ST. PETERSBURG — City Council candidate Scott Orsini has admitted to sending out tweets that were of a vulgar and disparaging nature about LGBTQ people, women and vegans — and wrote racially charged tweets about two local politicians.
Orsini tweeted about former Tampa mayor and former Florida governor Bob Martinez on Aug. 28, 2018, saying Martinez “made the transition from Hispanic to Redneck by the time he was governor.”
The next day, Orsini wrote that he has known 2018 Florida Attorney General candidate Sean Shaw since they both lost races for the Florida House in 2014 and that “oddly enough I actually forgot he was black to me he was always just a really good guy who wanted to do the right thing.”
Those are some of the recent ones. About half the tweets are from 2013.
"I thought about getting a bicep tattoo and then I remembered it wasn’t 1992 and that I’m not a lesbian,” he tweeted on April 21, 2013.
Yet Orsini, a Democrat running in the nonpartisan race for the District 1 seat, said he is not dropping out. Instead he promised to hold two community events about cyberbullying and committed to volunteer work.
“In the course of reviewing the past 10 years of my digital life — approximately 29,000 tweets, retweets, and replies to tweets — I found that in an effort to be humorous I tweeted a small number of tweets to and about women and the LGTBQ community that are crass, insensitive, and immature," said a statement Orsini’s campaign sent to the Tampa Bay Times on Saturday.
"One particular tweet in 2013 mentions the LGTBQ community in an unflattering light that I know to be insensitive and immature. These are two constituencies that I have fought hard for in my professional career and have a magnitude of respect for.
He added: “I sincerely apologize.”
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Orsini, 53, is a lawyer who specializes in marital family law, bankruptcy and estate planning. He is running for the District 1 seat, which includes the Tyrone area, against two challengers: lawyer John Hornbeck and real estate investor Robert Blackmon.
Local politicos say they’ve known about the tweets for about a week. Print-outs of 18 tweets were recently delivered to the Times. Orsini on Saturday authenticated the tweets, one by one.
Orsini said he learned June 22 that someone “associated with Blackmon” had the tweets and suggested “that I should consider dropping out.” Orsini said he immediately restricted access to his Twitter account, but reopened it Saturday. The questionable tweets were deleted.
Blackmon declined to answer when asked if his camp was circulating the tweets. He said he wants to focus on the issues.
Hornbeck, who was in Charleston, S.C. for a wedding on Saturday, said he has not seen the tweets.
Many of the tweets in question are from 2013. He tweeted then that he “puts the sugar in sugar daddy,” a term for an older man who funds a glamorous lifestyle for a younger companion.
“Whoops, shouldn’t have opened the porn star tweet sitting in court waiting on my hearing. Sorry uptight lady lurking next to me,” he tweeted on April 8, 2013.
“My tweets used insensitive language, is sexually explicit in nature, is generally immature, and does not represent who I am,” Orsini’s statement read. “There is no excuse for this behavior. Despite my embarrassment, I thank 2013 Scott Orsini for not only reminding me that Twitter should not be a venue for sophomoric humor, but instead a platform for exchanging democratic ideas and a marketplace of change.”
However, the questionable tweets went beyond 2013.
On Dec. 19, 2018, he tweeted that nobody would want to be intimate with a “preachy vegan.”
Then on Jan. 2, 2019, seven days before he filed to run for council, Orsini offered to buy fur slippers a Twitter user whose name is “The Sex Coach.”
“I’m in, DM me,” he wrote, short for direct message.
On Feb. 11, as a candidate, he commented on the sexual yearnings of men: “Truth, don’t overthink men,” he said.
Orsini downplayed the significance of the tweets. He tried to justify some of the tweets as replies to other provocative tweets.
“It’s my experience that Twitter can be a fairly vulgar place and people can respond in a fairly vulgar way,” he said.
He said his wife has read the messages: "She’s a women’s studies major and a feminist, and while she said the tweets are really stupid, they’re not going to cause an issue in our marriage or anything like that.”
He also said his sister-in-law is gay, and she thought the tweet about the bicep tattoo was funny.
“For the record, I do now have a bicep tattoo," he said.
Orsini has secured the endorsements of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, outgoing District 1 City Council member Charlie Gerdes, State Rep. Jennifer Webb, D-Gulfport, and Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard.
A spokesman for Kriseman, who is in Hawaii for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said the mayor knows about the tweets but has not spoken to Orsini and will not comment on the matter until he returns and speaks to the candidate.
Gerdes said he knows about the tweets and stands by Orsini nonetheless.
“We all make mistakes," he said. "I drank way too much for a long time. I addressed that and took responsibility for it. When we make mistakes and we learn from them, there’s redemption. My endorsement stands, he’s the right guy.”
Webb and Gerard did not return calls for comment.
Instead of dropping out, Orsini said he will announce two community events addressing “cyberbulling and insensitive online communications," and that going forward he will “volunteer time to discuss cyberbullying and online insensitivity at schools and in the workforce.”
However, the matter cost Orsini his campaign treasurer, Meagan Salisbury. She left over his decision to remain in the race, the candidate said. She filed a letter of resignation to the city on Wednesday, records show. She did not return a call or text for comment.
Asked what he would weigh his own social media history as a voter, Orsini said:
“I would take into account that, we’re all human, and we all make mistakes. And unfortunately I’ve made my mistakes on the internet."
Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @ByJoshSolomon.