House District 57 race in Tampa has already gotten ugly

TAMPA — It didn't take long for the District 57 state House race to get nasty.

Just two days after Tuesday's primary election, when Dana Young became the Republican nominee, opponents of Democratic nominee Stacy Frank caused a commotion at her campaign kickoff.

The small group of people who oppose Frank because she negotiated agreements for cell phone towers at Hillsborough County public schools has been showing up at many of her campaign events.

On Thursday, it got to the point where harsh words were exchanged.

"Tempers were just flaring," said Lisa Williams, an organizer of the anti-Frank group. "They came up and literally got within inches of my face with a camera. We've never had anything like that happen before."

Anne Johnson, a Frank supporter, said she confronted Williams outside the event.

"I said, 'Lisa, what are you doing here? Why don't you go home and behave yourself?' " Johnson said. "I want this to stop. I don't think it's fair to Stacy. She never has tried to do anything to stop it. She's just tolerated it."

Why all the passion?

For one, the cell tower issue has split communities in Tampa for well over a year.

Johnson and Williams previously butted heads on the issue when they were part of the same neighborhood association.

But there's also the fact that the District 57 race will be one of the state's most closely watched legislative contests.

District 57 stretches from Westchase through Town 'N Country and South Tampa.

Democrats are hoping to win the seat back from Republicans, who have held the post for the past eight years, and they stand a good chance.

It's an open seat, with incumbent Faye Culp term-limited out of the job. The district has almost an equal number of registered Democrats and Republicans.

And Frank, the daughter of Hillsborough Clerk of Courts Pat Frank, has some political pedigree and the backing of big-name Democrats.

Already, the state party has pumped more than $46,000 in monetary and in-kind contributions into her campaign.

Republicans, though, plan to fight back.

The GOP-supported Citizens Speaking Out committee delivered a box full of campaign pieces to Williams that blast Frank for her cell tower work.

And now that the primary is over, the party plans to give Young, a lawyer who has been a stay-at-home mom for the past 12 years, some direct support.

"We understand that it's going to be a targeted race for the Democrats and it's going to be a targeted race for us, too," said Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for the Republican Party of Florida.

She points out that presidential candidate John McCain carried the district in 2008 and Gov. Charlie Crist won it in 2006.

"In terms of performance, we feel confident that it's a Republican seat," she said.

Still, the divide behind the candidates it not clearly cut along party lines.

Some of the people in Williams' group are Democrats.

Johnson, who is supporting Frank, is a Republican.

And lawyer Dan Molloy, who lost to Young in Tuesday's Republican primary, is toying with supporting Frank, illustrating the nasty divide in the Republican Party throughout the state.

The week before the election, the group Truth Matters, which has strong ties to the Republican Party of Florida, sent out mailers attacking Molloy and Republican candidate Todd Marks.

And Molloy charges that two weeks before the primary, the state party, in its haste to back Young, cut him off from a voter database that candidates use to target their campaigns.

"Those two events with the RPOF certainly released me from any implied commitments," said Molloy.

Betta said Molloy is mistaken, that he lost his access to the database because someone had input an incorrect password three times in a row. That, she said, booted him from the database.

"If he had called us we could have easily fixed it," she said. "We had no way of knowing he couldn't access his information."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

House District 57 race in Tampa has already gotten ugly 08/29/10 [Last modified: Monday, August 30, 2010 12:50am]

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