Newton waits until he has final word before attacking Wheeler-Brown
For most of the hour-long debate Monday at City Hall, the six candidates for City Council could have been conducting a civics class.
They talked about smart growth, attracting jobs and keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in the region, if not the city. Fireworks were in short supply.
What little political scrapping occurred flared up between District 5 incumbent Steve Kornell and challenger Philip Garrett.
Garrett said he aimed to break a system in which the best-funded candidates won city council races. Currently, Kornell leads in fundraising by more than $47,000.
Kornell listed his accomplishments--a city purchase of land bordering Boyd Hill Nature Preserve and the creation of the Skyway Marina District--- and dismissed Garrett's calls for sewer improvements while cutting taxes as irresponsible "sound bites."
Will Newton and Lisa Wheeler-Brown, locked in a dead-heat knockdown fight in District 7, didn't at spar at all. When Newton said he really, really wanted to vote yes on a Rays deal, Wheeler-Brown took a pass.
And, then, at the very end of the forum when every candidate except for Newton had given positive closing remarks, the younger brother of Wengay Newton, the term-limited current occupant of the council seat, unleashed either a briliant coup de grace or a sucker punch, depending on your perspective.
He told the televsion audience and fairly full city council chamber that "it is critical that you compare candidates."
"You need a council member that will pay attention to detail. And that starts with accurately filling out your campaign finance reports. This is something my opponent obviously has not mastered," said Newton, apparently reading from a prepared statement.
Wheeler-Brown's campaign has acknowledged that she withdrew $500 from her campaign account to pay for emergency dental work. She listed that expense as an office rental for several months before amending her reports last month.
Newton cited the Tampa Tribune's switch from endorsing Wheeler-Brown to Newton for the general election.
"Let me ask you a question: When is the last time you've seen that happen?" Newton asked.
What Newton didn't mention nor did any other candidate was his tax disputewith the federal government. He paid more than $32,0000 in back taxes in 2012 after the Internal Revenue Service placed two liens on him in 2010 . Newton and his campaign refused to provide any details of the dispute to the Times for six years in question.
He told a local blogger that the dispute involved his work as a union official, but he hasn't confirmed those details to the Times.
On Monday, that issue didn't come up. And Newton got the last word.
The election is Nov. 3.