Local union officials are hammering down on St. Petersburg City Council candidate Tom Mullins for recent campaign mailers appearing to attack first responders and their unions.
The union response follows public criticism Monday from Mullins’ opponent, Lisset Hanewicz, who slammed the Raymond James executive about the mailers.
Hanewicz and the union heads point to a quote on the mailers credited to Mullins that smears public worker unions, as well as a blurb from his campaign site, which says city employees are overcompensated “above private-market benchmarks.”
“My opponent is backed by multiple far-left interest groups and the usual group of public employee unions, who are simply looking for a candidate willing to throw taxpayers under the bus,” the mailer reads.
In their statements, labor union officials called for an apology from Mullins and reinforced their support for Hanewicz, a former prosecutor.
“The pandemic was hard on all of us, but firefighters don’t have the luxury of working from home like Mr. Mullins. At a minimum, I think he owes all of our first responders and city employees an apology,” Rick Pauley, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 747, said in a statement.
“We’re on the front line of the fight against COVID. Lisset understands our sacrifice. She embodies the empathy and leadership we need in our elected officials now more than ever — the same leadership she displayed when she was a state and federal prosecutor,” Pauley continued, urging voters to support Hanewicz.
“Our officers sacrifice every day for St. Petersburg, and they took on an even heavier burden during the pandemic,” Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association President Jonathan Vazquez said in a statement. “Lisset Hanewicz is the only candidate in District 4 who proudly stands with our officers, and I encourage all friends of law enforcement to cast their ballots for Lisset.”
In response to the criticism, Mullins told Florida Politics Monday that he does support police, including providing appropriate funding for such departments. He also said the mailers were misinterpreted, and his conclusions came after meeting with several public employee unions.
“That statement we used in our mailer is admittedly a composite observation, but it is based on the actual dialogue and meeting content that I observed personally in my own interviews with three different public employee unions,” Mullins wrote in an email to Florida Politics. “I generally observed that (i) my status as the only candidate in the race who’s actually been a union member was given no apparent weight; (ii) my emphasizing that taxpayers’ interests be given proper consideration in collective bargaining decisions was met with negative body language; and (iii) union execs seemed bothered by a candidate who actually knows how to calculate the present cost to taxpayers of future retirement benefits contained in union contracts.”
He also pointed to his own company, Raymond James, as evidence he supports workers.
“The whole thing with the unions seems like an unfortunate misunderstanding, as our actual track record at my own company (Raymond James) is that we are plainly among the most generous firms in the area on employee comp and benefits,” Mullins continued in his email to Florida Politics.
Mullins’ campaign website indeed expresses support for police officers.
“The police have a tough job, but they are also well-paid professionals and the only members of society authorized to use force against fellow citizens,” the website reads. “Even before the events of summer 2020, it was appropriate for their operational practices to be more routinely reconsidered and updated.”
Both candidates are running to succeed Darden Rice on the City Council.
In the most recent polling, Mullins leads Hanewicz with 21% support to Hanewicz’s 19% support among the 484 people polled. However, most respondents — 60% — said they are unsure or don’t want to say who they will support.
Even though the race is nonpartisan, Mullins is running as a fiscal conservative in a city that favors Democrats, putting him at a statistical disadvantage against the more progressive Hanewicz.