Robocalls from St. Pete mayoral hopeful Kathleen Ford deluge residents overnight

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

ST. PETERSBURG — It's not often that mayoral candidates call residents in the middle of the night. But 480 voters heard from Kathleen Ford on Monday between 2:30 and 6:15 a.m.

Many woke fearing bad news — because that's what calls that early often bring — but instead heard this recorded message: "Hi, this is Kathleen Ford and I'm asking for your vote to be the mayor of St. Petersburg."

"If I had any question about her judgment (which I didn't), I would have to doubt that she would be a good choice to lead our city," Kathy Gustafson-Hilton said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times. "Since I have an aging mother who lives alone, I jumped out of bed in a near panic."

Ford apologized Monday and said her campaign did not authorize the early calls.

"We're so sorry for everyone who was impacted by this," Ford told. "It was a computer-software error. It's my problem, and we apologize for that."

When first contacted by the Times, Ford said her campaign was investigating to see whether someone used her message to send unauthorized calls. Minutes later, Ford called back to say it was a computer error. She declined to name the local vendor who sent the calls. The messages should have gone out Monday evening, Ford added.

One resident wasn't angry when the phone rang at 4:02 a.m.

"Anyone with half a brain knows Kathleen wouldn't have done that on purpose!" Pat Seel wrote in an email. "She wants votes. Someone goofed! I don't blame her!"

The goof was similar to the early morning calls that went out on Aug. 18 from Pinellas County school superintendent Michael Grego.

In those calls, which arrived around 6 a.m., Grego's recorded voice reminded sleepy parents that schools were reopening the next day and encouraged them to talk to their children about their goals for the upcoming academic year.

A school district spokeswoman said the robocalls, which the district pays California-based company SchoolMessenger to distribute, were intended for evening distribution.

Contact Mark Puente at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow on Twitter @ markpuente.

Robocalls from St. Pete mayoral hopeful Kathleen Ford deluge residents overnight 08/26/13 [Last modified: Monday, August 26, 2013 11:42pm]

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