Sorting out who knew what when between Bennett and his former campaign manager, Peter Schorsch, may be an exercise in futility. But some of their maneuvers cannot be dismissed as low-grade sleaziness. At least one neighborhood president was given campaign literature and requests for contributions along with free baseball tickets to the city’s Tropicana Field suite. Candidates cannot legally use public resources to benefit their campaigns. Bennett said Monday he did not know that happened and has apologized for “a blurring of lines and lack of oversight on the baseball tickets.” But he continued to distribute the baseball suite tickets he receives as a City Council member to neighborhood association presidents even after the issue was publicly raised. He should have known better than to have his campaign manager distribute the tickets, and the perception of a conflict remains even as the candidate hands them out.
The campaign also did not include in its April campaign finance report expenses tied to March events that were photographed. That would be a campaign finance violation. Bennett says the expense will be reported.
Then there were the sophomoric high jinks aimed at embarrassing opponents that are more in line with a campaign for college fraternity president than the mayor of St. Petersburg. Schorsch described several of them in detail and says Bennett knew about them and condoned them. Bennett pleads ignorance.
The broader issue, of course, is Bennett’s judgment — or lack of it. He hired a campaign manager whose background was filled with red flags. Then the campaign spun out of control, and Bennett’s primary defense is he did not know. It is hard to envision how a candidate who cannot supervise his campaign manager could effectively lead an entire city. Bennett said Monday he intends to hire a new campaign manager and has apologized to his opponents. Whether that will be enough to restore his credibility is up to the voters.