During the fierce Tampa City Council race between Guido Maniscalco and Jackie Toledo in the winter of 2015, Councilman Harry Cohen stayed out of the endorsement business, preferring to let the election play out before learning who he would be serving with on the board for the next four years.
But when an anonymous mailer went out defending Toledo against “vicious” attacks and described her as an apolitical, unifying leader, Cohen and three of his other council colleagues said “enough”, and along with Yolie Capin, Mike Suarez and Frank Reddick, penned a letter that said they were “disturbed by shadowy, unknown entities.”
“While none of us are strangers to the rough and tumble of the political process, we find the introduction of third party attacks that cannot be traced to be a very alarming and destructive development,” they wrote. “In our view, candidates have an affirmative responsibility to stand behind attacks that are made on their opponents or to unambiguously denounce them. We believe this is a bedrock virtue of our democracy.”
Cohen says he’s feeling the same way now about how the campaign between Kevin Beckner and Pat Frank is transpiring in the Hillsborough Clerk of the Courts race.
Frank, 86, and an icon in Hillsborough Democratic politics, has ran three previous times for the clerk’s office without any primary opposition.
Beckner, 45 and term-limited out of his County Commission seat, split the local party in half when he announced a year ago that he would take on Frank.
Beckner has campaigned aggressively against the incumbent, claiming Frank doesn’t put in full days at the office. This week he sent out a statement saying she was insensitive to blacks and women in her office by comparing their salaries to the higher pay of some white males. “Despite her statements to the contrary, Ms. Frank’s organizational chart does not reflect equal opportunity for minorities or women in the senior executive branch of her own office,” read his statement, complete with a breakdown of the salaries of top staffers broken down by race and gender.
Cohen isn’t pleased by the discourse. Of course, he’s not exactly objective, as he works with Frank in the Clerk’s office, and is supporting her re-election bid this year.
“I don’t like these kinds of campaigns,” he said Friday morning. “I don’t think they’re appropriate when they’re running in local races where everybody knows each other. People are neighbors and friends and in many cases have supported each other in the past.”
When Beckner made his claim about the salaries in the clerk’s office on Tuesday, he noted that among the top paid staffers in the office is Cohen, with an organization chart showing that he makes $157,476 annually in the Clerk’s office. But Frank spokesman Ian Whitney says that was incorrect, adding that Cohen is not a full-time employee, and made $65,000 in 2015 and “expects to be paid LESS this year.”
Beckner contacted this reporter after the original story was posted on Tuesday, saying that the most recent charts that the clerk’s office sent to the county’s Budget Information Dept. showed that Cohen was listed as a full-time employee, making $157,546.
“I work by the hour,” Cohen told SPB on Friday morning. He said that equated to a salary of about $79,000 in 2014 and $65,000 in 2015 because his workload was reduced.
Cohen said he hadn’t seen the chart that still shows him as a full-time employee, but said his position in the clerk’s office has been reported on “fairly widely ” over the past year.
When asked if he thought that Beckner’s campaign tactics would hurt him beyond this election, Cohen said he would not comment. “People ought to keep it on a higher playing field,” he said.
Hillsborough Democratic voters will decide the Frank/Beckner race on Aug. 30. The winner takes on Republican Eric Seidel in November.