Manatee Commissioner Donna Hayes in dustup with poll workers in Deltona

ejohnson@bradenton.comOctober 31, 2012 

DELTONA -- Deputies were called Sunday during early voting in Volusia County when Manatee County Commissioner Donna Hayes allegedly stopped traffic and became aggressive with poll workers while campaigning for her son.

Hayes distributed fliers outside the Deltona Library for her son, Rich Gailey, who is a Republican county council candidate.

Voters complained that Hayes was stopping cars, blocking traffic and dropping campaign materials into open windows of vehicles, according to an incident report.

"She was doing a pretty good job out there of campaigning," said Gailey, who is running against an incumbent for the District 5 seat. "The people on the rival campaign were sitting on their tails while she was out there working, and they started going into the polling place to complain."

A spokeswoman for the Volusia County Sheriff's Office said dispatch received two calls regarding the incident. Deputies were dispatched at 11:35 a.m. when Hayes allegedly became aggressive.

Poll workers asked Hayes to move to approved locations for campaign volunteers, but Hayes allegedly told one worker that "she had no authority over her," a report states.

Amy McFall, Volusia County supervisor of elections, said Hayes was illegally campaigning within 100 feet of a polling place.

"They said I was blocking the driveway," Hayes said, adding that nearby Democrats asked a poll worker to remove her, despite being in accordance with all rules.

According to the report, when another poll worker approached Hayes, she allegedly became "belligerent and aggressive," grabbing an election worker's badge while saying, "What is this? This means nothing."

McFall said that is when Hayes' actions "went over the top."

Hayes said the name tag had only a first name, with no title nor last name.

The incident was documented for informational purposes because no charges were filed, according to the report. However, McFall said she would support the victimized poll worker if criminal charges are later pursued.

Deputies contacted Gailey who apologized and said his mother left the property and would not return to the area, the report states.

"It is what it is and I've got to deal with it," Gailey said. "They're out there whining again today (Tuesday). Maybe they should spend less time whining and more time campaigning."

McFall said a no trespass warrant would have probably been issued if Hayes remained on the property or lived near Volusia County.

"If she didn't think she was guilty of anything she would have stayed until the police got there, but she did not," McFall said, adding that Hayes will be "watched closely" if she returns for future campaigning.

Gailey said his this is an example of how his opponent "results to tactics trying to embarrass people."

McFall said Hayes' behavior and Gailey making this a partisan issue could hinder support for the candidate.

"It's not a political issue," McFall said. "It was a little bit dangerous because the site was really crowded."

But instead of letting the incident cloud their political careers, Gailey and Hayes are hoping to use it to their advantage. Hayes sent out an email Tuesday after the Drudge Report website featured the story, calling the situation a "win win."

Hayes used the opportunity to tout her son's endorsements and straw poll victories while asking for final donations to Gailey's campaign.

"The Dems are really helping us -- big time -- in spite of themselves," Hayes writes in the email. "Obviously, I will not be curtailed by this incident, and will be right back campaigning for my son, Richard Gailey, this weekend."

Hayes laughed about the situation during a County Commission meeting Tuesday saying, "I am on the news everywhere."

Hayes said she consulted with a Republican Party of Florida attorney who confirmed her actions were in line.

"Just think, they're trying to keep this little old 70-year-old senior citizen from expressing her feelings," said Hayes, who is not running for re-election. "I did nothing wrong."

The commissioner had another run-in with law enforcement in January when she was charged with careless driving and failure to immediately report a vehicle crash following an accident.

After rear-ending a vehicle on State Road 70 near Third Street West, Hayes gave the other driver her business card and proceeded to a hair appointment, according to previous Bradenton Herald reports.

Elizabeth Johnson, Herald crime reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. Follow her on Twitter@EJohnsonBHcrime. Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, contributed to this report.

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