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Was it a smear or an honest mistake? David Straz mailers roil final days of Tampa mayor's race

Kelly Curtis-Stout, 39, with police union representatives, criticized a recent mailer from the David Straz campaign which shows former police chief Jane Castor wearing a commemorative band on her uniform during a period in which Castor was leading a manhunt for Dontae Morris, the man who killed Curtis-Stout’s husband, David Curtis, in June 2010. (Photo Credit: Charlie Frago)
Kelly Curtis-Stout, 39, with police union representatives, criticized a recent mailer from the David Straz campaign which shows former police chief Jane Castor wearing a commemorative band on her uniform during a period in which Castor was leading a manhunt for Dontae Morris, the man who killed Curtis-Stout’s husband, David Curtis, in June 2010. (Photo Credit: Charlie Frago)
Published Mar. 1, 2019

TAMPA — A mailer from a group affiliated with David Straz's mayoral campaign prompted the widow of a slain police officer Friday to say it went beyond a "typical smear" and showed disrespect to her dead husband.

Kelly Curtis-Stout, 39, said her world turned upside down on June 29, 2010 when her husband, David Curtis, and officer Jeff Kocab were shot and killed by Dontae Morris during an early morning traffic stop. She objected to the mailer's use of a photo of mayoral candidate Jane Castor, who was police chief at the time, because Castor was wearing a commemorative band across her badge to honor the slain officers.

"What's most disturbing is that those responsible for the ad chose to use the photo that was taken during the time that she and all of us in Tampa were mourning the death of our officers," Curtis-Stout said. "It's clear to me that whomever would use a photo of an officer wearing a mourning badge has no knowledge of who they are or what they meant to their families and to this city."

The Police Benevolent Association, which has endorsed Castor and contributed to her campaign, reached out to Curtis-Stout. Chapter president Abe Carmack said he also was disappointed in the choice of the photo.

The Straz campaign responded with a statement saying the mailer was about Castor's record as police chief and was fair game. The content of the mailer didn't reference the killings, instead focusing on the police department's controversial policy of disproportionately ticketing black bicyclists when Castor was police chief. The photo was taken by the Associated Press and ran in a 2012 Politico article, the statement said.

"Our campaign has never said anything about the tragic death of 2 police officers. We would never highlight or point out anything related to that tragic day,'' read the campaign statement, which was not attributed to Straz or any of his staff.

Castor, who was not at the news conference outside police headquarters, later told the Tampa Bay Times that the mailer was inappropriate.

"I don't approve of the negativity of it," she said. "It's just to turn voters off."

The Friday back and forth capped a week of controversial campaign tactics as the March 5 election neared. Earlier in the week, Mayor Bob Buckhorn objected to another Straz mailer that he said appeared to take his 2011 comments praising Straz as a current endorsement.

Later in the week, after unsourced media reports and television ads targeted Dick Greco Jr., a retired Hillsborough County judge, Greco's campaign released a statement vowing to stay positive in the closing days.

The fliers targeting Castor are the product a new electioneering communications organization, Tampa's Bright Future. The group shares a P.O Box and street address with Straz's campaign headquarters. When a Times reporter called the phone number listed on the group's organizing documents, a woman identified herself as a member of the Straz campaign.

Straz has often touted the fact that he doesn't have a "PAC" on the campaign trail. His affiliated group is structured slightly differently under Florida election law, but performs essentially the same role. Straz declined to be interviewed about why he chose to form an EOC instead of funding the mailers himself, but his campaign released a statement addressing the issue.

"David's ECO is different because he's personally funding it instead of taking large amounts of special interest money, like some of the other candidates in this race with (political committees)," the statement read.

The organization's financial documents weren't available Friday.

The only candidate out of the seven in the race without a separate committee or organization to support their campaign is branding consultant Topher Morrison.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.