YouTube playlist leads to charges of racism in Tampa Bay-based House race

Berny Jacques, who is Black, accuses political operatives of defaming him by linking him to a profane rap playlist.
Berny Jacques, candidate for Florida House of Representatives District 59 seat.
Berny Jacques, candidate for Florida House of Representatives District 59 seat. [ handout ]
Published Aug. 6, 2022

In the contentious Republican primary for state House District 59, Berny Jacques is suing prominent political operatives over attack mailers that he says are racist, false and defamatory and based on a fake rap music playlist created on the Internet.

Most of the operatives aren’t named in the lawsuit, but circumstances point to the firm of Anthony Pedicini, a Tampa-based Republican political consultant with ties to Republican legislative leaders and a history of using shell political committees to attack opponents.

Pedicini’s Strategic Image Management works for the campaign of Jacques’s leading opponent, Jennifer Wilson, and for the committee that sent the mailers. It’s the only firm the committee has paid for mail services.

Jacques’s lawyer is state Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Lithia, who has sued Pedicini before over campaign tactics.

In 2018, then running for his House seat, Beltran sued Pedicini and an opponent Pedicini worked for alleging libel and slander in campaign attack mailers. That suit was settled with terms kept confidential.

Jacques’s lawsuit alleges that an unknown person created a YouTube playlist including profane and violent rap songs and labelled it as belonging to Jacques, who is Black. The songs included “FDT (F--k Donald Trump),” by YG and Nipsey Hussle.

A political committee, Keeping Florida Great, then sent out mailers calling it Jacques’s “personal music playlist,” mentioning the anti-Trump piece and other songs, and using a doctored picture of Jacques, who is Black, wearing headphones.

“Why is Berny Jacques listening to anti-conservative songs that are rallying cries for liberal activists?” it said.

In an interview, Jacques responded, “I’ve been involved in politics since my freshman year of college and I’ve never seen something just so completely made up.”

The mailer depicts Jacques as “some Black thug driving down the street with his music blasting listening to these vulgar lyrics. That’s disgusting,” said J.C. Pritchett, a St. Petersburg pastor and civil rights advocate.

The lawsuit names as defendants the committee and its chairman, Michael Milner of Jensen Beach, who often works with Pedicini, along with four “John Doe” political operatives and a “John Doe Cybersquatter,” referring to whoever created the playlist.

It alleges they were acting in support of Wilson.

The lawsuit makes its own political accusations as well.

It alleges the defendants were working in support of “establishment Republicans” and “RINO’s,” or Republicans in name only, while Jacques is a “Constitutional Conservative and Social Conservative” who “poses a severe threat to establishment Republicans.”

Ricardo Reyes, attorney for Pedicini, responded to questions with an email statement saying, “Both Attorney Beltran and Mr. Jacques were told, before the lawsuit was filed, that SIM (Strategic Image Management) and Mr. Pedicini did not create the playlist.

“When Mr. Jacques denied that the playlist was authentic … SIM and Mr. Pedicini agreed not to refer to the playlist in any other election related materials.”

Milner and Wilson didn’t respond to repeated calls and emails seeking comment.

A third Republican, Dipak Nadkami, trails Jacques and Wilson in fundraising. In the Republican-leaning, west-central Pinellas district, the Republican primary winner will be the general election favorite.

Times Staff Writer Milla Surjadi contributed to this report.