2 campaigns for Clearwater City Council turn negative

Candidates Aaron Smith-Levin and Lina Teixeira launch attacks at each other as the March 15 election approaches.
Church of Scientology defector Aaron Smith-Levin, left, and community activist Lina Teixeira, right, are competing for Clearwater City Council Seat 5.
Church of Scientology defector Aaron Smith-Levin, left, and community activist Lina Teixeira, right, are competing for Clearwater City Council Seat 5. [ Smith-Levin/Teixeira ]
Published Feb. 14, 2022|Updated Feb. 15, 2022

CLEARWATER — The first negative mailer of the campaign season was released last week, with City Council Seat 5 candidate Lina Teixeira telling voters she will fight for residents, not fight in bars.

It was a shot at one of her opponents, Aaron Smith-Levin, who has been involved in two altercations at bars over the past two years where law enforcement responded, though neither resulted in charges.

Then on Friday, Smith-Levin posted an 11-minute video to his YouTube channel alleging that “a vote for Lina Teixeira is a vote for the continued Scientology takeover of our city.”

Smith-Levin noted that Teixeira is not a Church of Scientology parishioner but that the organization has used her to gain influence in downtown business circles because she is “sympathetic to their cause or at the very least terrified of offending them.”

“This is a pathetic attempt to deflect from his poor pattern of behavior,” Teixeira said in an interview, stating as a downtown activist she has worked with all people to try to bring life to the area.

“I am a Catholic,” she said, distancing herself from Scientology. “I don’t know what else to do, throw holy water at people?”

Six campaigns for two Clearwater City Council seats are in full swing, but the dynamic between Smith-Levin and Teixeira has emerged as the most volatile. Jonathan Wade, pastor of St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church, is also running for Seat 5 in the March 15 election but has been left out of the back-and-forth. Mail ballots were sent to voters last week.

Smith-Levin, who defected from Scientology in 2014 and helped launch a foundation that helps others leave the church, pointed to Teixeira’s advocacy in downtown to allege she has not stood up to Scientology as the church has gained influence by acquiring vast tracts of real estate.

Smith-Levin noted Teixeira’s past service on the Downtown Development Board, an advisory panel with seven members who are elected by downtown property owners.

Today, five of the seven members are Scientology parishioners. The majority was first reached in 2019 after companies tied to Scientology bought 100 properties between 2017 and 2019 and gained more representatives eligible to vote in the board election. Teixeira was elected to the board in 2017, before the majority of those properties changed into parishioners’ hands.

Community Redevelopment Agency specialist Anne Lopez said the city does not retain a record of which property owners cast ballots in past elections. But in 2017, the year Teixeira was elected, property owners did not elect a majority of Scientology parishioners to the board even though enough ran in the election for a majority to have been possible.

When Teixeira stepped down from the board in 2019, she noted her discomfort with the growing number of parishioners on the board without directly naming Scientology. She told WTVT-Ch. 13 news that “to have a board where such a majority is represented by one single group is concerning to me.”

Smith-Levin also alleged Teixeira collaborates with Scientology through her involvement as vice chairperson of Clearwater Downtown Partnership, a private nonprofit made up of business owners and downtown stakeholders who advocate for revitalization.

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The partnership’s board of directors includes Lisa Mansell, a member of Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs, which is the church’s department that oversees hiring of private investigators, surveillance and other activities used to attack perceived enemies.

“(People) see things like this and they see how many connections she has to Scientology, to the Office of Special Affairs, to David Miscavige, and they get rightly concerned and suspicious,” Smith-Levin said. “It is very concerning because this is how Scientology has been able to forward its agenda and make progress in its takeover of Clearwater over the last 45 years, they use people like Lina Teixeira.”

Scientology spokesperson Ben Shaw did not respond to a request for comment.

Teixeira said she joined the board’s leadership after Mansell was already on it. She pointed out that other non-Scientologists have also worked with Mansell over the years in trying to awaken downtown.

Smith-Levin also stated that when Teixeira stepped down in 2020 from the Downtown Clearwater Merchants Association, a private nonprofit that represents business owners, she “turned control of this organization over to a notorious Scientology operative,” Carolyn Bradam.

Bradam, who is a longtime member of Scientology and owner of Kara Lynn’s Kitchen on Cleveland Street, did not respond to a request for comment. But merchants association co-chairperson Scott Sousa, who is not a member of Scientology, said Teixeira did not appoint Bradam to leadership.

Sousa said the association’s membership elected him president after Teixeira stepped down in 2020. Bradam had served as vice president under Teixeira and the group began considering Sousa and Bradam as “co-chairs,” Sousa said.

In his video, Smith-Levin named four members of Scientology who are publicly supporting Teixeira, stating “you cannot blame voters for looking at all of this and concluding, well, it sure looks like Lina is Scientology’s Trojan horse.”

But Teixeira said none of those parishioners have donated money to her campaign and she can recall meeting only one of them at an event.

“He directly calls me an agent of David Miscavige and Scientology, which is demonstrably untrue,” Teixeira said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times. “The use of the term Trojan horse in connection with being an agent of Scientology, which I am not, is defamatory.”

In his video, Smith-Levin responded to Teixeira’s mailer, which included the Times headline from the story that detailed two incidents where Smith-Levin had gotten into altercations at bars.

“My opponent keeps trying to smear my name and my character in the community,” Smith-Levin said. “It doesn’t matter how pure and virtuous you believe yourself to be. If you’re in bed with Scientology, you are incapable of representing the best interests of the people of Clearwater. You are unfit to hold public office.”

On Monday, Smith-Levin’s campaign also released the image of his mailer, which questions Teixeira’s characterization of herself as a nurse, being delivered to homes this week.

Although Teixeira’s nursing license expired in 2011, she posted a photo on Facebook last year that showed her holding a needle and syringe with the caption: “Putting my nursing hat on and joining in on the fight against (COVID-19).”

“Clearwater City Council candidate Lina Teixeira falsely claiming on Facebook to be a nurse during a pandemic,” states the mailer, which also includes an image of Teixeira’s expired nursing license.

Teixeira worked as a practicing nurse in the 1990s and she and her husband now own a business called Research Alliance, which conducts clinical trials for pharmaceuticals.

Teixeira acknowledged her nursing license expired in 2011 but said “I quite simply don’t perform activities that require licensing.”

She said in the photo posted last year, she was “verifying inventory” at Research Alliance.