Wilton Manors markets itself with the slogan “Life’s Just Better Here.” Life may be better here, but the politics are not.
Three candidates for city commission, Roy David Walker, Don D’Arminio, and incumbent Paul Rolli are vying for two seats. The spirited campaign has had many familiar political features including ads, appearances, and a televised debate, which is still available to watch online on YouTube.
The city of around 13,000 residents is also being subjected to a full complement of dirty campaign tactics that are growing slimier and slimier as early voting begins ahead of the Nov. 8 final day of voting. The most recent comes in the form of a flier attacking candidate D’Arminio.
One of the attacks purports to use a quote from someone close to him in order to paint him as being against heterosexual employees in Wilton Manors’ government. D’Arminio, in no uncertain terms, denies this and all allegations made in the flier calling them “outright lies.”
This bit of gay bashing attempts to divert votes from D’Arminio to other candidates. However, both of his opponents are also LGBT.
“The accusations are false,” D’Arminio told SFGN. “I’ve run a clean campaign and they’re trying to skew the election results rather than allowing residents to decide without bias. It’s inexcusable.”
The bigotry-filled flier comes on the heels of other petty political maneuvers. Someone got in the ear of Code Enforcement and had political signs removed despite some/many being placed legally. That resulted in a compromise that seemed to satisfy most parties involved. Stickers declaring doom if one certain candidate is elected have been popping up along well-traveled areas in Wilton.
Commission Meeting Chaos
The campaign bled into the city commission meeting held on Oct. 25. During public comment, Doug Blevins, a D’Arminio supporter, stood up to rebuke the fliers, saying many of the tactics were used by Rolli previously. He used coded language to insinuate that Rolli is responsible for the flier and seemed to impugn the motives for Walker’s candidacy.
Traditionally, commissioners don’t respond directly to public comments. However, after Blevins’ comments, Rolli was allowed to go out of order and respond. As he was denying any connection or involvement with the fliers, Marc Martorana, D’Arminio’s partner, shouted “Not true!”
Mayor Scott Newton admonished him, saying the public may not speak.
Martorana shouted back, “He’s not allowed to respond to us. That’s not true!”
At this point Newton asked Wilton Manors Police Chief Gary Blocker to step in and remove Martorana if he wasn’t quiet. Martorana stopped talking and was allowed to stay.
Anonymous Hit Jobs
Similar accusations have been made on social media, and many of the inflammatory posts have been removed. But those come with a face and a name (yes, some could be “bot” accounts but the ones in question are from known residents).
The difference here is that most of the attacks come from anonymous political hacks. The return address on the fliers is “123 Concern Citizens, Wilton Manors.”
SFGN couldn’t find any PAC by that name. It’s just one candidate’s supporters taking shots at another candidate. The stickers? They didn’t come with any attribution. Who called code enforcement? Who knows. While the other campaigns seem like obvious choices to lay blame, nothing has come to light showing a connection to either the Rolli or Walker campaigns.
SFGN saw one flier and its envelope, which shows it was mailed from Miami.
SFGN can’t reach out to an organization to defend the flier’s accusations since no public (or private) group is claiming responsibility.
D’Arminio said he stands by his record of 25 years of community service, including his tenure on the planning and zoning board.
Low Blows Shake City
SFGN reached out to Walker and Rolli to gauge their reactions. The first question was: “Are you, your campaign, or a supporter of your campaign (even if you weren’t aware the fliers were going out) responsible for this flier?”
Rolli’s response echoed what he said during the meeting, saying, “Neither I, nor anyone on my campaign, was responsible for the negative flier on Don D’Arminio. I have never done anything anonymously; I face all issues head-on. Campaign ethics rules prohibit anonymous literature.”
Walker also denied any role in the fliers, telling SFGN, “I feel bad for Don since he is the target of the attack. It is a shame that politics has come to this.”
Walker and Rolli say their campaigns have been bullied online as well and shared evidence of a text/email smear campaign.