Is a City Council candidate using a campaign photo that superimposes her own image on Mayor Bob Buckhorn's official city portrait?
It looks that way, say five digital photography experts who examined both photos.
Background details in both match, they said, and a sliver of Buckhorn's suit appears reflected in a glass tabletop next to the image of candidate Jackie Toledo.
"Indeed, this looks like a bad composite," Kevin Connor, president of Fourandsix Technologies, which specializes in image forensics and authentication, said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.
Buckhorn doesn't approve. He said Toledo's photo could mislead voters into thinking she has an endorsement he hasn't given.
"I knew I would be a lame duck someday, but I didn't think people would be Photoshopping me out of my own picture," he said.
"It was incredibly stupid, but I'll write it off to rookie mistakes," Buckhorn said. "If her consultant did it, she ought to fire the consultant. And if she did it, then hopefully she'll learn a lesson from this."
Toledo, 37, is a civil engineer and first-time candidate running for the City Council District 6 seat, which will open next March when council chairman Charlie Miranda leaves it because of term limits. Early this week, she said she couldn't remember when the campaign photo was made. But she said she has often been in the conference room that it shows since joining the Mayor's Hispanic Advisory Council in 2009.
On Friday, responding to additional questions from the Times, Toledo said a friend sent her the photo. She said she did not "ever alter or edit it."
"Posting it on Facebook was not intended to be deceptive," she wrote, attaching to her email additional photos of herself, singly and in a group, in front of the seal with Buckhorn, as well as with former Mayor Pam Iorio.
"None of the pictures attached imply an endorsement," she said. "They are just pictures I have been fortunate enough to take in my role, over the last five years, as a member of the Mayor's Hispanic Advisory Council."
Toledo did not respond to followup questions about whether she actually posed for the campaign photo in front of the seal, knew the photo to be altered or planned to continue using it. Nor did she identify who sent it to her.
Campaign consultant Anthony Pedicini, who called the Times on Toledo's behalf early this week, said Friday that he didn't know who made the photo and wasn't involved himself.
The background for both Buckhorn's portrait and Toledo's campaign photo, which appears on her campaign Facebook page and website, is the city's seal, which hangs in Buckhorn's private conference room. Though familiar to political insiders, the room is not open to the public.
Connor, of Fourandsix Technologies, is a 15-year veteran of the team that builds Photoshop-branded products at Adobe, most recently as vice president of product management. Four others also examined both photos at the request of the Times:
• Jason D. Moore, an Adobe certified expert in Photoshop who served as the lead subject matter expert, head writer, editor and producer of the New York Institute of Photography's "Complete Course in Digital Photography: Photoshop for Photographers."
• Philadelphia area commercial photographer Richard Quindry, who has served as an expert witness in legal cases involving Photoshop.
• Jeff Sedlik, a forensic image analyst, expert witness and professor at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif.
• Damien Symonds, who works with and has a Photoshop training business in Brisbane, Australia.
All mentioned the similarities of the backgrounds, and four noted the reflection of Buckhorn's sleeve on the tabletop of Toledo's photo.
Moore, Connor and Quindry said that when the two images are laid over each other, the backgrounds line up.
Sedlik said the precise alignment of the seal indicates that the background photos were shot with the camera in the same position using the same lens. But differences in the quality of light and the direction of light on Toledo and the background indicate the use of different lighting in different positions.
Symonds said blurred parts around the edges of Toledo's image "seem implausible," and he noted "the absence of any wisps of hair which could be expected in such a portrait."
Experts in politics and public relations offered varied opinions on using a photo like Toledo's.
While "clumsy," such a photo doesn't seem to present "any out-right ethical issues," said former Michigan Rep. M. Robert Carr, an adjunct professor of ethics and Congress in the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University.
"The use of a such a Photoshopped photo in a city council race does raise some legitimate questions, but without additional facts, they are not questions of ethics," Carr said in an email. "This is particularly the case as we seem to live in a Photoshopped world where people are on notice that photos are not always what they are made to appear to be."
But Beth Rosenson, a University of Florida associate professor of political science, finds Toledo's photo "problematic because it is misleading," almost implying that she already holds city office.
"As a candidate, you have a responsibility to think about what conclusions people are going to draw," said Rosenson, author of Shadowlands of Conduct: Ethics and State Politics. "Obviously, everyone wants to make a favorable impression on voters, but you shouldn't mislead them."