In 2006 and 2008, Republican Peter Nehr beat Democrat Carl Zimmermann in close, hard-fought races for the state House of Representatives in northern Pinellas County's District 48.
On Nov. 6, the two face each other again in the new District 65, which covers Palm Harbor, Tarpon Springs and Dunedin.
But this time, Zimmermann, 61, a journalism teacher at Countryside High School, says he's got a new strategy: He's going negative. He's handing out eye-catching fliers with two pictures of a shirtless Nehr that highlight what Zimmermann feels are the three-term incumbent's negatives.
This isn't exactly a new approach for Zimmermann. In 2008 he called Nehr "morally bankrupt, personally bankrupt and professionally bankrupt."
Nehr calls the fliers "a blatant attempt … to try to grab some cheap publicity."
Here are some of the fliers' attacks, and what Nehr has to say about them:
Nehr, 60, used to be a much heavier man. In 2003, he emailed a shirtless picture of his flabby former self to nearly 300 friends and acquaintances, then he started dieting and working out. In 2004, he sent those same people another picture of himself, flexing in black spandex shorts. The Tampa Bay Times ran the picture along with a story about Nehr's weight loss.
That accounts for one picture on the flier. The other is of Nehr in black briefs, self-shot with a cell phone. He isn't sure exactly when it was taken, but thinks it was another he sent to friends as an update on his weight loss. An anonymous source emailed that picture to Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam Smith this summer, and Smith wrote about it, and Nehr's explanation.
"I am proud of what I have done to improve my health and will discuss this with anyone who wants to know how to do what I did," Nehr wrote Smith.
The flag thing
The flier accuses Nehr of desecrating the American flag, but is short on details.
The story, according to Nehr: Some time between 1998 and 2000, when he was getting his political science degree from the University of South Florida, he was given an assignment on laws regarding flag desecration. There have been many legislative attempts at both state and federal levels to outlaw burning, tearing and stepping on the flag, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled those laws, including one in Florida, unconstitutional.
Nehr confirmed parts of the rumor Zimmermann had heard. Nehr did lay the flag on the floor of the classroom, giving students the option to step on the flag on the way to their desks. He said it was to demonstrate that, in America, residents have freedoms not available in other countries.
"The bottom line is that I was given an assignment ... to elicit responses to a flag freedom issue, and I received an A," Nehr wrote in a response to the flier. "I have nothing but the utmost respect for the U.S. flag and our brave veterans."
Zimmermann, when told Nehr's recollection, called it a "shocking disrespect of the flag." Nehr, by the way, used to make his living operating a flag shop on the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks.
Bankruptcies and an eviction
Zimmermann's flier mentions Nehr's bankruptcies in 1991 and 2009, and states that he was evicted by Riverwalk of Tarpon Springs.
Nehr has filed for bankruptcy twice. In 1991, he says, he didn't have insurance to cover medical expenses for his son, who is mentally handicapped. In 2009, he declared bankruptcy after poor business decisions, he said, forced him to close his flag shop.
But Nehr's former landlord backs up Nehr's claim that he was not evicted from Riverwalk, where his flag shop was located. Riverwalk owner Richard Zinn said Nehr left him inventory from the shop to make up for the money he owed.
"He was a very good customer who, like everyone else in this country, hit some hard times," Zinn said.
Nehr criticizes the flier as Zimmermann's way to take the discussion away from the issues and away from Nehr's legislative record. Also, he said, they are poorly written. Nehr pointed out several grammatical and spelling errors, which he found funny, since Zimmermann has a master's degree in English.
"If I were grading this," Nehr said of the flier, "I'd give him an F."
Zimmermann fired back.
"Maybe he should get a job as an English teacher," Zimmermann said, "after Nov. 6."
Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.