1. Florida Politics

Obscure group sends attack mailers in Tampa City Council District 6

TAMPA — With the campaign in its last week, two mystery mailers are roiling the race in City Council District 6.

Both mailers defend candidate Jackie Toledo against "vicious" attacks and describe her as an apolitical, unifying leader. One mailer delivered on Wednesday also calls her opponents, Tommy Castellano and Guido Maniscalco, "failed" politicians and asks, "Will they do anything to beat this woman?"

The mailers were sent by a political committee called Moving Tampa Forward, registered with the Florida Division of Elections on Feb. 17.

The registration lists the committee's sole officer as Auston Cianflone and gives its address as 4010 N Lois Ave. in Tampa — an address that belongs to the Hawks Landing student apartments for Hillsborough Community College.

HCC does not have a student named Auston Cianflone, college spokeswoman Ashley Carl said. It does have a student named Auston Molina. There is an Auston Molina from Tampa whose Facebook connections include two people named Cianflone.

And that Auston Molina also has listed on his Facebook page that his noteworthy "Moments from the Year" in 2014 included "Anthony Pedicini's 35th Birthday Pub Crawl," with a link to a photo gallery that includes tagged photos of Molina and Pedicini, who is 35 and works as Toledo's paid campaign consultant.

Pedicini said he has nothing to do with Moving Tampa Forward and has not seen the mailers.

"The only person that I'm working for in the District 6 race is Jackie Toledo," said Pedicini, whose firm has been paid $33,755 by Toledo's campaign for advertising and campaign materials.

Asked if he knew Auston Cianflone, Pedicini said no. Asked whether he knew Auston Molina, he said, "No, I don't think I do."

Told about the Facebook photo gallery, Pedicini said, "I have to go look at the pictures. There were 90 people at my birthday party." He said he has 3,000 friends on Facebook.

Efforts to reach Molina through Facebook and what appears to be a Tampa relative were unsuccessful Wednesday. Two calls to the telephone number for Moving Tampa Forward on file with the state were not returned.

Toledo said she does not know anything about Moving Tampa Forward.

"I put my name and the proper disclaimer on everything my campaign sends out," she said in an email. "I don't know the group you're asking me about."

For now, there is no way to trace where Moving Tampa Forward has gotten the money for the mailers. It was formed recently enough that it won't be required to file a fundraising report for February with the state until March 10, a week after Tampa's March 3 primary election.

"I think Pedicini's behind it," Maniscalco campaign manager Bryan Farris said, noting that Pedicini tweeted that he saw someone at a Tallahassee hotel on Feb. 17, the same day Moving Tampa Forward's registration papers were filed with the state.

Going to Tallahassee is not unusual, Pedicini said.

"I go from Tampa to Tallahassee every week that legislators are there," he said.

Though Tampa elections are nonpartisan, Moving Tampa Forward's mailers do mention party affiliations for the candidates in District 6, which covers West Tampa and parts of South Tampa. (They aren't the first. The Florida Democratic Party earlier sent out a mailer labeling Toledo a "right-wing Republican," and sandwiched her photo between those of Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi.)

Wednesday's Moving Tampa Forward mailer says Castellano and Maniscalco are "failed Republican politicians." Castellano lost a bid for Congress as a Republican in 2010. Maniscalco, who ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2011, switched his party registration from Republican to Democrat two years ago.

"It's silly," Maniscalco said. "I think it's a weak attack."

There were two versions of Wednesday's mailer. One received by Democrats described Toledo as a "unifying leader with solutions." A second sent to Republican voters described her as "the ONLY Republican in the race."

"I think it's a sign of desperation by somebody," Castellano said. "In my entire life, I don't think I've ever seen anything this dirty for City Council. Somebody doesn't want to lose."

During the 2011 Tampa mayor's race, when Pedicini was working for former Hillsborough County Commissioner Rose Ferlita, two mailers attacking Bob Buckhorn carried the name of an inactive electioneering committee with a return address that belonged to a Ferlita supporter who was a business partner of a Facebook friend of Pedicini's.

"I'm always the guy," Pedicini said during a telephone interview about Moving Tampa Forward. "I'm always blamed."

Still, he noted, "It's good for business."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.