TAMPA — Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner said Tuesday that Pat Frank has "failed" to hire minorities and women to senior positions in the Clerk of the Circuit Court's Office, an attack that drew an immediate and forceful rebuke from Frank.
Beckner, who is challenging Frank for county clerk in the Aug. 30 primary, further charged that Frank didn't support President Barack Obama. Frank's campaign responded by sending out a picture of a smiling Obama with his arm around Frank.
The latest salvo from Beckner, 45, comes with just three weeks to go in the Democratic primary and continues a barrage of attacks against Frank, 86, as he seeks to unseat the three-term incumbent.
A statement from Beckner's campaign claims that all five employees on Frank's senior leadership team are white males and none of her chief deputy clerks are people of color. Two of those deputies are women.
"Pat Frank has failed to promote minorities to her executive staff and to award women equal pay for equal work," Beckner said in a statement. "These are not progressive values, and the voters of Hillsborough County should carefully consider whether her actions are the same as her campaign talking points when choosing who is best qualified to serve as the next Clerk of the Circuit Court."
Frank's campaign called Beckner's comments "desperate" and noted that the second-highest paid staff member in the office is a black man: Tim Simon, the director of finance.
The statement went on to note that nearly three-fourths of the clerk's 670 employees are women and more than half are black or Hispanic. Further, 24 percent of employees in management positions are black and 17 percent are Hispanic, it said.
"Pat Frank is extremely proud of her office's diverse workforce," Frank spokesman Ian Whitney said.
The racially charged accusations from Beckner follow his repeated insistence that Frank is an absentee clerk. It also comes just days after his colleague Les Miller, the lone African-American on the County Commission, recorded an ad for Frank that is running on a local black-oriented radio station.
Beckner went on to claim Tuesday that Frank didn't support Obama in 2008. His statement said that after the Democratic convention Frank said: "The intellectual part (of me) says 'Can this person handle the responsibility?' … I have not heard anything from Obama that as an older woman, moves me in his direction."
The statement, however, pieces together two comments from Frank on separate occasions, one that came before the convention, when she was an ardent backer of Hillary Clinton, and one after it.
In June 2008, when Obama was the likely, but not official, Democratic nominee, Frank said in a letter to the Tampa Tribune that Obama had not yet addressed the concerns of women who backed Clinton for her policies addressing women in the workforce.
"I have not heard anything from Obama that as an older woman, moves me in his direction," she wrote regarding that issue.
After the convention in August, she told the then-St. Petersburg Times: "If I can't vote for him it will break my heart, because I have been supporting minorities my whole career and he represents the hope of so many people. But on the other hand, the intellectual part says, 'Can this person handle the responsibility?' I go through this every single day, and I read absolutely everything there is about Obama."
Frank said she eventually voted for Obama in the 2008 general election and campaigned for him in 2012. The picture of the two of them hangs in her office lobby.
Beckner has doubled down on these attacks in mailers he recently sent to Hillsborough voters. On the cover it says in large type "Pat didn't support President Obama," and inside is Beckner's own picture posing with the commander in chief.
Among the reasons listed to support Beckner: He's a "longtime supporter of President Obama."
Contact Steve Contorno at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @scontorno.