Saturday, February 24, 2018

Beckner wins re-election in tough campaign

TAMPA —Better known and better financed, incumbent Democratic County Commissioner Kevin Beckner beat his Republican challenger Margaret Iuculano in a countywide District 6 race that became a rumble.

It also was the only one in Hills­borough County that featured a psychic and a cyberstalker.

Celebrating Tuesday night at Gaspar's Grotto in Ybor City, Beckner said his focus on bipartisan economic issues won him four more years. He gave his opponent an "A" for "a spirited, grass roots effort," but graded her an "F" for assaults on his integrity.

Both gave as good as they got. Tuesday night, Iuculano said she didn't like the attacks on her, including a Beckner television ad that ridiculed her for taking advice from a psychic.

But she said her first try at public office left her exhilarated. Though Beckner took 58 percent of the vote, more than 200,000 people voted for her, many more than predicted. Among her best memories, she found a couple during neighborhood canvassing that was willing to take in an 18-year-old homeless youth.

Both campaigned on platforms that Democrats and Republicans could agree on — job growth, help for small businesses, financial oversight and emphasis on family needs.

For more than a year, they stuck to a ground game, knocking on tens of thousands of doors. Only in the past weeks did Beckner — with three times as much money to spend — turn to TV ads.

He had union backing. She got early support from out-of-state PACs, including the Strategic Campaign Group in Alexandria, Va., and the Veterans Victory Fund in Chantilly, Va. Beckner raised almost $300,000. Iuculano raised $72,000.

The way Beckner spent his TV money characterized what the race had become. In his spot, he accused Iuculano of being a "train wreck with money," citing a business bankruptcy she and her husband went through in the recession.

For her part, Iuculano accused Beckner of incompetence or worse as the commission's representative on the Children's Board of Hillsborough County. She said he overlooked problems that led to the dismissal of the board's CEO. A Tampa Bay Times investigation last spring found the CEO had allowed no-bid contracts totaling $450,000 that didn't meet board guidelines.

Both candidates complained of harassment from the fringes.

Beckner said a developer consultant bombarded him with emails — sometimes at 3 and 4 in the morning — accusing him of corruption. The consultant wasn't part of Iuculano's campaign. Beckner called him a cyberstalker.

Recently, a Tallahassee-based group calling itself the Family Defense Fund mailed out a brochure accusing Beckner of funneling no-bid Children's Board contracts to friends, an accusation that was disproved.

Iuculano got similar rough treatment. Unknown people, she said, created fake email and Facebook accounts, impersonating her. She said her signs also were vandalized with razor blades and hammers.

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