My mailbox is screaming. Or maybe that's me.
In the waning days of Tampa's municipal elections, it spits out great piles of fliers onto the oak-pollen covered porch daily.
Pick me, not him! they call out. Look, I have a cute dog! A nice family! A great tie!
Look, I talk to old/young/black/white/Hispanic/disabled people — see, right here in the picture! And speaking of pictures, did I mention that my opponent, shown here in grainy black and white looking like Charlie Sheen with a wad of spinach in his teeth, does not scoop up after his dog and also is a distant relative of Satan?
Inside the house, the phone sags with the weight of dozens of robo-messages, the candidates, spouses, influential friends, children, grandchildren and strangers who happen to have nice speaking voices all saying their guy is hands down the one I want. My finger hovers over "delete," but no. Best to be informed about who will next run your city.
And so this week, we were treated to a new low in layers of mud. But maybe an instructive one.
In the final frantic days in the race to replace Mayor Pam Iorio, a flier surfaced calling candidate Rose Ferlita "Unmarried. Unsure. Unelectable."
And, really? Is some troglodyte out there actually implying a woman is unworthy without a Mrs. next to her name?
But as happens in politics, all was not what it seemed. The "mailer," which made news after a political blogger said someone uploaded it anonymously to his blog, bears an invalid postage-paid permit number. No one seems to have actually found it inside a mailbox. No one took responsibility. And when you look closely, the flier seems a parody about as subtle as a jackhammer. (A picture of a withered rose? Seriously?)
Ferlita's opponent, Bob Buckhorn, who has campaigned steadily as the Family Man With a Plan, denied having anything to do with it. (For the record, he has generally resisted attacks on her.)
Theories run amok. A shadowy group of Democrats is attacking the Republican Ferlita! No, a shadowy group of Republicans cooked this up to reflect badly on Democrat Buckhorn and win Ferlita votes!
And how easy to believe either.
And by the way, might these pieces talk more about, oh, I don't know, getting big companies to like Tampa enough to move here, or jobs, or our pathetic excuse for public transportation?
Another mailer (actually mailed!) went after Buckhorn with a picture of a little kid in a cowboy hat, a list of his runs for office and a snarky line about how he doesn't know what he wants to be when he grows up. Ferlita said she had nothing to do with it. As with "unmarried," some people who appeared to be connected to it couldn't be officially connected to it.
Excellent! Just what they're after, the smear without the responsibility, the new normal even in an allegedly nonpartisan race. They hope we'll look at a candidate and think, Isn't that the guy who …? Isn't she the one who …?
The trick, then, is cutting through the muck to pick who's best for the job and refusing to give credence to unsourced drive-bys that have little to do with doing the job.
Anyway, that's my plan until Tuesday, election day, also known as Mailbox Emancipation Day.