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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Patrick Murphy sought delay in algae relief news so he could announce at press conference



Rep. Patrick Murphy's office sought to delay news about relief for businesses affected by the toxic algae crisis so he could announce it at a news conference Thursday, records show.

"Is it possible for you to hold the announcement until Thursday and allow Congressman Murphy to announce it at a press conference?" Murphy's legislative assistant wrote in an email Monday to an official at the Small Business Administration.

She said that Murphy, a Democratic candidate for Senate, was holding an "algal bloom panel discussion this Thursday along with a press conference."

The SBA said it had "no problem" holding off but asked Gov. Rick Scott's administration, noting a prompt response was desired "as we have personnel and supplies en-route to Florida."

No way, Scott officials replied, noting the governor wanted the relief "made available immediately."

Local government officials agreed, according to an email from Scott's deputy chief of staff, Brad Piepenbrink.

The email exchange, found in the Project Sunburst database Scott created, gives the impression Murphy wanted to take credit for the relief.

His campaign deferred questions to his House office.

A Murphy official Wednesday night accused the Scott's office of taking things out of context. Spokesman Anthony Kusich provided an email from the SBA, not contained in the Sunburst email chain, in which an SBA official thanks Murphy’s staffer for calling and says that the disaster declaration will cover “capital losses associated with the algae.” The SBA official says that a press release will be issued “to make sure that affected businesses and nonprofit organization are aware of this inclusion."

“Of course our office did not request for this program to be delayed,” Kusich wrote in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times. “Anyone who reads the original email can see that we did not. The official emails that Republicans are distributing to press intentionally leave out the Small Business Administration's email to our office on Monday morning, which suggests no impending announcement."

"As soon as our office became aware of Martin County's desire to make the announcement on Wednesday, we fully supported them. It is deeply disappointing that Governor Rick Scott's office would take out of context this standard request to coordinate a media strategy with a federal agency."

Still, it was the SBA that told Scott's office that Murphy wanted a delay.

"We have a request from Congressman Murphy office to delay the opening of the BRC in Martin county until Friday, July 15, 2016," reads an SBA email to the Florida Division of Emergency Management. "The congressman is holding an Algae Bloom Panel discussion this Thursday along with a Press Conference so we have been requested to delay the announcement until after this event. We have no problem with the request and can accommodate but we work at the pleasure of the state so we will need the state concurrence to change the opening date. Your prompt response is requested as we have personnel and supplies en-route to Florida."

Scott on Wednesday announced the SBA had opened a "Business Recovery Center" in Stuart to help businesses affected the algal blooms and other issues releated to Lake Okeechobee.

"The declaration will make low interest Economic Injury Disaster Loans from the SBA available to qualifying businesses in the following counties: Brevard, Broward, Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands, Indian River, Lee, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Okeechobee, Osceola, Palm Beach, Polk, Saint Lucie and Sarasota," read a release.

Martin County Commissioner Ed Fielding defended Murphy in an email Wednesday night, saying the Democrat "led the call to increase funding from the Small Business Administration."

"This week Rep. Murphy's office offered to provide helpful publicity for this additional funding," Fielding wrote. "As soon as Rep. Murphy's office learned that we would be opening a disaster relief office on Wednesday, they were very supportive and offered to help promote this important program. Under no circumstances did Rep. Murphy's office ask for a delay of anything that could be helpful to the residents of Martin County."

Murphy's Senate rivals pounced on the news, which follows a number of reports about him inflating his work credentials.

[Last modified: Thursday, July 14, 2016 6:40am]


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