Beaches elections have never been the portrait of civility, but this cycle is seeing some unprecedented chicanery.
We begin in Neptune Beach, where there is one contested city council spot. The candidates in this nonpartisan race for Seat 4 are Josh Messinger, endorsed by Neptune Beach Mayor Elaine Brown and sitting City Councilor Fred Jones, as well as Atlantic Beach Mayor Ellen Glasser, and Tom Patton.
Last week, in Bouquets & Brickbats, we chided Patton for the appearance of partisan mailers supporting his candidacy.
In actuality, nonpartisan elections aren’t just the norm in Neptune Beach; they’re the law. Section 03.02 of the city charter ordains, “All elections for the office of city councilor and mayor shall be conducted on a nonpartisan basis without any designation of political party affiliation.”
Yet the partisan mailer campaign in support of Patton has only intensified, with a brand-new mailer circulated last week. Through these two rounds of mailers, citizens have learned that “Tom is President of the First Coast Republican Club,” that “Tom proudly supports Republican candidates, while his opponent is backed by liberal Democrats,” and that, “[a]s a fiscal conservative, Tom will fight for our Republican values.”
And the plot thickens. These mailers were not sent by Patton himself but were parachuted in from out-of-state. This is the work of American Values First, a Washington, D.C.-based super PAC that spent its 2018 primary payload in Indiana (Patton’s home state, for what it’s worth). There, American Values First spent $52,500 attacking moderate Republican senatorial hopefuls in favor of Todd Rokita, an erstwhile Indiana Secretary of State who was sanctioned by his own party for abuse of donor database information while in office. Incidentally, Rokita lost the primary.
Folio Weekly reached out to Tom Patton for comment, Patton denied collusion with super PAC, but declined further comment.
Patton’s out-of-state reinforcement isn’t the only departure from the usual Beaches municipal election practices, either. Another candidate’s downright deceptive tactics would draw ethical scrutiny in even the most openly partisan contest.
An Oct. 25 mailer for Dan Janson—who is running against Sandy Golding for Jacksonville Beach City Council’s District 3, Seat 6—touts the support of several local businesses under the exclamation, “We Back Dan!” The problem? Many of those businesses do not back Dan.
A complaint to the Florida Elections Commission, filed on Oct. 26, identified five of the 11 endorsements as unauthorized. (The complaint also challenged another Janson mailer, dated Oct. 5, which boasted a supposed endorsement by sitting Jax Beach City Councilor Keith Doherty. Doherty, it turns out, actually endorsed Janson’s opponent way back in February.)
The Janson mailer seems to run afoul of Florida Statute 106.143 (4): “It is unlawful for any candidate or person on behalf of a candidate to represent that any person or organization supports such candidate, unless the person or organization so represented has given specific approval in writing to the candidate to make such representation.”
Unlawful or not, the mailer certainly caused an uproar. On Oct. 25, Cinotti’s Bakery took to Facebook to publicly disclaim the imputed endorsement.
“Dear Jax Beach community,” Cinotti’s management wrote, “we at Cinotti’s pride ourselves on being morally responsible voters. We have such a diverse clientele we would never endorse any one particular person or party as a business. Personally we have our opinions but we don’t push them into our business community for reasons of respect. With this said, we are publicly stating that this mailer was wrong. We didn’t give permission for our name to be printed on here nor did we say yes to any candidate. We allowed both that are running for this seat to come into our business and talk to our customers.”
The Janson campaign has not commented publicly as of press time but Janson did answer Folio Weekly’s email query, stating, “In a recent advertisement, we listed a group of businesses who have either donated, supported or hosted events for our campaign—we did not, however, mean to imply an official endorsement from any of these businesses. We are reaching out personally to each of them, apologizing, and thus far apologies have been accepted on all counts.”
Janson did not provide documentation.
Golding, who was reached by phone, said, “Falsely using these businesses’ names is a violation of voters’ trust. That’s a big issue.”
For his part, Janson has all but accused his opponent of sign theft. On the Facebook page facebook.com/VoteSandyGolding, Golding made reference to the controversy.
“The City of Jacksonville Beach Public Works Department has been busy picking up campaign signs,” she wrote, “and that is causing problems with our local campaigns. Candidates are accusing other candidates of stealing their signs and Facebook is abuzz with the accusations and negativity. I always assume the best in people before I assume the worst—and I have never assumed my opponent has been stealing my signs. (For the record, I have not been stealing my opponent’s signs, either.)”
In his official response to Folio Weekly, Janson said, “Whether it is supporters of my opponent or someone else, these sort [sic] of tactics have no place in this campaign.”
Golding said, “This happens in every campaign. I’ve seen enough elections to know what happens. We just go down to Public Works, pick up our signs and put them back out. Unfortunately, not everyone looks at it that way, and they stir things up.”