Mark Ober acknowledges that as a 16-year incumbent, his race for re-election for Hillsborough State Attorney is in many ways a referendum on how he’s performed in office.
“It’s perhaps easier to run when you don’t have a record,” Ober told an audience who gathered at the weekly “Cafe Con Tampa” breakfast meeting at Hugo’s in South Tampa Friday morning. “There’s no substitute for experience.”
In Democrat Andrew Warren, Ober is facing by far his most formidable opponent since initially being elected to his office in 2000. A former federal prosecutor who quit late last year to commit himself to his race, Warren has run an aggressive campaign to date, remaining extremely competitive in fundraising and criticizing the incumbent on a number of fronts in how he’s conducted himself in office.
Ober is emphasizing his experience and Hillsborough County roots to a great extent in his campaign for a fifth four-year term.
“There’s no substitute for experience in this position. There is none,” he said Friday. “My opponent, to my knowledge, has never stepped in a state courtroom. Never. “
Ober told the audience how about his two decades plus of experience as both a prosecutor and defense attorney before he was elected to become State Attorney in 2000. And he took credit for reduced crime rates, a nationwide trend that has begun to trend up locally in recent years.
“The Sheriff will tell you that the violent crime rate is at is lowest since 1985,” Ober said. “Those are the things that are critical to me in this quest to be re-elected. The is like getting ready for trial, only the jury’s a lot bigger.”
Ober said that he respects Warren, but believes the election is about his record and decisions made in office. “I’m going to talk about Mark Ober and talk about what I’ve done,” he said, adding that he hoped to have the race conducted as “statesmen, and stop the pettiness.”
Among that so-called “pettiness” could be his discomfort about the charges that Warren has made about Ober has conducted himself in office. At various points during the year, Warren has accused Ober of having a poor attendance record, and most recently, has taken him to task for his remarks made about a teenage girl involved in a sexual abuse case.
That case centers around 26-year-old Maryland resident Alexander Pelzer and sexual acts that he committed with a 17-year-old Hillsborough County teen. In April, the State Attorney’s office charged Pelzer with three counts of Traveling to Meet a Minor After Using Computer Services to Solicit Certain Illegal Acts, twelve counts of Use of a Child in a Sexual Performance and one count of Use of a Computer Service or Device to Solicit Certain Illegal Acts. The controversy centers around the timeline of what it took for his office to present charges against Pelzer.
After Warren criticized him at last Friday’s Tiger Bay Club debate, claiming that Ober only prosecuted the case after a television report was aired, Ober vehemently disputed the charge, saying Warren didn’t know what he was talking about.
And Ober said, “I have a picture of what I call a sex slave. And by no means, do not read between the lines … This man has committed a crime, so don’t read between the lines here. She was with him voluntarily. She flew to see him. And consent is not an issue … I know the facts of the case.”
Ober’s comments generated negative headlines and stories in national outlets like The Huffington Post and Raw Story. On Thursday, the mother of the victim sent SPB a statement, accusing Ober of blaming the victim, and making it harder for similar victims to speak up.
On Friday afternoon, Ober released his own statement, along with a five-page timeline on how his office went through the paces before deciding to prosecute Pelzer. He says “at no time have I blamed the victim in this case, nor would I do so. She is a victim of criminal acts perpetrated on by the defendant.”
Here is Ober’s statement today regarding the case:
“I am committed to protecting each and every victim, including the young woman tragically impacted by the criminal acts perpetrated by the defendant, in this case.
We have had extensive communications with the victim and her mother. If they have any questions or concerns, we are ready to discuss any issues directly with them.
At no time have I blamed the victim in this case, nor would I do so. She is a victim of criminal acts perpetrated on by the defendant.
Inaccurate, incorrect, and false information is now being widely reported related to this active, pending case. Such reporting in this case, and any criminal case, can have severe implications to the case, and ultimately such reporting causes further harm to the victims.
In my continuing effort to protect this victim, due process and the right to a fair trial, my office is releasing a statement with accurate information related to this case.
I will not allow this case to be compromised by outside forces. This case will be decided in the courtroom, based on evidence and the law.
I cannot and will not risk further harm to a victim, jeopardize the integrity of an active case, or politicize the work of the State Attorney’s Office. No responsible prosecutor would do so.
As your State Attorney, I am and remain committed to protecting each and every victim of crime in Hillsborough County, and to seeing justice served.”
“Is Mark Ober watching the same video as the rest of us?” replied Warren. “The news coverage stems from his insensitive comments about the victim. The fact that he doesn’t understand the public outrage shows how out of touch he is. As Huffington Post reported, “this is rape culture in a nutshell. It’s hypocritical for Mark Ober to now say he’s worried about the ‘severe implications’ of commenting on this case publicly after he made his comments in a public forum to defend against how he mishandled the case.”
The election between Warren and Ober for State Attorney takes place on Nov. 8.