Bobby Sullivan attacks his former boss with the same energy he employed all those years as a detective busting crackheads.
So when Sheriff Bob White got a chance to lay some wood on Sullivan during a political forum the other night at Pasco-Hernando Community College, what did he do?
He quoted John Lennon.
That's right, the late Beatle.
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.''
This, to me, was the highlight of a four-hour session during which some candidates for other offices looked like they would rather be strapped to a dentist's chair. White, seeking his third term and challenged in the Republican primary by his recently retired vice squad commander, calmly took the high road on this much anticipated question.
Sullivan lives in Hernando County. Why, then, should voters believe he's properly committed to Pasco?
White's pass likely had as much to do with Sullivan's eloquence in answering the question. He got to go first.
In a crowded but silent auditorium, Sullivan leaned into the microphone and spoke of a son's duty to care for his aging parents. Both suffered years of ill health, eventually succumbing to lung cancer. Sullivan had hoped to save the family homestead east of Brooksville where he grew up, but pledged to sell it if elected sheriff in Pasco. He added that nobody should question his dedication to Pasco after 26 years of distinguished service.
Now it was White's turn. He's been listening to Sullivan suggest his department cooks statistics to make it look better. He's heard Sullivan say this department is soft on crime, ignores the gang problem, spends money foolishly and politically.
Sullivan steeled himself for the word "carpetbagger,'' and figured White would point out that Sullivan can't even vote for himself in Pasco.
Instead, the sheriff quoted John Lennon.
"I was stunned,'' Sullivan said the next day.
White said residency was a "nonissue.'' What matters, he said, is that Sullivan is a qualified candidate. He said he understood the factors that drew Sullivan to live in Hernando County.
Hence, the Lennon quote.
"I don't know where it came from,'' the sheriff said the next day, chuckling. "I think I heard it on television. It just stayed with me.''
White has cut way back on his cliches over the years, but he is full of colloquialisms and quotations. "They call them 'Bobisms' around here,'' he said.
White, who at 58 has a dozen years on his challenger, recalled a young Bobby Sullivan who hung around with cops in Brooksville when he was in high school, dreaming of a career in law enforcement. White was a Florida Highway Patrol trooper there for four years in the 1970s.
While the sheriff passed on his chance to hammer Sullivan over residency, he took a few swipes during our conversation the next day. He referred to Sullivan as a "crash dummy for Bogart,'' meaning Kim Bogart, a former high-ranking officer under former sheriffs Jim Gillum and Lee Cannon, who is running against probation officer Jeff Deremer in the Democratic primary.
And whether this is a "Bobism,'' you be the judge: He says he's not running against Bobby Sullivan, but "Alabobkimsullibostein.''
When you're the front-runner with most of the money and a popular governor willing to call you one of Florida's best sheriffs, you can afford to be relaxed. The one person in White's name game you might not recognize is Alan Weinstein, another former high-ranking officer who retired and is helping Sullivan.
Sullivan says he's heard that "crash dummy nonsense ad nauseam.''
Under that theory, "My job is to bloody up the sheriff, lose in the primary, turn over to Bogart a wounded Bob White,'' he said. "But that is simply not true. I am friends with Bogart, and I want nothing more than a race with him in November. But this campaign is way outside my comfort zone. No way would I put my family through this for a buddy. I want to be the chief law enforcement officer in Pasco County.''
And when all the dust is finally settled, maybe they'll give peace a chance.
Bill Stevens is the North Suncoast Editor. You can reach him at (727) 869-6250 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.