The war of words between School Board member Louise Boehme and School Board candidate Diane Rowden took a step back into history Thursday, with Boehme comparing Rowden's campaign "on a small scale" to Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Nazi Germany. The two have been trading gibes since Rowden formed a citizens watchdog group nearly two years ago to scrutinize School Board decisions.
As the only School Board member up for re-election this year, Boehme came under particular, often scathing, criticism from Rowden and her husband, Jay, who in March formed a political action committee whose sole purpose was to defeat Boehme's re-election bid. Boehme, a Republican, lost in the primary election to Jeff Stabins in the District 3 race. Rowden, a Democrat, faces Beth Sanczel in the District 1 race Nov. 6.
In April, Rowden filed a complaint with the state Ethics Commission alleging that Boehme had violated disclosure laws for public officials.
On Wednesday, the commission released the results of a hearing during which Boehme was cleared of any wrongdoing.
At a 45-minute news conference at Republican Party headquarters Thursday morning, Boehme read a four-page prepared statement that outlined her version of how the complaint had come about and accused Rowden of "an arrogant disregard for taxpayers and for the dignity of her community."
Boehme said she called the news conference to "let people know what Diane Rowden is capable of doing and to have another look at her character" before the November election.
It was during a question-and-answer session that Boehme made her comparison of Hitler and Rowden.
"I draw a comparison with Hitler inflaming the people against the Jews to gain his support because he really had nothing," Boehme said. "Once he united them in his anti-Semitic campaign, then he had a following.
"This, on a small scale, is what Mrs. Rowden appears to have done."
Rowden disagreed. "Obviously that's not the truth," she said later in the day.
Rowden's complaint focused on Boehme's failure to list 100 percent of the value of her jointly owned property and stock on her 1987 and 1988 financial disclosure forms, which are required of all elected officials.
Before 1987, officials were required to list only 50 percent of jointly held assets. In its ruling, the commission said Boehme already had disclosed sizable assets, and said the rule change was not explicitly explained in 1987 nor adequately noted on the form in 1988.
"It appears to me that all this was orchestrated so that Mr. Boehme could get the revenge he wanted on me, and Diane Rowden could get what she wanted, which was to remove me from the School Board and further her career," said Boehme, who has been on the School Board since 1982.
Louise Boehme was separated from her husband, Walter, in 1986, and they were divorced last April.
Details of Boehme's 1987 and 1988 public disclosure forms were mentioned in a Circuit Court hearing on March 30.
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Tampa Tribune reporter Chris Kauffmann attended that hearing and wrote about Boehme's disclosure problems in an article on April 11. On April 12, Rowden's complaint was notarized, and it was received the next day in Tallahassee.
Rowden said she filed the complaint after she was asked "by many citizens of the community."
But Boehme questioned the shortness of the one-day time lag between the appearance of the Tribune article and the notarized complaint and wondered how Rowden had received the official complaint form so quickly.
"I have no idea what transpired," Boehme said. "All I know is that the timing is remarkable."
Rowden said the complaint form came from Nick Morana, a bitter political opponent of the school administration. Morana lost a bid for school superintendent to Dan McIntyre in 1988.
Although Kauffmann's name was listed on the complaint form against Boehme as a witness, Tribune Hernando editor Dan Turner said he did not know that Kauffmann's name was on it. "This particular situation was one we had been following for a matter of months. Our story was completely independent of any other action by Mrs. Rowden," Turner said Thursday.
Boehme also alleged at the news conference Thursday that Rowden had taped, without her permission, a telephone conversation between the two last year. Rowden said that Boehme had in fact given her permission to record part of that conversation.
Rowden, during a recent interview, recalled saying during that conversation: "We know you're coming up for re-election in the following year, and I'll do everything in my power to make sure you don't get re-elected."