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Tampa Tribune dumps Lisa Wheeler-Brown, now endorses Will Newton

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Tampa Tribune has rescinded its endorsement for Lisa Wheeler-Brown and instead backed Will Newton for St. Pete City Council District 7.

In a list of endorsements published Monday morning, The Tribune pointed to information uncovered by SaintPetersblog.

“Recently revealed discrepancies in her campaign finance reports raise questions about her judgment,” the latest write-up read.

That’s as much detail as the endorsement dives into, however. The Tribune editorial board is referring to a series of campaign finance mishaps including a $500 expense at a dental practice to repair a cracked tooth, a misreport of that expense that stayed on the books for more than six months and failure to report in-kind contributions for office space.

The in-kind contributions have since been added to campaign finance reports, but not after several amendments to the original correction. Newton supporters say the flurry of mistakes stemming all the way back to the beginning of her campaign raise questions about her ability to serve as an elected official. Some go so far as to question her ethics as a leader.

Wheeler-Brown’s campaign and its supporters say the mistakes were a result of bad consulting at the beginning of the campaign when Strategic Campaigns’ Nick Janovsky was advising Wheeler-Brown. They say Wheeler-Brown fired him for incompetence. Janovsky, however, says he quit after noticing what he perceived as potentially illegal campaign finance activity and argues the first financial reports were not filed until well after he was gone anyway.

The Tribune’s endorsement swap raises questions about whether or not the Tampa Bay Times will uphold its endorsement. Both papers backed Wheeler-Brown solely on her support for an agreement between the Tampa Bay Rays and Mayor Rick Kriseman that would allow the team to look outside the city for possible new stadium sites. The Times, however, has been far more staunch in its insistence that the agreement be approved. The Times re-reported news of Wheeler-Brown’s campaign finance mistakes, but did so five days after the story first broke.

The Tribune said the candidates “shared similar priorities” and said they initially endorsed Wheeler-Brown based on her support for the Rays proposal. They listed no other reason for having first endorsed her over Newton.

The Times’ endorsement during the primary election went into more detail.

“Wheeler-Brown stands out as a person who understands the community at the ground level and has worked directly to improve it,” the editorial board wrote, referencing her community activism in the wake of her son’s murder in 2008.

And while The Tribune offered up nothing negative about Newton in its latest endorsement, the Times wrote, “he was not helpful in resolving the city’s dispute with Pinellas County over emergency medical services, and it is not clear he could represent broader interests than the union’s as a council member.”

It seems questionable at best that the Times would reverse course on its endorsement, considering the editorial board seems to have already laid a foundation for not supporting Newton.

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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