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New mailers attacking Buckhorn list return address of Ferlita contributor

TAMPA — Two new mailers attacking mayoral candidate Bob Buckhorn carry the name of an inactive electioneering committee, but their return address belongs to a supporter of rival Rose Ferlita, according to records.

In an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times, Ferlita said she had nothing to do with the fliers, which arrived in voters' mailboxes Tuesday and Wednesday.

"I did not approve either of these mailers or their distribution," said Ferlita, a former Tampa City Council member and Hillsborough County commissioner.

The return address for both mailers is Citizens for Change, 3101 Nebraska Ave., Tampa.

State Division of Elections records show Citizens for Change is a closed electioneering communications organization run by Tampa lawyer Mary Ann Stiles. It has not done business since 2009.

The property at 3101 Nebraska Ave. belongs to Heidi M. Behrendt, 29, who lists the address as her home, according to the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's Office and state voter registration records. Ferlita campaign finance reports show that a real estate broker named H.M. Behrendt of the same address contributed $100 to Ferlita's campaign on Sept. 22.

Behrendt could not be reached for comment Wednesday night. A young man at the home said she wasn't in and said he knew nothing about any election-related activities taking place there.

State corporate records show that Behrendt is a business partner with William Crescenzo, who also has listed 3101 Nebraska Ave. as his address. Ferlita campaign consultant Anthony Pedicini lists a William Crescenzo as a friend on Facebook.

"To the best of my knowledge Anthony Pedicini did not approve distribution of these mailers," Ferlita said.

Ferlita also said she did not know why someone using Citizens for Change's name would mail attack ads from an address belonging to a supporter.

"I have had no contact with Citizens for Change," she said. "I cannot assume responsibility for anyone's actions other than those directed by me."

In recent days, Ferlita has said she would not hesitate to make comparisons between herself and Buckhorn, but has added that anything she sends out to voters will have her name on it.

Asked whether that promise is broken now that an anonymous mailer has been sent from the home of one of her contributors, Ferlita said, "Clearly not."

"I can only take responsibility for my own actions and the actions of my staff and volunteers that I have directed," she said. "I do stand by the public statements, comments and positions I have taken in this campaign. I feel so strongly about this that my name will always be attached to my positions and beliefs."

Buckhorn campaign spokeswoman Beth Leytham said the campaign would not "shadowbox with the folks sending this negative stuff out" but instead focus on its own efforts and message leading up to Tuesday's runoff.

Stiles, a Buckhorn supporter, said Wednesday she gave no permission to use her group's name.

"I don't know who did that. It certainly wasn't me," said Stiles, who is heading an effort to create an elected county mayor. "I think it's horrible."

Citizens for Change is not otherwise registered with the state Division of Elections, the Federal Election Commission or the state Division of Corporations.

The postage information printed on both mailers says they were sent as presorted mail with standard postage paid by "XYZ Company." U.S. Postal Service Tampa spokesman Gary Sawtelle said it's possible to list a company as the sender if someone gets a permit beforehand and pays the postage. He said Wednesday evening that the postal service officials who oversee bulk rate mail could not look into who paid the postage until today.

One of the mailers has a "Wrong way" sign on the front and says, "The Buckhorn plan for Tampa has us going backwards." The other has a picture of a boy wearing a cowboy hat and says "Bob Buckhorn can't decide what he wants to be when he grows up. …"

The mailers include some erroneous information, including one of the years that Buckhorn, a former Tampa City Council member, previously ran for office. Both also repeat the allegation that Buckhorn supported requiring Tampa police officers to keep their guns in the trunks of their cruisers. PolitiFact Florida, the political fact-checking arm of the St. Petersburg Times, analyzed that claim when Ferlita first made it last week and concluded it was false.

New mailers attacking Buckhorn list return address of Ferlita contributor 03/16/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 11:30pm]
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