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As contentious primary campaign comes to a conclusion, Kevin Beckner has no regrets

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

On the eve of what has been the most raucous primary race in Hillsborough County, Kevin Beckner says he wouldn’t do anything differently in his campaign to defeat Pat Frank for Clerk of the Circuit Court.

“No regrets whatsoever,” Beckner said while attending the NAACP sponsored “Souls to the Polls” event at the College Hill Public Library in East Tampa on Sunday afternoon. “Some people have characterized it as a negative campaign, but I have based it on a campaign of facts, so it’s unfortunate that some of the media outlets like the Times have characterized it like they have, and they haven’t covered the facts of the campaign,” he said, going as far as claiming that the Tampa Bay Times has displayed bias in their reporting of the campaign.

Beckner has hammered Frank on a number of fronts since entering the race in the spring of 2015, upsetting some local Democrats who say they have been turned off by the negative campaign. However it’s also true that some of those Democrats opposed Beckner having the temerity to take on Frank in the first place, a woman long considered an icon in Hillsborough Democratic politics. After he announced his candidacy last year, several Democrats went off the record with this reporter to express their anger at Beckner, who made history in of his own in 2008 by becoming the first openly gay elected official in the county – just three years after the county government passed an ordinance banning gay pride events.

Beckner has issued statements questioning Frank’s work ethic,  for failing to hire women and minorities in top positions in the office, and for not supporting Barack Obama in his historic run for president in 2008.

Those allegations have made him the aggressor in the race. Beckner says it’s all about Frank’s record, and insists there’s nothing personal. But some observers have criticized him for the attacks, none more vociferously than Tampa Bay Times columnist Daniel Ruth in a piece that ran this weekend.

“It’s unfortunate,” Beckner said of the Ruth column. “It seems like they’re been using the talking points of the (Frank) campaign, so I would raise questions about bias that they might have. They’ve refused to cover the facts that I’ve provided them about her record, and so everything that we’ve ever talked about in the campaign has never been a personal attack, but it’s been statements based on facts.”

“Even the most recent issue with the PTC, I find it very interesting that they’ve even refused to print any column or any article about the problems with the PTC. So once again, it illustrates the problems inside the office, but they just refuse to cover it.”

Beckner was referring to a recent piece done by WTSP-Channel 10 reporter Mike Deeson that accused Frank’s office of not paying vendors on time, sending invoices to the wrong department and deducting funds from the wrong account. Frank has pushed back strongly to the charges, both in Deeson’s piece and in a separate article in the Tampa Bay Business Journal. The Times has yet to report on the allegations.

Times Managing Editor Jennifer Orsi declined to comment on Sunday.

Frank disputes Beckner’s account that he’s just been running a fact based campaign. “That’s absolutely untrue,” she said while also doing last minute campaigning at the Souls to the Polls event. “What he’s done is taken things out of context. He took problems that I had in the office that I corrected years ago, and acted like it happened yesterday. And that’s misleading the public.”

The polls open at 7 a.m. on Tuesday statewide for the primary election. The winner of the Frank/Beckner duel takes on Republican Eric Seidel in November.

 

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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