MARATHON -- Marathon residents will go to the polls Tuesday, Nov. 5, to cast their ballot in what some say has become the most negative City Council election the relatively new town has seen.
"This is probably the down and dirtiest kind of politics I've seen in this county to the extent that it makes me sick," said Councilman Dick Ramsay, referring to tactics that have been used against council candidate Mark Senmartin.
Ramsay is a vocal supporter of Senmartin, who is vying for one of two council seats along with incumbent Vice Mayor Richard Keating and four-time former councilman Pete Worthington. The top two vote-getters will win a two-year term.
The race is largely viewed as a battle between Senmartin, who is highly critical of the existing order on the council and within the Marathon administration, and Keating and Worthington, good friends who have each campaigned on a largely stay-the-course platform.
But partisans on both sides of the divide say that the race has turned quite ugly. They just don't agree on who is to blame.
"I think the race has gotten negative because the challenger, Mark Senmartin, has come out negative," said Mayor Mike Cinque, a Worthington and Keating supporter. "He has been very negative out of the gate, and that's what set the tone for the whole campaign."
Indeed, Senmartin has used the campaign slogan "committed, not connected" and has talked often about breaking up what he describes as a Bubba system and putting an end to alleged backroom deals.
If Senmartin does win a seat, it could significantly reshape the council, which recently has been divided at times, with Ramsay and Councilman Chris Bull on one side and Keating, Cinque and Councilwoman Ginger Snead on the other. Cinque is stepping down after the election due to term limits. Specifically, Ramsay and Bull, but not the other council members or Worthington, have been critical of City Manager Roger Hernstadt's handling of the City Hall bidding process and his overall communication with the council.
The already contentious campaign took a turn for the worse over the past two weeks after a potentially illegal flier was sent out to Marathon voters attacking Senmartin for clearing hardwood hammock on his Bluefin Drive property. Senmartin was found to have committed a code infraction at a June 12 Marathon Code Compliance Board hearing.
The mailer states that it was paid for and sent by a Scott Miller, who lives at 999 98th St. Ocean. The address is part of an eight-unit condo complex.
"I don't remember ever a Scott Miller," James Schlatter, a 13-year resident of the complex, told the Free Press last week. Schlatter added that he's a snowbird, so he might not know a new complex resident. But Senmartin says that the condo association also told him that they've never had a Scott Miller living there.
Under state law, independent political mailers must state the real name and address of the person who paid for it. Violating that law is a first-degree misdemeanor.
State Attorney Catherine Vogel declined to say last week whether her office is investigating the matter, but she added that her office takes all complaints seriously.
Supervisor of Elections Joyce Griffin said she had spoken briefly with Vogel's office about the matter. Gemini Printing owner Denny Curry, who has done work for all three City Council candidates, declined to say whether he has been contacting by investigators.
"I have an order not to talk about it," he said.
Meanwhile, speculation has mounted over who actually was behind the mysterious mailing. Only the three council candidates had requested and received the most recent Marathon voting roll, Griffin said. And no one has gotten the roll from the state Division of Elections, according to spokeswoman Brittany Lesser.
Consequently, Ramsay is pointing the finger at either Worthington or Keating, saying it wouldn't make sense for Senmartin to have attacked himself.
Senmartin, too, said he suspects it is one of his opponents.
"You have one who has come out a little stronger against me than the other," he noted.
Worthington didn't return a Free Press phone call for comment about the mailing last week. Keating said he knows nothing about it.
"I did not have anything to do with it," he said.
Still, he stopped short of directly repudiating the tactic.
"I do not approve of running a negative campaign," he said in a sideways swipe at Senmartin.
Senmartin says the swirl around the mailing has had at least one benefit to his campaign. In the first few days after the news broke, he received a "few thousand dollars" in donations, he said.
Through the Oct. 11 reporting period, Senmartin had raised approximately $12,000 in cash from 73 donors, not counting $4,800 of self-financing. Worthington had raised just less than $8,500 from 35 donors, not including a $500 loan to himself. Keating had raised $9,900 from 28 contributors, not including $100 in self-financing.