Friday, May 25, 2018
Politics

Rice campaign ad portrays a dangerous Pinellas if Gualtieri wins sheriff's race

Over the whine of police sirens, the television ad depicts a vision of Pinellas County that might have sprung from an avid cable news viewer's troubled dreams.

House windows are smashed in by faceless criminals. The doors of jail cells glide open, letting suspects go free. And reigning over this sepia-toned wasteland is Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

"Pinellas just won't be safe with Gualtieri as sheriff," a gravelly voice warns. Beneath a frowning picture of the county's top law enforcement official, the disclaimer mandated by campaign finance regulations scrolls: Political advertisement paid for and approved by Everett Rice, Republican, for Pinellas County Sheriff.

Americans have become accustomed to blistering campaign ads in the current election season, most of them directed against President Barack Obama or his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.

But as the two Republicans in the Pinellas sheriff's race enter the home stretch before the Aug. 14 primary, voters are being treated to high-decibel character attacks at the local level.

It's a two-way fight. But no broadside better illustrates the current tone of the sheriff's primary campaign than the latest TV commercial launched by Rice, a former Pinellas County sheriff trying to unseat Gualtieri and return to the helm of the agency.

"Gualtieri's mismanagement of the Sheriff's Office has put us all in danger," intones the disembodied voice that narrates the ad.

In case the point is missed, the words "Put Us All in Danger" are flashed across the screen. Superimposed over the mouth of a gun barrel. Twice.

"I almost thought it was like a Saturday Night Live skit," Gualtieri said, describing his dumbfounded reaction to the commercial's theatrics the first time he saw it.

"It's ridiculous, it's inaccurate, it's over-the-top. . . . I was just kind of flabbergasted."

The sole verifiable claim in the minute-long commercial is that "because of shoddy or illegal investigations, Gualtieri allowed criminals and drug dealers to go free on technicalities and be put back on our streets."

There's some truth to that assertion. Allegations earlier this year that narcotics investigators trespassed and lied to obtain search warrants for marijuana grow houses led prosecutors to drop at least 18 cases.

But those decisions were made by the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, over concerns about the credibility of a small group of detectives. Three of them have since resigned and one was fired, and Gualtieri has begun a criminal investigation into their actions.

Gualtieri said the commercial's broader claims are demonstrably false, since arrests are up and the crime rate is down under his leadership.

Rice's response: "Crime would have been down more if I had been sheriff."

Rice said the television ad was a counterattack prompted by negative direct mailers a committee associated with Gualtieri put out about him.

Rice said the mailer, titled "The Files on Everett's Double Talk," wrongly stated he had broken a campaign promise in 1988 not to raise the Sheriff's Office budget and mischaracterized his position on DUI checkpoints, among other inaccuracies.

"This ad was in response to his negative ads about me," Rice said. "I have to respond in kind. I can't let him define me."

Rice, who is running in his fifth countywide election, bemoaned the nasty course the contest with Gualtieri has taken. "I have never been subjected to this kind of negative advertising," he said.

Darryl Paulson, a retired government professor from the University of South Florida, said appeals to fears about crime are common in sheriff races.

What's different this year in Pinellas, he said, is that those tactics are magnified because of the large sums of money in play. Between them, Rice and Gualtieri have amassed more than half a million dollars, eclipsing the funds of any other candidates for countywide office in Pinellas.

Tampa-based political consultant Travis Horn said scare-mongering ads such as the recent Rice spot can be effective but risk reflecting poorly on the campaign behind them.

If the ads aren't accompanied by strong evidence of their claims, they can raise questions about the attacking candidate's credibility.

"Here's the crux — you have to have a specific instance. You have to have a Willie Horton-type incident," Horn said, referring to the notorious 1988 campaign ad about a rapist and murderer that helped torpedo the presidential aspirations of former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.

"If Everett is pointing and saying, 'Bob isn't protecting people,' he damn sure better come up with specifics," Horn said.

Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.

Comments
North Korea demolishes nuclear test site as journalists watch

North Korea demolishes nuclear test site as journalists watch

PUNGGYE-RI, North Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made good on his promise to demolish his country’s nuclear test site, which was formally closed in a series of huge explosions Thursday as a group of foreign journalists looked on. The explosi...
Published: 05/24/18
Trump violated the Constitution when he blocked his critics on Twitter, a federal judge rules

Trump violated the Constitution when he blocked his critics on Twitter, a federal judge rules

President Donald Trump’s decision to block his Twitter followers for their political views is a violation of the First Amendment, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, saying that Trump’s effort to silence his critics is not permissible under the U.S. Con...
Published: 05/23/18
All those city services that fuel Lightning fever? Team, not taxpayers, foot the bill

All those city services that fuel Lightning fever? Team, not taxpayers, foot the bill

TAMPA — All those public watch parties during the Tampa Bay Lightning’s postseason run? And how about the rally at Joe Chillura Courthouse Square Park with the big white Lightning logo spray-painted on the grass? You need police to prote...
Published: 05/23/18
Romano: A pathetic legacy for Florida’s all-or-nothing Democrats

Romano: A pathetic legacy for Florida’s all-or-nothing Democrats

Explain this to me: In the world of partisan politics, how is being an independent thinker a bad thing? When it comes to general elections, we seem to like rogues and mavericks. We want outsiders and swamp scrubbers. Folks appreciate a good finger-...
Published: 05/22/18
‘World’s most expensive Witch Hunt’: Trump lashes out at New York Times, Democrats

‘World’s most expensive Witch Hunt’: Trump lashes out at New York Times, Democrats

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump lashed out Sunday at "the World’s most expensive Witch Hunt," trashing a new report in the New York Times that said an emissary representing the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates offered help...
Published: 05/20/18
Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan pushed a radical idea on Twitter: Parents should pull their children out of school until elected officials pass stricter gun control laws.His tweet came hours after a shooting rampage at a Houston-area high scho...
Published: 05/20/18
China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

WASHINGTON - China offered to boost its annual purchases of U.S. products by "at least $200 billion" Friday as two days of talks aimed at averting an open breach between the two countries ended in Washington, a top White House adviser said.Larry Kudl...
Published: 05/19/18
Hillsborough candidate falsified contract for fund-raising gospel concert, lawsuit says

Hillsborough candidate falsified contract for fund-raising gospel concert, lawsuit says

TAMPA — A concert organizer is accusing Hillsborough County Commission candidate Elvis Piggott of falsifying a contract and prompting the headline act to pull out of a gospel show.In a lawsuit filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court, Corey Curry claims h...
Published: 05/18/18
Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA chief despite scrutiny of her role in interrogation program

Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA chief despite scrutiny of her role in interrogation program

WASHINGTON - The Senate voted Thursday to confirm Gina Haspel as the next CIA director after several Democrats were persuaded to support her despite lingering concerns about her role in the brutal interrogation of suspected terrorists captured after ...
Published: 05/17/18
GOP pushes for speedy confirmation vote for CIA nominee

GOP pushes for speedy confirmation vote for CIA nominee

WASHINGTON — Republicans are pushing for a speedy confirmation vote as early as Thursday after the Senate intelligence committee endorsed President Donald Trump’s CIA nominee Gina Haspel to lead the spy agency. But opponents concerned about Haspel’s ...
Published: 05/16/18