State Sen. Jack Latvala has inserted himself into the race for a North Pinellas County Commission seat, but he's not making an endorsement.
Instead, he's telling people who not to pick: fellow Republican Peter Nehr.
"I served with Peter in Tallahassee and have observed his political career from the beginning," Latvala wrote in a letter posted on Facebook and sent to the local media. "I believe his record is not deserving of support for elective office in Pinellas County."
The longtime Clearwater lawmaker acknowledged such a move is unusual and said he was motivated by a recent poll that showed Nehr ahead in the seven-candidate race.
In the letter, Latvala suggested that Dunedin Mayor Dave Eggers, Oldsmar City Council member Jim Ronecker and firefighter Macho Liberti are all "fine public servants" who would serve the district well. He also praised Johnny Johnson, a retired Tarpon Springs dentist endorsed by his ex-wife Susan Latvala, who is vacating the commission seat after 14 years.
Latvala criticizes Nehr for "personal financial and ethical lapses."
"I believe elected officials should hold themselves to a high standard, which most of our Pinellas County elected officials of both parties continue to do," he wrote. "In my heart, I believe Peter Nehr misses that mark."
In an interview Monday, Nehr said he was expecting desperate attacks along these lines and is surprised only that it came so late from Latvala, a veteran politician who could have considerable sway in District 4, which includes Safety Harbor, Dunedin, Palm Harbor, East Lake, Tarpon Springs and Oldsmar.
The primary is Aug. 26, but nearly 72,000 already have voted by mail or during early voting, which started Saturday.
"It's my hope the citizens of north Pinellas County will see through this last-minute attack to try to make me lose the election," said Nehr, 62, of Palm Harbor.
Latvala doesn't mention specifics in his letter. Asked in an interview Monday for examples, he referred a reporter to previous Tampa Bay Times stories.
Nehr has twice filed for bankruptcy. Last year, the Times found that after Nehr lost his bid for a fourth term in the House, he used campaign funds to pay his live-in girlfriend, an acupuncturist, $22,000 for what he said was, "consulting, editing and fundraising" work.
"And then trying to hide it with a different address, that's just blatant, and I can't let that go unnoted," said Latvala, referring to campaign finance records that listed an incorrect address for the girlfriend.
Nehr has said the woman worked hard on his campaign and deserved compensation, and that the incorrect address was a mistake.
"Personal issues don't have a major effect on anything I would do as a commissioner," Nehr said Monday. "My voting record is most important, voting against raising taxes, helping constituents in need and my hard work as a state representative. I will continue to do that hard work as a county commissioner."
A former Tarpon Springs City Commissioner member, Nehr served in the House from 2006 to 2012 before losing to Democrat Carl Zimmermann. Nehr now owns a courier company.
The other candidates in the District 4 Republican primary are small business owner Tim Keffalas and former commission administrative assistant Wanda Kimsey, both of Tarpon Springs.
Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @tmarrerotimes.