LARGO — If you visited the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections' Starkey Road office Monday afternoon, you may have seen some men dressed like firefighters campaigning with Largo City Commission candidate Bob Hunsicker.
They were Bob's son, Andrew Hunsicker, 32, and his friend Antonio Suescum, 42, both of Seminole. They are not firefighters. They have never been firefighters. Hunsicker is a consultant for Chevron. Suescum sells real estate.
The men say they dressed up like firefighters — Andrew Hunsicker wore bright yellow overalls and a matching helmet; Suescum wore a yellow jacket and a black helmet he bought at a Halloween store — because they wanted to show voters Bob Hunsicker supports firefighters.
Andrew Hunsicker called it a "good, fun politicking joke." The Largo Professional Firefighters and Florida Professional Firefighters, which endorsed Hunsicker's opponent, James Robinson, are not laughing.
"To masquerade family or friends in firefighter protective gear … is a clear attempt to imply the firefighters are supporting Bob," said Florida Professional Firefighters spokesman Jim Tolley. "Based on his deceptive actions in his campaign, one would have to question his integrity."
Macho Liberti, spokesman for Largo Professional Firefighters, agreed.
"It is sad to see Hunsicker is willing to stoop to this level," he said.
Bob Hunsicker, 69, a semiretired electrical engineer, called his son's costumed sign-waving "a spur of the moment thing" and dismissed the criticism.
"I never said I have the support of the unions, I just said I want to make sure there are four firefighters on a truck," said Hunsicker, referencing a recent budget cut that dropped staffing levels on one of Largo's fire engines from four firefighters to three.
Hunsicker's opponent, Robinson, drove to the elections office Monday after getting a call from a firefighter about Hunsicker and Suescum. He asked Bob Hunsicker if he thought it was misleading, and then tried to take a picture. Both Hunsickers and Suescum smiled and posed.
"It actually turned out to be kind of an amusing afternoon," said Bob Hunsicker.
Candidate Robinson, 35, the manager of Largo Feed & Pet Supply, had a different take.
"It's extremely misleading," Robinson said. "That's all I really have to say."
Andrew Hunsicker said he decided to dress as a firefighter after he went to vote Monday morning and saw firefighters — real ones — waving signs for Robinson. He felt that incorrectly implied to voters his father is anti-firefighter. He had the firefighting garb from an old job in the oil and gas industry.
"There was no intent to mislead," he said. "I think the unions are having buyer's remorse with their endorsement of my father's opponent."
The endorsement by fire unions seems to be a defining characteristic of Robinson's campaign. His campaign website — robinsonforlargo-com.webs.com — has two images: a headshot of himself and the symbol for the International Association of Firefighters. The union symbol is as big, and displayed as prominently, as Robinson's picture.
While both candidates have called for increased staffing for Largo Fire Rescue, Largo union officials endorsed Robinson because they felt he would do a better job working with fellow commissioners. Hunsicker is far more critical of the current commission than Robinson.
Suescum, Andrew Hunsicker's friend, was puzzled that his outfit Monday generated controversy.
"There's nothing wrong with wearing a Halloween fire hat and saying 'Vote for Bob Hunsicker,' " Suescum said. "I would dress in a clown suit if it would help get him elected."
Contact Will Hobson at (727) 445-4167 or firstname.lastname@example.org.