ST. PETERSBURG — Firefighter and police union officials are firing back at a St. Petersburg City Council candidate who dismissed public employee unions as “simply looking for a candidate willing to throw taxpayers under the bus.”
Tom Mullins, a candidate for the St. Petersburg City Council District 4 seat, sent out a campaign mailer touting his ideas. Under a photo of himself, an italicized quote from Mullins said he’ll need help because he’s not a political insider, and says his opponent in the Nov. 2 general election is backed by “multiple far-left interest groups.”
The mailer then says former prosecutor Lisset Hanewicz is backed by the “usual group of public employee unions,” looking to throw taxpayers under the bus. Mullins then says if voters want to prevent a progressive takeover of the city, they should vote for him “...not Lisset.” Mullins is a Raymond James investment banker.
Hanewicz got the most votes out of five candidates in the primary, taking in about 42 percent of the vote. Mullins secured about 23 percent of the vote.
Hanewicz has been endorsed by the Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association, the International Association of Firefighters Local 747 and Service Employees International Union.
In a statement from Hanewicz’s campaign, Rick Pauley, the president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 747, said Hanewicz has the empathy and leadership they need in elected officials.
“The pandemic was hard on all of us, but firefighters don’t have the luxury of working from home like Mr. Mullins,” Pauley said. “At a minimum, I think he owes all of our first responders and city employees an apology.”
Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association President Jonathan Vazquez also supported Hanewicz and denounced Mullins’ claim in a statement.
Hanewicz said in a statement that she was honored to be endorsed by first responders who have put their health on the line during the pandemic. She said as a former prosecutor, she knows that firefighters and police officers see horrific crimes.
“Mr. Mullins clearly has spent too much time in the executive suite and not enough time in the community,” Hanewicz said. “Attacking our firefighters, police officers, and public employees is not reflective of our St Pete values.”
In an email, Mullins wrote that the mailer was based on his experience being interviewed by three unions and seeing how their body language became negative when he said that he would watch out for taxpayer interests.
“I am a little surprised that there hasn’t been more criticism of this process whereby public employee unions offer endorsements, money and campaign support to cash-strapped politicians who promise, once elected, to use taxpayer funds to grant all kinds of wish-list items to those same unions, with the taxpayers having no real protection or seat at the table in that process,” Mullins wrote in an email. “The conflicts of interest in that arrangement could not be more obvious.”
Mullins said that he supports police and firefighters and has criticized the movement to defund the police, but that he stands by the content in his campaign mailer.
Mullins has emphasized financial conservatism and minimizing property taxes in his campaign, along with avoiding policies that “woke” cities like San Francisco or Portland have implemented. His net worth is about $32 million, according to campaign disclosures.
District 4 covers an area from Interstate 275 to the coast from Ninth Avenue North to 30th Avenue North, then runs east from Interstate 275 until about 77th Avenue North. Whoever wins the election will succeed Darden Rice, who is term-limited and lost the mayoral primary to Robert Blackmon and Ken Welch.
Hanewicz has raised about $92,000 in the race so far, while Mullins has brought in about $66,000.