CLEARWATER — It's very rare, possibly unheard of, for an outside electioneering group to get involved in a Clearwater municipal election.
But Clearwater voters got a misleading robocall over the weekend from a political group called the Committee to Protect Florida. It led to a last-minute barrage of accusations between candidates before today's election.
The call targeted incumbent City Council member Bill Jonson, who is in a tough re-election fight against challengers David Allbritton and Konrad McCree.
Entrenched 10-year City Council incumbent Bill Jonson thinks you don't care what he does with our money, said a female voice on the robocall, mispronouncing Jonson's name. (It's pronounced JOAN-sun.) He led the construction of a $38 million trail to nowhere and oversaw the elimination of recreation centers and a reduction in our city's library hours.
Jonson disputes all of this. He notes that he wasn't on the council when the Morningside Recreation Center was closed in 2009 or when library hours were cut in 2008. He was term-limited off the council in 2007 and got elected again in 2010.
As for the $38 million "trail to nowhere," Jonson says the Courtney Campbell Trail to link Tampa and Clearwater, which he championed and isn't finished yet, actually is costing about $25 million, not $38 million, in state and federal money.
Allbritton says he wasn't behind the robocall, which parrots language used on one of his political mailers. Allbritton said his mailer was a response to a Jonson flyer that made misleading statements about him.
"I didn't want to run a negative campaign," Allbritton said. "But he sent a mailer out using everything out of context that I had been talking about. We put something together to come back at him."
Regarding the trail, Allbritton said, "I know it didn't cost the city, but he did lead the way with this Courtney Campbell Trail."
Jonson's mailer ties Allbritton to "a monorail to Clearwater Beach costing 10s of millions of dollars." But Allbritton says he isn't backing a beach monorail: "I said they had been talking about it for years."
The anti-Jonson robocall was created by political consultant Mark Zubaly, who has done mailers for Allbritton as an employee of Direct Mail Systems, a local company that is cooperating with the FBI in a criminal investigation of Connecticut legislators.
The Committee to Protect Florida is a long-standing, well-funded electioneering group headed by Republican political consultant Rockie Pennington, who referred questions about the robocall to Zubaly.
Allbritton "didn't know anything about it," Zubaly said of the robocall. He said he did it in response to Jonson's mailer. "I felt the record needed to be set straight."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4151. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBrassfield.