Will Loranne Ausley's Attack Blow Back on Alex Sink?
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The race for chief financial officer is heating up with a web attack ad by Democratic challenger Lorranne Ausley on a subject that may prove perilous for her party’s nominee for governor.
Democrat Loranne Ausley called Jeff Atwater to account for his role at Riverside Bank, which was put into federal receivership and sold to TD Bank earlier this year. Problem is, contrary to Ausley’s claim, Atwater did not work at the bank when it was sold.
Atwater spokesman Brian Hughes told Sunshine State News that the state senator had left Riverside a full 14 months before the sale and that Atwater's role at the bank excluded him from the decision-making loop.
"His role was almost like a regional branch manager. He wasn't a member of the board and he wasn't a member of the committee that approved or disapproved loans. It's a stretch to say he was in upper-echelon management," Hughes said.
Some question the merits of this line of attack, given the Democrats have a former banker, Alex Sink, as their nominee for governor.
“If Loranne Ausley wants to make this race about banking, then she'd better prepare to discuss Alex Sink's record at NationsBank," said Ronnie Whitaker, executive director of the RPOF.
“During their wild mergers spree, Alex Sink was responsible for cutting thousands of Florida jobs, and entering the ethically shady sub-prime loan market.”
Ausley spokesman Kevin Cate stood by the allegations, noting that Riverside posted a $139 million loss in 2008.
FDIC reports show Riverside among 38 Florida banks and 287 nationally that have closed since the real estate bubble burst in 2007.
In defense of the other former banker, Alex Sink, who is the state's current CFO, Kyra Jennings -- a spokeswoman for Sink -- said Sink "left banking 10 years ago -- long before banks started treating customers the way they do today. She worked to give loans to small businesses and homeowners."
NationsBank became Bank of America and last year received one of the largest tax-subsidized bailouts from the federal government. Sink had been BofA's president of Florida operations.
Hughes said Ausley's attack on Atwater opens the door to questions about the Tallahassee lawmaker's record as a "tax-and-spend liberal."
"Her legislative history reads like a greatest hits list of tax increases and support for a bigger, more intrusive government. With a voting record like Loranne Ausley's, it's understandable why she wants to play gutter politics," Hughes said.
As the campaigns bicker over resumes, Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida, said the public doesn't want to hear the sniping.
"(Voters) don't want these attacks on resumes ad nauseam. This really doesn't look like it's going to stick," she said.
MacManus pointed to a recent survey in Tampa that showed 70 percent of respondents saying they didn't hear enough from candidates about jobs and the economy.
"In tough economic times, voters want to know what you're going to do -- and it had better be meaningful," MacManus said. "Attacking on commerce doesn't work."
Typically a low-key office that inspires low-profile campaigns, the chief financial officer is one of four Cabinet-level positions in state government.
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (772) 801-5341. Nancy Smith contributed to this story.