DUNEDIN — A string of robocalls bashing Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski has trickled through the city this past week, ringing the phones of hundreds of residents — including the mayor herself.
The calls harped on personal issues Bujalski's opposers have called her out on before, so naturally the incumbent and her supporters have looked to her opponent, Vice Mayor Bruce Livingston, to claim responsibility.
"There is only one person that benefits from this," Bujalski said, calling the information in the call an exaggeration. "It is a shame that my opponent, his contributors and supporters feel this is the best way to lead Dunedin into the future."
But Livingston says he has nothing to do with it.
"There is no mudslinging here," he told the Tampa Bay Times. "Our campaign has not engaged in robocalls."
The race between the two of them for the city's top spot has had underlying contention all along. The mayor seems sure all blasts at her come from her challenger, and he actively denies those claims. Both candidates have signs in yards around the city, and their camps seem equally determined to win.
Christine Ann Tsotsos, a friend and supporter of Bujalski, said her jaw dropped when she got her first robocall.
"I was shocked," she remembered. "I have lived in Dunedin since 1972 and no election has ever been this dirty and nasty."
Tsotsos said one call mentioned Bujalski's late boat slip fees at the city marina, a story that came to light in August, causing the mayor to quickly pay off the bills in full. But the recorded voice took it a few steps further and said the Bujalski family is "deep in debt" and used the city as a "checkbook" or "credit card" to pay for a "luxury" boat they own, she said.
"The whole thing was exaggeration," the mayor said, "and I can say that because they didn't even bother to take me off the call list."
Many of the call's comments held striking resemblance to two posts made on a Facebook page for a group called Citizens for a Better Dunedin — the same group Livingston credited with pushing him to run for office in 2014, according to an earlier Times story.
But Tuesday, Livingston denied knowing a group by that name and said he doesn't know anyone associated with it. He said a group of "concerned citizens" asked him to run, but the group "never had a formal name attached to it."
Messages to the Facebook group went unanswered.
Livingston said he can only hope to see the calls and Facebook posts stop. He says he has prided himself on running a positive campaign and hopes to continue on through Election Day on Nov. 8.
"I am tired of answering for groups that I know nothing about," he said. "I don't endorse or control their actions. … I can only answer for my campaign."
Contact Megan Reeves at email@example.com or (727) 445-4153. Follow @mreeves_tbt.