ST. PETERSBURG — A state legislator told a local congressional candidate "you should be ashamed of yourself" for campaigning at non-political community meetings about the toxic plume around Raytheon.
State Rep. Rick Kriseman wrote a scathing letter last week to fellow Democrat Samm Simpson, denouncing her campaign's actions at Raytheon meetings. He also sent the letter to Simpson's opponent Max Linn, whose tactics he called "as offensive and reprehensible."
Linn and Simpson, both Democrats, are hoping to unseat longtime Republican U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young.
"I write this letter with some trepidation as I fear that in doing so I am giving unintended significance and validity to your campaign," Kriseman wrote.
Simpson, 54, said the missive was "vitriolic" and based on misinformation. She acknowledged volunteers from her campaign behaved inappropriately, however.
"I felt it was cruel," Simpson said. "I'm just trying to help people. That's not an easy thing to do in this world."
Contamination surrounding Raytheon, a defense technology company, was found to have tainted the ground water under Azalea Park and surrounding areas in 1999. The company has been holding meetings to address the issue.
Kriseman chastised Simpson for taking advantage of a crowd of concerned voters. He said her campaign promoted itself by sign-waving, distributing campaign literature and asking questions designed to reflect favorably on its candidate.
"Do you not understand that for every second you or one of your supporters is at the microphone politicking, an actual resident of the area is being silenced? Have you no respect for these people?" he wrote.
Kriseman, who is running for re-election, was unavailable for comment.
Simpson said she never identified herself as a candidate or handed out literature. At one meeting, a volunteer was waving a sign, but she thought it was inappropriate and asked the volunteer to stop, after a Kriseman aide discussed it with her.
At two meetings her volunteer coordinator Mike Fox asked about the involvement of the District 10 incumbent, U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young. In one instance, he asked where Young was.
Simpson said she agreed the questions were inappropriate.
Linn, another Democrat running for Young's seat, was sent a copy of the letter. Simpson said Linn introduced himself at a recent meeting and started making a speech until Sen. Bill Nelson stopped him. He also put brochures on people's windshields, she said.
Dominick Griesi, president of the Azalea Neighborhood Association, said members told him they agreed with Kriseman that the candidates' behavior was opportunistic.
But he also said he notified Simpson about the meeting because he thought the district's representative should be informed on the issue.
"If you're just coming to get your name in the paper, as far as I'm concerned they can just stay home," Griesi said. "I don't care if the president comes, I feel the same way."
Stephanie Garry can be reached at (717) 892-2374 or firstname.lastname@example.org.