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Candidates trade jabs on the past

Republican State Rep. Mike Fasano said he has learned his lesson. Negative campaigning doesn't sell in Pasco County.

Brian Prescott, the Democratic challenger for Fasano's District 45 seat, says that is one lesson the incumbent hasn't learned well enough.

Prescott, a former sheriff's deputy in Hillsborough and Pasco counties, criticized Fasano on Monday for releasing misleading or incomplete information from his personnel files to the press.

Two times this month, someone anonymously sent the Times several pages from Prescott's Hillsborough Sheriff's Office file indicating he had not notified the agency that he served briefly in the Army.

A later Times review of the complete file, however, clearly shows that Prescott informed Hillsborough about his military service.

"I'm very proud of my police service. There are 20 commendations in my file and seven years of above-average job evaluations," Prescott said. "Unfortunately, Mr. Fasano is trying to do everything in his ability to discredit me."

Fasano, 37, said he doesn't have any idea who sent the incomplete information to the newspaper.

"It wasn't me," he said. "People are sick and tired of negative campaigning. It's not going to work this year. People have had it. Frankly, I don't care about his file."

Hillsborough sheriff officials say the only person other than a Times reporter to review Prescott's file in the past two months is Michael Cohen.

Cohen, who could not be reached for comment, is active in Republican politics and works for the state GOP, Fasano said.

"If he reviewed the file, he didn't do it for me," Fasano said. "I run my own campaign. And I run a positive campaign. . . . Brian is a young man without a lot of experience in politics. Maybe he's being a little too sensitive."

Prescott said it is "ludicrous" to think Fasano didn't know. "I would hope that any elected official would not sink to such levels," he said.

Prescott, 27, said Fasano should be as open with his own work background as he has been.

Fasano worked for 10 years as a newspaper carrier and route salesman for the St. Petersburg Times. He was fired in 1986 for "failure to perform his job in a manner acceptable to the St. Petersburg Times," according to the Times personnel department.

Fasano has said he did not know why he was dismissed. But on Monday, Prescott challenged Fasano to release his Times personnel file to reporters to reveal the actual reason for the dismissal.

Fasano scoffed at the idea, saying, "That's a ridiculous challenge.

"Brian is a young man. When I was Brian's age, I, too, thought that to win an election, you had to throw mud. Brian will soon find out as he matures and gets older that the way to win elections in Pasco County is by sticking to the issues. I'll be happy to debate the issues Pasco residents care about."

Prescott served for less than two months in the Army before he was honorably discharged in October 1986. Prescott said doctors detected a non-debilitating heart murmur that, under Army rules, prohibited him from serving.

Prescott said he is in good health and does not consider the one-time occurrence of a murmur a disability.

When applying to Hillsborough as a corrections deputy in 1988, Prescott signed a form saying he had never served in the military. Elsewhere in his application, however, he clearly revealed his military service.

Prescott said he might have mistakenly signed the form, and Hillsborough officials confirm such an error could easily have occurred.

"I want this to be a campaign of the issues," Prescott said. "But if Mr. Fasano wants to make it a campaign of personnel files and prior employment, I'm open to the challenge."