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Alan Cohn supporter apologizes for threatening to pull candidate from forum if opponent was invited

He wanted Jesse Phillipe, the only black candidate, excluded.

A bitter battle has emerged in Florida’s 15th Congressional District as three candidates vie for the Democratic nomination to take on incumbent Republican Ross Spano.

Thursday night, political operative Keto Nord Hodges took to Facebook to accuse Alan Cohn of trying to block one of his opponents, Jesse Phillipe, from participating in a Tampa Tiger Bay candidate forum June 5.

Hodges said Cohn was “trying to sponsor” the event but is “threatening to pull his sponsorship” if Phillipe, the only African American candidate in the race, is invited.

The threat was made, however it wasn’t from Cohn or his campaign. It was Cohn supporter Victor DiMaio.

“The Alan Cohn campaign never told me that any sponsorship was contingent on Jesse Phillipe not participating in the forum. That was my opinion at the time,” DiMaio told Florida Politics.

“I misspoke and I apologize for any misunderstanding.”

DiMaio, Tiger Bay’s immediate past president, went on to say all three Democrats have provided equal sponsorships for the event, a fact that Tampa Tiger Bay President Yvonne Fry confirmed.

The issue became heated overnight after Hodges’ post, particularly because the optics of one candidate trying to block an African American candidate from a forum were poorly timed as the nation reels from the death of George Floyd at the hands, or more specifically, knee, of Minneapolis Police officers.

“Obviously with historic tragedies befalling our AA community nationwide the last few days, Alan couldn’t pick a worse time to be the Exceptional White Candidate,” Hodges wrote.

“We need to say “Hell no!” to vultures like Alan Cohn who love our community when it’s socially and politically convenient but walk all over us should we present a threat to their personal ambitions.”

Phillipe entered the race last July but didn’t start actively campaigning until this month.

He was initially left out of Tiger Bay’s initial forum announcement. Most didn’t expect him to qualify for the race, but he did. The non-profit has since apologized for the initial exclusion and he will be included.

Rep. Adam Hattersley, who is also running in the Democratic primary, responded in comments on Facebook saying “voters should have the opportunity to hear from every candidate that is going to be on their ballot.”

Cohn agrees.

“As a moderator of countless debates, I’ve personally made sure every candidate running in a race was invited to participate, which is why I’m glad Jesse will be joining us and am looking forward to next Friday,” Cohn texted Florida Politics.

The winner of the primary, in which Cohn and Hattersley are positioned as frontrunners rivaling each other, will take on Spano in what will likely be a brutal general election push.

Spano is under federal investigation for accepting illegal campaign contributions. He accepted loans from friends and then used that money to loan his campaign, which violates maximum contribution laws.

Already, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has made Spano’s ouster one of its top 2020 targets and has spent heavily on ads attacking Spano over the campaign contributions as well as his conservative voting record, his alliance with President Donald Trump and on comments Spano made denying climate change was a man-made crisis.

The DCCC, however, has not weighed in on the primary, but it will no doubt support whoever the eventual nominee is.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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