ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas Republican Party State Committeeman Dan Tucker disagreed with County Commissioner John Morroni's decision to endorse Darden Rice, a Democrat, for St. Petersburg City Council.
After someone shared an article about the endorsement on Facebook Thursday, Tucker replied: "Doesn't he have cancer of the brain … hmmm?"
The comment, referencing Morroni's battle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, outraged some Tampa Bay officials.
State Senator Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said if Tucker doesn't resign, he'll ask Lenny Curry, chairman of the Florida Republican Party, to remove him.
"It was unthinking, uncaring, disrespectful — an absolute disgrace to that office," Latvala said Friday. "To basically make fun of someone's physical illness, especially cancer, is just terrible."
Morroni, a Republican, said Tucker's remark sucker-punched him.
"I almost fell off my chair," he said. "Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of when I was first diagnosed with cancer. Of all the days for a joke like that. … It really hit home."
Regardless, Morroni said, Tucker shouldn't resign over a social media mishap.
"The public outcry," he said, "is going to break him up enough."
After posting about Morroni's illness and seeing a backlash from other commenters, Tucker continued: "John, if you need assistance identifying Democrats and Republicans running for office give me a call. If you know Darden well enough to endorse her, you must know that she is a prominent figure in the local Democratic party."
"Dan you owe the good Commissioner an apology," replied Chris Latvala, the state senator's son, who is running for a Florida House seat. "Disagree with him all you want but your comment was way out of bounds. It was disgusting."
Hours later, Tucker responded: "Please forgive me. Comments about grave illnesses have no place in political discussions. I will always wish you success in your health. I will call you."
Rice, who is running for City Council District 4, said she was honored to receive Morroni's endorsement and bipartisan support. Her vision of protecting the environment, which Morroni has praised, is something "we all care about," she said.
"I think (Tucker's) comment was reprehensible," Rice said. "I lost both my parents to cancer. I can't imagine how anyone would think trying to make a joke out of cancer would ever be a good thing."
Tucker called Morroni on Friday morning to apologize. He hasn't yet decided if he will resign.
"I'm going to think it over this weekend," said Tucker, a tea party activist who unseated Tony DiMatteo in 2012.
As for the comment, Tucker wishes he would have worded it better. It didn't capture his true sentiment, he said, because he "fully supports" Morroni, whose cancer is in remission.
"I didn't understand why he would get involved at the end of someone's campaign, and I thought he had medical issues," Tucker said. "This is the first time I've ever been on a headline because of a stupid comment."