Pat Gerard vs. Ed Hooper County Commission race off to a mudslinging start

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Things are heating up between Pinellas County Commission candidates Pat Gerard and Ed Hooper.

Gerard is accusing Hooper of working under a conflict of interest while he was a state Representative in Tallahassee.

Hooper is a partner for the Consus Group that helps developers and property owners navigate the permitting process.

Gerard’s campaign notes Hooper was paid nearly $300,000 in consulting services with the Consus Group during his tenure in Tallahassee from 2006 to 2013. The bulk of that came in the first three years and his earnings fizzled to between $8,000 and $11,500 in the past three years, based on financial disclosure documents.

Hooper claims the company could be a conflict as a Pinellas County Commissioner, but wasn’t as a state legislator.

“I don’t think Tallahassee deals with zoning or local land planning issues,” Hooper said.

The Consus Group helps property owners and developers navigate regulations for things like zoning and permitting. Hooper says his works is almost exclusively in Clearwater.

Hooper also contends that the business wouldn’t be a conflict even as a county commissioner, but would resign from his position as a 50/50% partner to avoid the appearance of a conflict.

“I think [my opponent] is grasping at straws,” Hooper said.

The Gerard campaign worries there may have been more of a conflict of interest than Hooper says. Tom Alte, Gerard’s campaign manager, isn’t taking his word for it.

“There is no website,” Alte said. “We don’t really know anything about [Consus Group.]”

This early move by the Gerard campaign could be a sign of things to come in this race. Hooper says he already has something in the works that won’t look good for Gerard, Largo’s current mayor.

“She told me she hoped the race would be pleasant and I told her the ball’s in her court,” Hooper said. “I hope you catch spears as [well] as you throw them,” he added in a vague threat to Gerard.

The race between Hooper and Gerard will determine who replaces incumbent Norm Roche who Hooper defeated in the August 26 GOP primary. The race will be decided on the November 4 Election Day.

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.