for using $500 for personal dental work and failing to report the expense as such for six months. She also didn’t immediately report in-kind contributions for office space until this outlet uncovered it hadn’t been reported. Each are possible campaign finance law violations.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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