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Complaint against candidate fizzles

Published Oct. 18, 2005

With just one week to go until the election, Hernando County Commission candidate Hannah "Nancy" Robinson came out Monday flailing like a baseball player in a batting slump, swinging wildly but hitting nothing. Basing her complaint on two anonymous letters she received, Robinson alleged Monday that her opponent in the District 2 commission race, Virginia Brown-Waite, may have been lying about her work record as a staff member with the New York state Senate.

Brown-Waite, a Republican, responded with a lengthy explanation of her tenure with the Senate. She said the allegation was unfounded and that it was the work of a "desperate candidate." Robinson could offer no information to refute Brown-Waite's explanation.

Robinson, a Democrat, said the anonymous letters were given to her Friday by state Rep. Chuck Smith, D-Brooksville, who had received them in the mail.

The letters say that Brown-Waite was living in South Carolina and Florida from 1985 to 1987, years when she was still being paid by the New York Senate. The letters "represent some serious questions as to what was going on in '85, '86, '87," said Robinson, who raised the allegations during a live television debate Monday.

Brown-Waite's response was swift and harsh. She told the Hernando Focus Decision '90 audience that Robinson is "someone who probably doesn't do her homework and is a desperate candidate."

Brown-Waite said she had moved to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and later Tampa with her husband, Harvey Waite, but rented an apartment in Albany, N.Y., during the legislative session and continued to work as a Senate staff member.

Meeting with reporters after the debate, Robinson said she had no qualms about publicly discussing information that she had received anonymously and didn't know to be true.

"I don't think it's irresponsible," Robinson said. "I don't think it's sleazy, and I don't think it's negative. I think it's a question."

The letters that Robinson used to justify her attack had been passed to several area news organizations, including the St. Petersburg Times, in recent days, and none of them were able to substantiate any questionable activities based on the information.

The two letters, dated Aug. 28 and Oct. 3, appear to be the work of a private investigator, though the name of the client and the investigator were removed. The letters are a background check done on Brown-Waite, and they include her work history, a credit check and several interviews with former neighbors and co-workers.

It is unknown who paid to have Brown-Waite researched. Robinson and her husband, Michael, an unsuccessful candidate for Hernando County sheriff in 1988, denied any involvement.

The writer included a recent news article outlining a criminal investigation into unrelated New York legislative employees who did campaign work during working hours.

And Robinson said the letters and the news article were sufficient for her to make the allegation public.

"There is currently pending a criminal investigation into the "No Show Job Scam' involving the New York Senate. ... Is my opponent a target of this investigation? As it progresses, will my opponent become a target of this investigation? Hernando County citizens must know," Robinson wrote in a statement given to the St. Petersburg Times Monday.

Robinson's allegation comes at a time when she has become increasingly critical of Brown-Waite for violating the state Sunshine Law. Brown-Waite, a member of the county's Planning and Zoning Commission, was fined $25 in February for a secret meeting in which she discussed waste disposal with two other planning commissioners.

Brown-Waite used Monday's debate to blast Robinson, who Brown-Waite implied was running for office only to keep the Robinson name in front of the public to bolster her husband's political aspirations.

"Ginny Brown-Waite didn't just say, "Okay dear, I'll run for office this year,"' Brown-Waite said.

The Robinsons denied the allegation.