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City seeks investigation into political postcard

A postcard mysteriously mailed to about 400 people just before last week's election has prompted the city to seek a state investigation.

The plain, white postcard appears to be a political endorsement for Jerry Walters, who lost the race for Council Seat 2 to Ed Richards. It was mailed to residents in Gull Aire Village, a retirement community that typically has a high voter turnout.

The front reads, "Remember to vote March 11, 1997. Vote Tuesday. This election is the most important race of the year!!!"

The back reads, "Protect your rights and be heard. Vote Jerry Walters council Seat 2. A fine man, who will listen to you. We've had enough corruption in Oldsmar City Hall."

A note on the card reads, "Paid for by Friends of Jerry Walters."

Problem is, Jerry Walters says he doesn't know who those friends are, and no one else seems to know either. Walters said he did all of his own campaigning.

He said he never would have allowed the card to be mailed. The insinuation that City Hall is corrupt was never part of his campaign, he said.

The city has no record of a group called Friends of Jerry Walters. Failure to register a political organization with the city clerk's office is a violation of state campaign laws, according to Deborah Clark, deputy administrator for the county Supervisor of Elections Office.

It's also a violation for an individual to refer to him or herself as a group if he or she is acting alone.

"A lot of times an individual will do that, saying "Friends of . . .' or "Concerned Citizens for . . .' or some nebulous names like that," Clark said. "This is very misleading."

The card also should have the disclaimer "Paid Political Advertisement," said Oldsmar City Attorney Tom Trask.

On Wednesday, Trask wrote to the Florida Election Commission requesting an investigation. He said violations of the election laws are civil, not criminal, and punishable by up to a $1,000 fine per violation.

The postcard brought an emotional response from Mayor Jerry Beverland during Tuesday night's City Council meeting. Since losing the race, Walters had applied to sit on the Planning Board. The council was discussing the appointment when Beverland spoke up about the postcard.

"It is the lowest form of gutter campaigning you can possibly do," Beverland said to Walters, who was sitting in the audience. "Not only is it a bad reflection on the past council, which is not corrupt, but that's a strong word. I defy anybody to find corruption in City Hall."

Beverland challenged Walters to explain the postcard. Later, Walters said he was surprised by the attack. He told the council that he knew about the card only after someone showed it to him on election day.

"I had no knowledge of this," Walters said. "It was not my policy, not my views."

Beverland said he accepted Walters' explanation, and the council did approve Walters for the Planning Board. However, council member Jeffrey Sandler, a lawyer, said the city should not allow the issue to rest.

"I want to know who did it and why they did it," Sandler said. "It is made worse by the fact that Mr. Walters did not know about it."

Walters lost by 29 votes. He believes the postcard cost him votes with people tired of negative campaigning.

"I would tend to believe someone who does not like me did this," Walters said. "I'm quite upset about it."