Any election can have a touch of controversy. The Gulfport Ward I election is not safe from this. Since the candidates qualified, Gulfportians asked about everything from emails to finances — and so much more. Now, residents are asking about Gulfport City Council endorsements. Three of the five councilmembers endorse Tom Bixler, while Vice Mayor Paul Ray (Ward III) stops short of endorsing, saying he “supports” Bixler. Residents called the ethics of this into question. The Gabber Newspaper spoke with City Attorney Andrew Salzman about the issue.
“There isn’t any laws against it; councilmembers have always endorsed candidates,” said Salzman.
Why Do They Endorse?
The Gabber Newspaper asked each endorser of Bixler how they see the ethics of the Gulfport City Council endorsements, and why they endorse him.
“I like Tommie,” said Mayor Sam Henderson. “I only endorse someone when I really care about who can be in that seat.”
“Why was this never a question before? Is it because we’re not endorsing the sitting councilmember?” asked Christine Brown (Ward II). “I like Tommie. He has a good work ethic and is a team player.”
“This has never been an issue in the past, we’ve always endorsed candidates,” said Ian O’Hara (Ward IV). “This isn’t partisan; I just support Tommie.”
Support vs. Endorse
Paul Ray is the only councilmember who does not endorse Bixler; instead, he says he supports him.
“Supporting just means I’m not committing to vote for a candidate, and I’m not donating any money to the campaign,” said Ray. “Council has always endorsed candidates.”
Along with this, Ray brought up his issue with the questioning.
“People will post on social media or ask about it like its a problem, but no one ever just comes and asks me,” said Ray. “I would be happy to talk about why I am supporting Tommie in a private conversation if someone just asked me why.”
Ray declined to give The Gabber Newspaper specific reasons why he supported Bixler.
Response From the Candidates
The Gabber Newspaper spoke with Bixler’s opponent, April Thanos (Ward I).
“There’s nothing wrong with it; they can vote for who they’re going to vote for,” said Thanos. “We’ve all endorsed candidates during our terms.”
Bixler echoed this, calling it “common practice.”
“I don’t see anything unethical about it; there’s never been complaints in the past,” said Bixler. “I didn’t solicit any of the endorsements; they approached me based on their opinions. Their support really blew me away.”
According to a letter from Michael J. Satz, the former State Attorney in Fort Lauderdale, “Section 104.31(1)(a), F. S., does not prohibit elective municipal officers from using their official titles in connection with the writing and publication of open letters or newsletters endorsing or criticizing candidates for public office since such conduct, standing alone, would not of itself evince the corrupt use of official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with an election, or coercing or influencing votes, or affecting the result of the election.”
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