ST. PETERSBURG — With less than a month before the Nov. 5 general election, City Council candidate Steve Galvin has gone on the attack in a recorded phone message sent this past weekend.
"Good evening Republican voters," the message, obtained by the Tampa Bay Times, began. "Before casting your vote in the upcoming City Council race, you should know the differences between candidate Steve Galvin and his opponent Amy Foster."
The robocall, intended to gin up support for Galvin's bid to represent District 8, followed a formula. In one breath, the recording touted Galvin, in the next it attacked Foster, casting her as a candidate with only a vague attachment to the city.
The message criticized Foster for renting, rather than owning her own home, and for working for a Seattle-based nonprofit. It emphasized that Galvin owns his own business and home and stated that he "shares our concerns about rising flood insurance rates and property taxes."
The recording ended by referencing that Foster, who is gay, was involved in the city's pride parade.
"Steve Galvin has a history of community volunteerism in our city from tutoring at New Heights Elementary to raising money for Gulfcoast Legal Services," the message said. "His opponent's major volunteer effort in St. Pete was being vice president of the gay pride parade."
Foster is the vice president of St. Pete Pride, a position she lists on her campaign website and that, until now, Galvin had not raised as an issue. He also took part in the June parade, riding in a trailer decked out in his campaign signs.
In an email to a reporter, Galvin defended the robocall. It was not aimed at Republicans, he said, but was sent out to all demographics. It's unclear how many voters received it.
"We have so far been unable to identify any hands-on volunteer work on the part of Ms. Foster for any local, meaning within the city of St. Petersburg, organization other than the Pride parade," he wrote. "However, to state that she has done nothing in St. Petersburg is not correct, so to be fair she was given credit for the one thing we all know she has done because it was already publicized in the Times and Creative Loafing."
Foster said the recording ignores her involvement with the Junior League of St. Petersburg and the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Advisory Board of Girls Inc. of Pinellas. She has owned a home in the area in the past, she said.
"It just does not surprise me that he would choose to launch a misleading negative attack that I feel is focused on inciting bigotry," Foster said.
While it's common for candidates to exchange jabs at public forums, full-blown negative ads are unusual in City Council elections. Perhaps as a matter of precedent, or a symptom of the city's Midwestern politeness, many candidates shy away from even mentioning opponents by name. A common refrain goes: "Nasty doesn't work in St. Pete."
"There have been times where candidates feel that their campaign is behind and they attempt to use the gay card because they feel that that will be damaging," said Susan McGrath, president of the Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas. Galvin sought the group's endorsement earlier this year, losing out to Foster.
"I'm quite confident voters are not going to fall for this," McGrath said.
This race has not been a smooth one for Galvin, 55, a music producer who initially focused his campaign on opposing the Lens. He has raised $18,000, of which about $12,000 is from personal loans he made to the campaign. Before the primary, his campaign consultant quit after the Times revealed that Galvin had lied to the newspaper about a paternity lawsuit and the fact that he had a child.
In the primary, he placed second to Foster, who won with 56 percent of the vote to Galvin's 18.
The latest finance reports show Galvin has hired Jeff Copeland, a fixture of city politics, as a campaign consultant.