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Tallahassee City and Leon County Commission candidates spar over legal complaints as election looms

Accusations and dark money are flying in local races.
Michael Flippo
Accusations and dark money are flying in local races.

Election Day Tuesday could decide who wins several local races outright, but it probably won’t see the end of some of the Tallahassee and Leon County candidates’ legal challenges. New complaints have been filed in recent days as the candidates battle until the increasingly bitter end.

The David Bellamy campaign filed an ethics complaint on August 16th, days after sending City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow a second cease-and-desist letter over a radio ad laden with what Bellamy says are false accusations about him.

Matlow changed the first ad, recorded by Pastor Lee Johnson for 96.1 FM, after Bellamy challenged it for saying he’d voted for former President Donald Trump and donated money to him. The revised ad casts Bellamy as a “Trumpite” who donates to Republicans and receives their donations. Bellamy says he’s been a registered Democrat for decades.

“It appears that Jeremy Matlow feels the need to cheat and divide people, rather than unite people of different backgrounds to work together to fulfill Tallahassee’s promise,” Bellamy said in a statement. “I reluctantly filed an election commission complaint due to Jeremy Matlow’s apparent and repeated violations of the law. This sadly comes as no surprise given his history of breaking the law, not paying his taxes, and empty campaign promises; all while claiming to run on a platform of transparency and ethics. Tallahassee deserves better than Jeremy Matlow.”

Matlow responded in a statement: “The facts are clear. David Bellamy, by his own admission, voted for Trumpite Gov. Ron DeSantis. 75% of David Bellamy's political donations have gone to extreme right-wing Washington politicians like [Congressman] Matt Gaetz, and he is using right-wing money to flood our community with lies and attacking the integrity of people like Pastor Johnson… I'm proud of the work I've done right here in Tallahassee to reduce poverty, uplift neighborhoods, protect our environment and fight corruption. That's why the good ol' boy system Bellamy represents is coming to an end.”

Meanwhile, the pro-development advocacy group Grow Tallahassee is threatening legal action against Matlow, County Commissioner Kristin Dozier and City Commissioner Jack Porter. Also named are Bob Lotane and Max Herrle of the progressive blog Our Tallahassee, and author/screenwriter Jeff VanderMeer, who says he left Our Tallahassee in December.

Some recipients of the cease-and-desist letter had accused Grow Tallahassee’s political action committee of orchestrating a series of racist and homophobic text messages recently sent to voters, which the PAC denies.

“These are signs of desperation, attempts to distract from the fact that Jeremy Matlow, Kristin Dozier and their campaign operatives got caught dealing with shady PACs and dark money organizations,” the PAC posted to Grow Tallahassee’s Twitter account on Aug. 12.

“There is absolutely no merit to Grow Tallahassee’s increasingly desperate maneuvers and political attacks,” Porter told WFSU.

A third dispute is an elections complaint brought by Mayor John Dailey against Dozier, who is challenging him for the job. In an August 3rd filing, Dailey accused Dozier’s campaign of failing to disclose who paid for an attack mailer sent in July.

Dailey is calling on the Florida Elections Commission to investigate whether Dozier failed to report the mailers as a contribution to her campaign and whether the political committee that sent the mailers failed to report them as an expenditure. At issue is a disagreement over when the corresponding financial disclosures should have been filed. Dozier said her campaign has complied with the legal requirements and that Dailey’s actions are “shameful.”

“While Dailey may have published the complaint, we have not received any official communication from the Division of Elections,” Dozier said.

Reggie Cardozo, who is managing Dailey’s campaign, said they haven’t heard back either, but “We are very confident that she violated the law.”

Follow @MargieMenzel

Margie Menzel covers local and state government for WFSU News. She has also worked at the News Service of Florida and Gannett News Service. She earned her B.A. in history at Vanderbilt University and her M.S. in journalism at Florida A&M University.