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  1. Florida Politics

Carlton: Say it ain't so: Even a judicial election gets ugly

Tampa lawyers Gary Dolgin and Melissa "Missy" Polo are vying for a circuit court seat. [Times files]
Tampa lawyers Gary Dolgin and Melissa "Missy" Polo are vying for a circuit court seat. [Times files]
Published Nov. 4, 2016

On a pretty fall afternoon last Sunday, the good citizens of Hills­borough County stopped by the Jan Platt Library in South Tampa to cast their early votes.

Outside, campaign supporters waved signs. Birds sang and children played. The scene was practically Rockwellian.

Until things got "loud," "out of hand" and "ugly" — in the words of the poll worker who called 911.

And all of this was related to a race between two people running not in that bloodbath of a campaign for president, but to be a local judge.

Tampa lawyers Gary Dolgin and Melissa "Missy" Polo are vying for a circuit court seat — a prestigious post that pays $146,000 a year. Because judges are supposed to be impartial and dignified, the rules for running are different. Candidates do not generally talk issues, tout political parties or bad-mouth each other. They pretty much recite their respective resumes. I know — yawn.

So yes, a 911 call gets your attention. Things got ugly over at the library.

The "altercation," as the poll worker described it, occurred outside between Polo's campaign consultant and Dolgin's wife. Dolgin says his wife was "verbally assaulted" but had no idea what the consultant was talking about. Polo says the exchange was about an earlier and inappropriate verbal attack on her. The poll worker reported "name-calling and shouting."

Wendi Dolgin, the candidate's wife, says she was overcome. She went to the ground. She was crying and hyperventilating. The poll worker called 911, though Mrs. Dolgin was taken home by her daughter. By the time police came, it was over.

It wasn't the first bad blood between the two camps.

Polo says there were earlier reports of a Dolgin volunteer giving false and inappropriate information about her to voters — and also rhyming "low" with "Polo," she says — reducing Polo's aunt to tears.

Dolgin says his worker denies this and says she was the one harassed by Polo people.

More? This week, Dolgin says, his 81-year-old mother was treated with "a lack of respect" by Polo standing close and listening in as she spoke to voters. Polo says she was within her rights in a public space because the elder Mrs. Dolgin had been heard invoking political parties and making inappropriate insinuations. The Dolgin camp calls this absurd.

Oh, and I almost forgot the allegation that a Polo supporter previously referred to Dolgin's daughter as, shall we say, a woman of ill repute —something Polo says would be inappropriate and disgusting, if it actually happened.

And in ensuing interviews, each candidate says the other's camp has not been on the up-and-up in touting their accomplishments or following the rules.

Sigh. Dolgin summed it up better than I could: "There's no place for this in a judicial campaign."

So yes, weary voters, the world has gone election mad. But take heart. Election Day will pass. Maybe then we'll get back to some kind of normal in which politics are at least civil, and judicial races appropriately dull as dishwater once again.

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