ST. PETERSBURG — After a lunchtime candidate forum on Friday, the widow of U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young was walking out of the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, and passed by her son Bill Young II.
"You have hurt me beyond belief," Beverly Young said to him, as a reporter stood nearby.
Bill Young expressed surprise, and afterward told a reporter, "She shouldn't be letting things divide the family. It's politics."
But in the weeks since Rep. Young died on Oct. 18, it has become clear that there is a dispute in the family, both on the surface and beneath.
Publicly, Beverly Young has endorsed Republican David Jolly, a longtime aide to the congressman who served as his general counsel.
Beverly says her husband said in his final days that he wanted Jolly to succeed him.
Just as publicly, Bill Young II has been supporting another Republican candidate, state Rep. Kathleen Peters. Later Friday, the campaign sent an email from him saying "My father, Congressman Bill Young, will never be replaced," but that "I support Kathleen Peters and urge you to, as well."
Behind the scenes, Beverly Young said she believes her son Bill and state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, have been raising doubts about her account that the congressman backed Jolly in his last days. She said she feels she's being made out as a liar.
She said after a prayer breakfast in Clearwater, people came to her and told her Latvala had expressed doubt to them about her account.
Reached by phone later, Latvala said he does think there is some doubt about whether Bill Young picked Jolly to be his successor. He says Bill Young II told him that he had not heard his father say this during his final hospitalization.
"It's not about me, I wasn't there," Latvala said. But he said as a community leader himself, he was concerned because some people may be basing their vote on the late congressman's purported wishes, and he wants "to try to make sure that we elect someone who's as committed to the community as Bill Young was."
For his part, Bill Young II said on Friday that he spoke to his father before he got sick and asked whom he would support as his successor. He said his father told him he wanted to make sure a Republican succeeded him, but said he didn't get involved in primaries.
"I don't know if he had a change of heart," he said. "If he did, he didn't tell me."
But Young said he's not casting aspersions on his mother.
"I haven't taken a stand and said anything about this deathbed conversation," he said. "It's unfortunate that she is making this a family issue, and I wish that she wouldn't."
He acknowledged he has taken a different political stand, but said that shouldn't affect family relationships.
When a reporter asked Beverly Young how these matters had affected her relationship with her son, she tearfully said, "I have no relationship."
All this amounts to a bitter and awkward postscript to the mourning and tributes that followed the death of Young, who represented Pinellas County for 43 years. Young was praised by Republicans and Democrats alike for supporting military, scientific and educational projects throughout Tampa Bay.
Because of that esteem, endorsements from Young family members have been considered valuable to any candidate in the race. It's unclear whether disputes within the family will change that.
At the Suncoast Tiger Bay forum itself, things stayed calm. Republicans Jolly, Peters and Mark Bircher spoke, as did Democratic candidate Alex Sink and Libertarian Lucas Overby.
The primary will be Jan. 14 and the general election March 11 in the district that extends from southern Pinellas to Dunedin, with a section of southern and downtown St. Petersburg cut out.
Curtis Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8232. Twitter: @ckruegertimes.