TRINITY — Pasco School Board candidate Billie Kaleel is a political novice. So when it came time to prepare materials for her campaign, she said, she looked at fliers used by other candidates. Kaleel ended up designing a postcard that has some striking similarities to one flier in particular:
"The first time I saw it, I was like, 'You've got to be kidding me,'" candidate Alison Crumbley said of Kaleel's card. "I've had it brought up to me by people that have seen both pieces."
Crumbley, who paid political consultant Jack Latvala to design and print her cards, stopped short of accusing Kaleel of copying hers, saying she did not want to blow the situation out of proportion. But as a person who has run major advertising campaigns in the past, Crumbley did not want people to think she might be unoriginal or relying on someone else's ideas, either.
"I don't want to be thought of as the one who copied someone else," Crumbley said.
She and Kaleel are vying for the District 4 seat being vacated by Kathryn Starkey, who is running for a Florida House seat.
Side by side, Crumbley's and Kaleel's cards have obvious similarities, from the placement of the candidate's photo to the notebook paper lines running across the page.
Some of the language also is very close, with Crumbley calling herself in red "Above all, a dedicated mother!" Kaleel's tagline is also in red in the same spot on the card, proclaiming herself "Most of all, a concerned mother!"
On the other hand, the two candidates offer different ideas under their bullet points. Crumbley talks about keeping taxes low and politics out of school decisions while providing the tools that teachers need. Kaleel emphasizes the importance of children and a quality education over bureaucracy. The flip side details their different experiences in business and community service.
Kaleel was one of the first people to file to run for School Board, putting in her paperwork back in February 2009. She has regularly attended board meetings and workshops since then, working to understand the issues the district faces.
The retired court reporter has a son and has been involved with the schools, but her involvement in politics has been almost nil.
She never has voted. She only registered to vote two weeks before announcing her candidacy.
"I never was involved in politics," said Kaleel, 58. "I had a lot of work to do with my son," who has autism.
Now she's getting involved. And she wonders why anyone would question her over her campaign card.
At first, she said she "didn't even know" Crumbley had a handout like hers.
In further conversations, though, Kaleel said she looked at several candidates' signs and other materials for inspiration, and incorporated what she considered to be the best ideas for her own campaign.
"A lot of people have similar stuff that is different. This is what I came up with," she said.
Kaleel stressed the differences between her piece and Crumbley's, down to the issues and ideas.
"Did she patent that card? My card doesn't even look like her card. Am I violating a patent? If she didn't patent it, I don't understand," Kaleel said. "People get ideas from other people. Is that not allowed?"
Crumbley acknowledged there's no such law. At the same time, she said, she just doesn't want people confused when they see the two cards lying near each other. The end result could be that neither stands out because they're so alike — not the result either Crumbley or Kaleel wants.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.