U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young has been re-elected to Congress repeatedly since 1970. He's running this year for his 22nd term. But this campaign, he says, has been different. This year, he says, has been rougher than ever before.
"My home's been broken into twice," Young said in the first in a series of three interviews with the Tampa Bay Times over the past two weeks. "And my wife and I have been stalked in Washington and here in Florida. Who's behind it? I don't know."
But the 81-year-old congressman has his suspicions. He's not looking at his Democratic Party opponent, Jessica Ehrlich. Instead, in two of the three interviews, he named both the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Florida Consumer Action Network as his suspects, explaining: "The Occupiers are after me."
However, Indian Shores police say they haven't seen signs of any break-ins at Young's condominium this year.
They have investigated one incident. In July an alarm went off at the condo, but police concluded there was no burglary. Instead, they said, a storm blew open a garage door with a faulty lock, setting off the alarm — the second time that has happened in two years.
"There were no pry markings nor impact marks that would be consistent with a forced entry," Officer Shaun Griffin wrote in his report on this year's incident. Griffin said in a recent interview that, despite the wet conditions outside, police found no wet footprints anywhere inside the condo, another sign there was no break-in.
Young disagrees with the police conclusion about his alarm. He and his wife, Beverly, were in Washington when it happened, he said. But when they returned a few days later, they discovered that someone "left an item in a very, very prominent place to make sure I knew they had been there."
If the wind blew the door open, he said in the second interview, "then the wind must've blown that item into the house and placed it in a prominent position. That's a pretty smart wind."
In all three interviews, Young declined to name what the item was or where he found it, saying police had asked him to keep those details quiet. But Griffin described it as a pillow carried by a ring bearer at a wedding, adding, "There were kids' jewelry rings that were attached to the bow."
The pillow and rings were found on a couch on the second floor, the officer said. "We can't figure out how it got there unless his grandchildren left it there or some of their friends," Griffin said.
"We asked the kids," Young countered. "They never saw the item."
In the first interview with the Times, Young said the incident with the garage door occurred just three weeks after one in which his daughter-in-law apparently surprised an intruder in the condo who fled without taking anything.
But his daughter-in-law, Ashley Young, said that apparent break-in had occurred in 2010, not this year. A police report agrees with her account. The 2010 report noted that Young's wife later discovered $1,000 missing from a drawer in the master bedroom.
In the third interview, last week, conducted after a reporter talked to Ashley Young, the congressman changed his story to match hers, agreeing that it occurred in 2010 and not this year. "That timeline was a little bit confusing," he said. He also said, "I don't know that I would even use the term 'burglary.' "
As for the stalking, Young said he and his wife had been photographed by someone in the parking lot of a drugstore in Virginia. He said it happened around the same weekend as the burglar alarm.
Young, who walks with a cane, did not confront the photographer. Instead, he said, he and his wife got the car's license plate number and turned it over to the Capitol Hill police.
A Capitol Hill police spokeswoman said they had no active cases involving Young. She did not respond to questions about whether they had investigated any stalking complaints regarding Young.
After last year's shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., members of Congress have become far more concerned than in the past about potential threats to their safety. Young acknowledged he is also more on his guard, too, after he was recently caught on video telling a constituent who asked about raising the minimum wage, "Get a job."
"I'm not used to this kind of personal treatment," he said.
The "get a job" video was spread by the Florida Consumer Action Network, or FCAN, which Young named as one of the groups he believes might be conducting a harassment campaign against him. "I know the Occupiers and the FCANers group are not happy with me," he said.
In response to a request for comment from the Occupy Tampa movement, a member named Tristan Lear said in an e-mail that burglarizing and stalking Bill Young "seems totally uncharacteristic of our kind of work."
When asked if FCAN members might be burglarizing Young's condo or stalking him, FCAN executive director Bill Newton laughed. "Nobody on our staff would remotely do anything like that," he said.
Young said that after more than 40 years in office, he's thought about retiring — but not yet, not under these circumstances. "I'm not going to retire while I'm being under attack."
Craig Pittman can be reached at [email protected]