BRADENTON -- With less than a week to Election Day and thousands voting early in Manatee County, the race for the mayor's seat in Bradenton is intensifying, with verbal attacks and police visits.
Richard O'Brien, a University of South Florida professor aspiring to be Bradenton's next mayor, told the Bradenton Herald that incumbent Wayne Poston swore at him in front of his family and "aggressively" accused him of removing his signs. The incident happened Sunday near the supervisor of elections' office as early voters went to the polls, O'Brien said.
"I told him to behave himself like a mayor should," O'Brien said. "I have a strict policy that no matter what they do, we'll run a clean campaign."
But Poston, who is running for a fourth term in office, said he approached O'Brien to let him know about the sign situation and that it was O'Brien who "jumps in my face and starts pointing."
"He's making this stuff up. ... He's trying to make something out of nothing," Poston said.
The altercation took place after members of the county's Democratic Party called O'Brien to let him know that Poston was at their booth, according to O'Brien.
"I went over to tell him something that happened," Poston said. "I said, 'Here's the deal, someone was removing our campaign signs and putting yours in place,' and he started yelling at me."
The third candidate in the race, City Councilwoman Marianne Barnebey, said she was not present when the
verbal exchange took place and could not comment on that matter.
"I don't know whatever Mr. O'Brien is talking about, I didn't see it, didn't witness it," Barnebey said. "In every campaign that I have been in, there have been signs that have been damaged and that go missing. It's the nature of the beast."
Joseph Bornstein of Lakewood Ranch said he was volunteering at the Democratic Party's booth providing information about candidates, particularly about President Barack Obama, when the incident happened. Several other people were nearby, he said.
"I thought it was unbecoming, unprofessional and I was really shocked," Bornstein said, adding that Poston was screaming at O'Brien.
Bornstein does not live within city limits and did not know either Poston or O'Brien prior to the confrontation, he said. The mayor's race is nonpartisan.
Poston said he has the license plate number of a vehicle that was seen when his signs were removed. He has not decided whether to ask if charges should be filed, he said.
A police officer went to O'Brien's campaign headquarters on Monday to question his campaign manager about the signs, O'Brien said.
"I think it's very inappropriate to use the police department to try to intimidate my campaign manager," O'Brien said.
An officer went over to O'Brien's office to inquire about a sign issue that came up over the weekend, Lt. John Affolter, of the Bradenton Police Department said.
"To find out if Mr. O'Brien was aware of it or had any information on it, and he did not," Affolter said.
No report had been filed against anyone as of Tuesday, Affolter said.
"The complaint that's been looked into is not necessarily of theft," Affolter said. "It's not necessarily about anything that anyone has done wrong."
The latest financial reports filed with the county's supervisor of elections' office indicate Poston has received the most contributions, $52,180.42. He has spent $15,060, some spent for fund-raising events, consulting fees and signs.
O'Brien has collected about $27,807 and spent about $23,700. Some of O'Brien's expenses include payments to campaign workers, signs and supplies and repairs for his red double-decker campaign bus.
Barnebey's contributions so far total $9,735, and expenses equal about $3,900. She has spent funds on signs, candidate qualifying fees, mailers and sponsorship of a Manatee County Crimestoppers event.
"I think it's going pretty well," Barnebey said of her campaign. "We've had an extremely positive response, and we'll continue doing what we are doing."
Campaign volunteers plan on continuing making phone calls and going door to door to talk to voters, she said.
"We've never had a woman mayor, and we've had two men for 33 years," Barnebey said. "The record shows that I listen to and respect our citizens. ... My campaign ends at 7 p.m. on Nov. 6."
Bradenton voters decided in the primary elections to eliminate runoff elections, meaning that the candidate who receives the most votes, not necessarily the majority, will win.
Poston will also continue going door to door in the final stretch to speak to voters, he said.
"We always run like we are behind, we never take anything for granted," Poston said. "We feel we are doing everything we should."
Said O'Brien: "We are going to end strong like we started. We'll leave everything in the playing field. There's a lot of people unsatisfied with the leadership that's in there."
Election Day is Nov. 6.