Saul-Sena prints Confederate flag signs to criticize Hagan in heated Hillsborough Commission race listen10/27/10 Seán Kinane
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Confederate flags on campaign signs, allegations of broken laws. That’s right; it must be less than a week until a contentious election.
Democrat Linda Saul-Sena, who is running for Hillsborough County Commission, has printed up yard signs with the stars and bars from the Confederate battle flag and the name of her main opponent, Republican Ken Hagan, who says,
"I think it's disgusting and again, I think it's a desperate attempt and it's pretty sad that campaigns have to get down in the gutter, but Ms. Saul-Sena has no alternative. You know she's polled. She knows where she's at, and they don't have any choice but to go on the attack and do things of this nature. It's pretty pathetic but desperate people do desperate acts."
But Saul-Sena says the Confederate flag sign fairly represents how Hagan’s policies affect African-Americans.
"The sign is a yard sign with the Confederate flag on the background and then words that say 'Ken Hagan honors Confederate Memorial Day' and the quote from the Tribune that says 'I don't see anything wrong with signing it'. Ken Hagan has never cared about Tampa's black community in his role in public life. And suddenly, because he's now running county-wide he is acting like he's their new best friend and it's really not true. And I wanted to use this boldened image to share with them where his true sentiments lie, that for many of his years of service on the County Commission he supported Confederate Memorial Day every year."
A Saul-Sena campaign worker accuses Hagan of tearing down these signs this afternoon at the College Hill Library early voting location. Mable Smith wears an orange t-shirt with Linda Saul-Sena’s campaign logo on it.
"Ken Hagan got out of the truck with his son and posed sign where his name's at, he took down this side and turned the sign around and gave it to his son and he took it and I told him he could not have the sign. He said 'that's me you talking about', I said 'sir, you can't have that sign'. Then he went over there and talked to the supervisor of elections who's doing the area and he came back and he throwed the sign on the ground. He throwed that one on the ground and his son asked him 'what does that sign mean?' he told his son he'd tell him when he get bigger."
Because of this, Saul-Sena says she may file an ethics complaint.
“Our campaign is very concerned that Ken Hagan would come and destroy some campaign signage and we’re planning to file an ethics complaint if what I’ve heard second hand, and I hear directly, proves out."
Hagan admits taking the sign and walking with it from the street right-of-way toward the entrance of the polling location.
“Now, I wanted to follow the proper procedure, so I took off a sign off the stand and I walked over to the gentleman who worked for the Supervisor of Elections Office. And I said, ‘what is the proper procedure here as far as filing a complaint?’ I said, ‘this is offensive. What can you do about it?’ And he said all he does is enforce the hundred-foot distance requirements and he didn't have the authority to do anything else. And so, after a brief conversation I just thanked him and walked back over, gave the sign back to Ms. Saul-Sena's campaign worker and left.”
Jimmie Wright, Sr. works for the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections at the College Hill Library polling location. In this exchange, Wright speaks with Linda Saul-Sena about what happened when Ken Hagan brought one of the Confederate flag signs up to the door of the polling site.
"My main concern is what I've got to stay focused with, everybody stays outside the hundred-foot markers where I have those cones. Other than that, that's it."
"So he walked in with a sign and you said 'you can't bring a campaign sign within a hundred feet'. And was it the campaign sign with the Stars and Bars on it?"
"It was one with the... that they have outside. Yeah, one of the those kind."
"The Confederate kind? (yeah) And it was in his hands?"
Travis Abercrombie, the Public Information Coordinator with the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections, says Hagan’s actions don’t appear to be a violation of election rules, but Hagan might have broken criminal law.
"It's not a violation of the election laws. It sounds like it could be criminal mischief. I'm no lawyer or anything like that but, again, there were no election laws violated."
There is disagreement between Hagan and the Saul-Sena campaign worker, Smith, about whether this was the only sign Hagan disturbed.
Smith: "He didn't put the sign back, he throwed it down and then he went over there, the sign we've got over there, he put it in his truck than he throwed it down and I went back and I put it back up and he left. And he tried to get his worker to pick up the sign but his worker wouldn't pick it up. And he wouldn't move the sign."
Hagan: "There's no tearing down of signs, all of their signs were there, I think there were two in the ground and one gentleman was holding a sign but I wanted to officially complain in the appropriate channels and the gentleman was not over there with the signs, he stands closer to the door so I did pick up the sign and walked back to show him what it was. And then I took it back, gave it back to the lady, the woman wearing the Saul-Sena campaign's tee shirt, and that was it. There was no tearing of signs, there was no stealing of signs or anything like that."
Hagan calls the Confederate flag signs an act of desperation on the part of the Saul-Sena campaign "…to try to play the race card when in fact, I received the endorsement of the Florida Sentinel Bulletin so I think that's just a testament of their desperation."
But Saul-Sena attributes the Hagan’s endorsement by an African-American-owned newspaper to quid pro quo.
"Twenty-two years ago, as a member of Tampa's City Council, I worked with Jan Platt who was then on the Hillsborough County Commission. We had a joint city-county meeting and we were successful in renaming Buffalo Avenue in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which is where this library sits. It's also where WMNF sits, and it's on Martin Luther King Boulevard, I think that's significant.
"Ken Hagan renamed the College Hill library in honor of C. Blythe Andrews, who's the head of the Florida Sentinel Bulletin and then, guess what, he just got the Sentinel Bulletin endorsement. I feel that he's doing these things just because he's running county-wide. It's an election year and it's not honest with the black community."
But Hagan says Saul-Sena has her timeline reversed.
“I received the endorsement before that took place. That’s asinine. That action was after we had the endorsement interviews. The day of the endorsement interviews, and this is before the primary, we had the interviews that very same day. I got a phone call telling me it was a unanimous endorsement but that since neither one of us had primaries they weren't going to publicly announce it until closer to the general election. And, unless I'm mistaken, which I know I'm not, that action as far as renaming the library took place probably a month after that.”
Besides Saul-Sena and Hagan, Jim Hosler is running without party affiliation for this District 5 countywide seat.