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Lisa Wheeler-Brown opponents launch inappropriate attack on her personal life

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A group called “Blue TampaBay” tagged me in a Facebook post this morning launching personal attacks against St. Pete City Council candidate Lisa Wheeler-Brown. I was no doubt tagged because I have a forum in which to inform voters and a recently notable post breaking egregious campaign finance screw-ups within her campaign.

It’s worth noting, I was not the only reporter tagged. Whoever posted this is trying to get their word out.

The post called Wheeler-Brown’s name an alias and listed her real name as Telisha Brown and Telisha Wheeler. It’s pretty clear here that “Lisa” is a nickname for Telisha and Wheeler-Brown a hyphenated version of her maiden and married surnames.

The post goes on to slam Wheeler-Brown for “foreclosure, driving without insurance, driving with suspended license, criminal conviction, civil judgment and more.” It also notes that most of those offenses were within the past eight years and that “newspaper sweeping all under the rug.”

I’m not the newspaper, but yeah, I’m going to sweep this under the rug. The post is referring to 19 citations within the Pinellas County criminal justice system for various infractions ranging from the early ’90s to as early as March of this year. Sure, sounds harsh, but consider that most of those are for things like driving without a seat belt, running a stop light, not having a driver’s license to display and even a dissolution of marriage. The most recent violation was lifted once Wheeler-Brown produced her driver’s license after not having it during a traffic stop. Who among us has never forgotten their wallet or purse at home?

And most of the charges or violations were for poverty-related issues, like writing a bad check. Are there some minorly egregious violations in Wheeler-Brown’s past? Sure, the girl has clearly made some mistakes, but to hold her checkered past against her as a candidate in a district where she shares the economic woes of most of her constituents is shortsighted. The vast majority of her district struggles with foreclosure, writing bad checks, driving on suspended licenses and driving without insurance. Why? Because those are problems that disproportionately affect poor people.

Wheeler-Brown’s campaign has been unraveling since Friday when I broke news that a campaign finance reporting error sat uncorrected for more than six months. When it was finally corrected, it showed the $500 originally listed as a rent expense was actually used to fix a cracked tooth – a questionable use of campaign funds under Florida Law.

Then Monday I reported that owners of Advantage Village Academy, where the mistake in reporting was originally allocated, verified no money had ever changed hands, but the campaign did use office space free of charge. Yet there were no listings for in-kind contributions from that group on any of Wheeler-Brown’s campaign finance reports.

That’s a damning trio of allegations that, if investigated by the state’s election commission, could find Wheeler-Brown in very hot water. Based on reaction from supporters on social media, her supporters don’t have a problem with her use of campaign funds for dental work, the six-month error in reporting or the failure to report in-kind contributions. If a majority of voters decide election laws don’t matter, OK.

But if she is going to be scrutinized as a candidate, it needs to be for those immediately applicable transgressions, not those of her past – especially considering her experience overcoming adversity and living in poverty.

Candidates need to be evaluated based on whether or not they can fulfill their duties representing their home districts and their city. If Wheeler-Brown were running for higher office, these minor transgressions may be applicable to her qualifications, but as a candidate for office in the city’s poorest district, they simply are not.

Note: After this story was published both the post and the group who posted were taken down.

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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