For those of you poised to sit back and watch Jackie Toledo and Guido Maniscalco battle it out for the first and only time in a debate five days before the District 6 Tampa City Council runoff election, you’re out of luck. There will be no debate tonight, after the League of Women Voters and Toledo backed out this week.
The issue is the neutrality of the moderator, Mario Nunez, host of The Tampa Natives Show, the cable access venue where the debate was to take place.
Though Nunez doesn’t live in District 6, both the League of Women Voters and Toledo say he is a Maniscalco supporter, which Nunez doesn’t deny.
LWV President Shirley C. Arcuri said in a statement that a board member viewed Nunez’ Facebook page and saw that he was supporting Maniscalco. “Therefore, your participation as host of the show would make it difficult to ensure that the debate and the public perception of the debate is nonpartisan. If we had more time to craft the format and rules and enlist League members in key functions, we could overcome that problem but the time frame now does not allow that.”
Toledo followed suit, saying in her own statement to Nunez, “Your public support of my opponent and the league’s withdrawal there is no way to ensure that this event would be impartial.”
On March 3, the day of the election, Nunez posted a photo of a Maniscalco sign on his Facebook page with the quote, “He’s one of us … Home grown and ready to serve and protect (our history and heritage).”
At 10:29 p.m. that evening, Nunez then wrote, “Guido Maniscalco has advanced to a ‘run-off’ election aganst (sic) Jackie Toledo. Tommy Castellano has thrown his support behind Guido. Let’s help him get this done.”
In her statement to Nunez, Toledo specifically takes exception to the phrase “one of us,” a comment that was uttered anonymously at Maniscalco’s election night celebration at Montauro Ristorante, the West Tampa restaurant where Castellano endorsed Maniscalco.
“I checked your Facebook page myself and saw you repeating the ‘one of us’ phrase my opponent and his supporters have used since election night. Those type of comments are very offensive to immigrants along with new residents in the City of Tampa and have no place in civil discourse. We are all members of a community regardless of whether or not we were born here. I am very proud of my Peruvian heritage as well as my Tampa residency which has been my home for 25 years. I want everyone to live in a place where you are welcomed regardless if you have lived here for 50 years or for only 50 minutes. ”
Nunez issued a statement late Wednesday evening, writing that he was not going to ask any questions during the debate at all. “I was only to moderate and recognize who was to ask a question, who was to respond to a question, and recognize when each candidate and questioners time limit was up.”
The questions were going to be posed by The Tampa Tribune’s Chris O’Donnell and the Tampa Bay Times‘ Rick Danielson.
Nunez went on to say that, “Jackie Toledo’s excuse to not appear is without merit and very disingenuous. Jackie Toledo has preformed (sic) a tremendous disservice to the voters of Tampa and our community by refusing to face up to her opponent and the cameras, reporters … especially the individual citizens and voters of the City of Tampa and District 6 who have and are continuing to email in their questions to the candidates and are deserved a response from the candidates who are asking for their vote.”
“I’m not going to have a debate that is a platform for attacks,” Toledo told The Tampa Tribune. “If we can find a place that is neutral ground, I would be more than happy.”
It should be noted that this reporter offered both candidates the opportunity to participate in a radio debate on WMNF 88.5 FM, offering the dates of March 12 and March 19. That offer was made on March 4, the day after the primary election.
Maniscalco said he was available on both days. Toledo said she would be out of town on March 12, and said she had a lunch on March 19, though she said she might be able to clear it from her calendar for the noon time start. When we inquired late last week whether March 19 was still viable, she informed us about the LWV debate that was scheduled for this evening, meaning that the radio debate was no longer an option.
Neither is the cable access debate now.
Nunez says that Maniscalco will appear on his own on the Nunez’ Tampa Natives Show. It’s scheduled to be broadcast at 7 p.m. on Channel 39 on Bright House, channel 30 on Verizon Fios, or channel 20 on Comcast. It will also be streamed live online at www.TBCN.org/watchus and will be available for viewing later at www.tampanativesshow.com.