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Lisa Wheeler-Brown backers tell her opponent to denounce Republican endorsements

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Pinellas Stonewall Democrats are demanding City Council candidate Will Newton denounce endorsements from Republicans who have endorsed him. In a letter sent to Newton by the group, they ask that he “publicly separate himself from former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker, councilmember-elect Ed Montanari and state Rep. Kathleen Peters.

The demand is curious considering the LGBT rights advocacy group has already endorsed Newton’s opponent, Lisa Wheeler-Brown. It’s also odd considering the group has not expressed outrage over other similar issues.

In a two-page letter to Newton, the group specifically referenced the three elected officials based on past track records on LGBT issues.

The group’s first example was Montanari’s support for Chick ‘fil A during a 2012 appreciation day allegedly supporting “biblical values.” The famous chicken chain is well-known for anti-LGBT views.

“In conjunction with this anti-LGBT event, your campaign supporter, city councilmember-elect Ed Montanari, posted on his Facebook page that he ‘had an enjoyable lunch today at a very crowded Chick-fil-A on 4th Street with [another of your campaign supporters], former mayor Rick Baker and state Rep. Jeff Brandes. It was great to see so many friends supporting a wonderful franchise,” the letter read.

The Stonewall Democrats letter penned by Beth Fountain, vice president for political action, also called state Rep. Kathleen Peters out for supporting a legislative measure that would allow private adoption agencies to bow out of same-sex couple adoptions based on their religious objections to gay parents.

The letter also accused former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker of being anti-LGBT.

“He never met with representatives of the LGBT community. Furthermore, he refused to even acknowledge St. Pete Pride — one of the city’s largest events—even refusing to allow rainbow banners to be displayed on the streets of the Grand Central district during Pride’s celebration,” the letter said.

The concerns addressed in the letter completely contradict Newton’s own answers to the Stonewall Democrats’ questionnaire he answered in late June in which he committed to supporting LGBT issues and fighting against discrimination and other anti-LGBT practices.

“On several occasions, including here in Pinellas County, I’ve had the opportunity to secure benefits for couples in same-sex relationships, including both health insurance and bereavement,” Newton wrote in response to what he had done for the LGBT community. “Today, thousands of firefighters and EMTs have these benefits as the result of contracts I have negotiated on behalf of their local unions.”

Newton condemned hate crimes against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity and wrote that he was appalled that people could still legally be fired in Florida for being gay.

But the group is concerned his recent endorsements from Republicans they consider anti-LGBT means Newton may not truly stand by those answers. The say it may reveal the “real Will.”

Newton’s campaign finds that outrageous. Instead, they argue the allegations are more likely smoke and mirrors to direct attention away from negative reports swimming around the Wheeler-Brown campaign.

After all, the letter was sent to the Tampa Bay Times, which has also endorsed Wheeler-Brown, before Newton’s campaign ever received it. In fact, Newton was quoted in the Times’ story as having not seen the letter. An update was later posted reflecting his comment after reading the letter.

“They didn’t endorse me and they are now directing me what to do?” he told the Times in a statement. “They’ve been silent on their endorsed candidate’s campaign’s financial problems. I’d like to see that letter.”

The Times also quoted Newton saying, “I am proud of all my endorsements, including all of the Republicans, Democrats and the three openly LGBT elected officials that have endorsed my candidacy.”

But here’s what the Times left out of Newton’s statement.

“This is just another desperate attempt by my opponent’s supporters to distract from the fact that she siphoned campaign funds for personal use, deceived us for over five months and then proceeded to attempt covering it up.”

Newton was referencing recent reports showing Wheeler-Brown may have broken campaign finance laws by using campaign funds for a dental procedure, reporting that expense as something else for more than six months and failing to report in-kind contributions for office space.

Times reporter Charlie Frago wrote about the activity five days after the story started to unfold, but the editorial board made no mention of it in its Monday endorsement write-up for Wheeler-Brown.

Following the Times’ endorsement it the campaign was caught in a lie. They initially tried to blame the mistakes on a previous campaign consultant, but later admitted the errors occurred after he had quit the campaign and that the errors were instead a result of Wheeler-Brown not understanding how to properly file reports.

This also appears to be the first time the Stonewall Democrats have called on a candidate to denounce endorsements based on LGBT track records. For example, when Montanari was campaigning for his District 3 seat, Amy Foster, an openly gay member of City Council, sat on his host committee. There were no calls for her head.

Rick Baker has also endorsed incumbent Steve Kornell in his re-election bid, but the Stonewall Democrats don’t seemed to have identified that as a problem.

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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