Adorning the top of Vito Sheeley’s Facebook page are pictures of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and former President Barack Obama. Scroll down some and you’ll see a photo of Sheeley with former Vice President Joe Biden. After that, it’s a shot of U.S. Rep John Lewis.
With the exception MLK, each of these men are proud Democrats. As is Kathy Castor, for whom Sheeley worked for before this year.
Yet, as of Monday, Sheeley, the barrel-chested St. Petersburg native with a thousand-watt smile works for as a “senior adviser” to the nebulously defined “Team Jolly,” as in former U.S. Rep. David Jolly, the Republican incumbent who Sheeley helped oust last November.
What’s wrong with this picture?
Ten days ago, Sheeley was slated to be the district director for the newly-elected Democratic U.S. Representative from Florida’s 13th District, Charlie Crist. But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. Sheeley, a proud black man who has campaigned for almost every Tampa Bay Democrat, including Alex Sink and Ken Welch, now works for a former Republican elected official who has no official campaign vehicle in place and has, in the past, struggled to raise the kind of money necessary to start paying for staff 21 months before an election.
Of the three parties involved, Crist, Jolly, and Sheeley, no one will say specifically what happened. The situation went from Crist saying “I’m excited to have him help us serve the people of Pinellas County” to Jolly saying “I am thrilled to have Vito Sheeley join our political team” in less than a month.
There are all sorts of rumors floating around. Some say Crist canned Sheeley before St. Petersburg’s MLK Breakfast on January 16, while others say, yes that’s true, but Crist hired him back later in the week, only for Sheeley to jump to Jolly over the weekend.
Crist’s office insists that there was no firing or rehiring. It says Sheeley simply resigned on Monday.
Whatever the truth is, l’affair Vito is an embarrassment to all parties involved.
For Sheeley, good luck explaining why, after a lifetime of service to the Democratic cause, you have gone to work for the other side.
For Crist, good luck explaining how, for the umpteenth time, you have inexplicably lost a key staffer in the messiest of fashions. (See Hyers, Bill.)
For Jolly, good luck explaining, well, how you’ve hired a staffer to work on “education, veterans, urban affairs and other Pinellas priorities” when you are no longer in office. The citizens of Congressional District 13 can only have one representative at a time.
While Charlie Crist versus David Jolly makes for good copy, even Florida’s political media is having difficulty understanding what’s going on in CD 13.
Allison Nielsen, who has been closely following the race for Sunshine State News, asked on Twitter, “why a loyal Dem. staffer would leave for a Repub? How mad do you have to be to want to see former employer go down in flames?” POLITICO’s Matt Dixon thought the whole thing odd.
About Jolly, Dixon tweeted, “His camp saying being paid through “non-candidate committee” but will not give any other details … Say odd because it’s a former member who in the same breath says he needs staff, but also not committing to run in 18. Was just an odd look.”
Odd may be an understatement. Clearly, there is more at work here than the switching sides of a mid-level staffer.
There are biting whispers about who may be the real driving force behind Crist’s bizarre personnel moves (hint: it ain’t Charlie), while there is an obvious and unbecoming zeal in Jolly’s obsession with needling Crist.
Neither man looks good at this point.