One month before voters go to the polls for the March 13 City Council election, the gloves have come off in the Seat 5 race.
Incumbent Hoyt Hamilton and challenger John Funk each sent out mailers this week blasting their opponents' records and personal histories.
Hamilton's mailer details Funk's "Funky Financial Record" and dubs him "The Taxpayers' Nightmare." It's a play on Funk's campaign literature that proclaims him "The Taxpayers' Voice."
He cites Tampa Bay Times reporting that found Funk, 71, a real estate broker, declared bankruptcy three times in Oregon between 1999 and 2003; had four state liens placed against him for not paying taxes in 2003 and 2004; had an office building go into foreclosure in 2009 in Palm Harbor; and had a lien placed against him by a Pinellas County landlord for failing to pay rent in 2012.
In a statement to the Times about the mailer, Funk said he built a successful 43-year real estate career despite setbacks. He evoked Nelson Mandela's famous quote: "Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again."
Funk's mailer gives Hamilton an 'F' report card for actions taken during his four terms on the City Council. It blasts Hamilton's 2014 vote to spend $106,000 on public art at a fire station, his part in the City Council's approval of utility increases, growing traffic congestion in the city, money spent on downtown, and Hamilton's opposition to the $25,000 increase in homestead exemption.
One claim on the mailer, that Hamilton "voted to increase taxes by 35 percent" is misleading. In September, Hamilton was part of the City Council that voted to keep the tax rate the same for the ninth year in a row at $5.15 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable value.
Though the rate was unchanged, the total tax bill for many residents increased as property values also rose.
"(Funk) is playing fast and loose with the facts," said Hamilton, 59, co-owner of Palm Pavilion restaurant and inn. "My mailer about him was 100 percent factual."
Hamilton said the utility increase last year was necessary to maintain a high level of service. He also questioned how Funk can blame traffic congestion on one person.
The mail attacks are a notable shift in the otherwise low-key election, expected to draw dismal voter turnout. Seat 4 is also up for grabs, with retired building contractor David Allbritton and advertising salesman Tom Keller running tame campaigns for the citywide position.
Funk said he has knocked on more than 5,000 doors to spread his call for fresh leadership and bold ideas. He said Hamilton's mailer is a display of the incumbent's ethics and a tactic to muscle him out of the race.
"He's talking about ethics but playing fast and loose with facts," Hamilton replied.
According to the most recent campaign treasurer reports, Hamilton has out-fundraised his opponent with $25,175 in contributions. Funk has raised $8,084, mostly from his own pockets. But Funk is the only candidate in either race to rally support from prominent Church of Scientology parishioners like PostcardMania founder Joy Gendusa, Consumer Energy Solutions CEO Pat Clouden and cybersecurity training startup KnowBe4 owner Stu Sjouwerman, according to treasurer reports. He also received support from Mary Repper, a former political consultant who has done extensive public relations work for the church.
In Seat 4, Keller has raised $13,575, of which $10,000 is from his own pockets. Allbritton has brought in $30,077, nearly all from outside sources, according to treasurer reports.
You can read Tampa Bay Times profiles on the four candidates running for two seats here:
Seat 4: David Allbritton
Seat 4: Tom Keller
Seat 5: John Funk
Seat 5: Hoyt Hamilton