Republican sheriff's candidate Bill Rowan took to the steps of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office on Tuesday morning to accept the support of several defeated sheriff's candidates, and to stake a political claim.
"This is our sheriff's office," Rowan told about 70 spectators. "This is not Tampa's sheriff's office. It's time to take it back."
At the rally, Rowan and his supporters criticized the "Tampa connections" of the man Rowan defeated in the runoff last week _ incumbent Sheriff Jim Gillum _ and the man Rowan faces in the general election next month: Democrat Lee Cannon.
From 1988 to 1990 Cannon worked as Gillum's departmental attorney. Both men previously worked as police officers in Tampa.
Rowan, who is himself a former Gillum captain, said Cannon bore some responsibility for present problems at the Sheriff's Office. He declined to be specific.
Don Young, the Democratic state trooper whom Cannon defeated last week, pledged his support to Rowan on Tuesday. Young also identified Cannon as part of the "Tampa connection in Pasco County law enforcement."
Cannon reacted strongly:
"Isn't that amazing how ignorance breeds paranoia?" Cannon said Tuesday afternoon. "Four-fifths of the people in Pasco are from somewhere else. Are you telling all our friends that there's something evil about them because they're from somewhere else?
"All my family's here. My family grew up here. My home has always been in Pasco. And that's a Tampa connection.
"I've been in Pasco County longer than Don Young . . . longer than Bill Rowan," Cannon said. ". . . . The bottom line is, they fear my credentials. They know they don't have any."
Rowan and his supporters have tried to highlight the links between Gillum and Cannon. Cannon replies by saying that he and Rowan are more alike than different in respect to the sheriff.
"Mr. Rowan was a Gillum person. Mr. Rowan was promoted by Mr. Gillum," Cannon said. "He carried out Gillum's orders until such time as he became a malcontent and he resigned.
"Mr. Cannon went to work for the sheriff just like Mr. Rowan," Cannon said. "He carried out orders just like Mr. Rowan, until he disagreed. Then Mr. Cannon resigned."
Two other former sheriff's candidates who were eliminated in the Sept. 1 primaries were at the rally Tuesday morning to endorse Rowan. Democrat Cindy Kuhn, like Young, crossed party lines to do so.
And Republican Dean Hatcher, another former deputy, reaffirmed his support of Rowan.
Also present was Tom Wallace, a representative of the Hillsborough County Police Benevolent Association, who endorsed Rowan on behalf of the association's 40 members who work for city police departments in Port Richey and New Port Richey.