Candidate accused of extortion by ex-opponent drops out of Largo Commission race
Robert Avery has dealt with extortion accusations and a virtually broke campaign since he entered the race for Largo City Commission Seat 3.
But he stuck it out — until last week. Avery dropped out of the race June 30, leaving two up to bat in the Nov. 8 election: incumbent Curtis Holmes and political newcomer Neil McMullen.
"It's kind of hard to drum up support right now," he said in an interview. "After you've been (dragged) through the mud, it's hard to get back on stage."
Avery, 31, said he was referring to an extortion accusation brought forth in November by his then-opponent, Aaron Darr, 25.
Darr told police he received an email through his campaign website saying the author had "nice things the citizens of Largo will be seeing soon" and for Darr to "never post anything digitally you wouldn't want your mom or partner to see." The contact email was listed as firstname.lastname@example.org. Officers traced it back to Avery's computer.
Avery has repeatedly denied the charge, despite an interview with police where he agrees with an officer that he's the only one who could've sent the email. He maintained this week that his computer was hacked. The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office dropped the charge in February.
Still, the accusation hurt his campaign, Avery said. Campaign finance records show he raised only $345 since he filed to run at the end of August. He pointed to the national political climate as a contributing factor to his campaign breakdown.
"This is a year where if there's any hair of doubt, the citizens just don't care," Avery said. "If your name's been attached to any kind of corruption or issues, you're done."
Avery, who has a background in information technology, said he plans to focus on obtaining his real estate license.
Darr, a prominent advocate for people with HIV and AIDS after his own diagnosis at 17, dropped out of the race in January to throw support behind McMullen, who he said shares his goals for the city.
"My intention of doing this is really for unity to make sure a progressive wins this race and make sure that Curtis Holmes does not get re-elected," Darr said at the time.
That leaves Holmes, an insurance agent and commissioner since 2009, and McMullen, a descendant of one of Pinellas County's founding families who runs a consulting business for faith-based and non-profit organizations.
Holmes has raised $8,105 so far, according to campaign finance reports through June. McMullen has raised $1,695 through May. The June filing deadline is Monday.
The candidate qualifying period is from July 29 to Aug. 12. The mayor and Seat 4 are also up for election. The mayor and commissioners serve 4-year terms.