Local mayor in re-election bid falsely claims to have been endorsed by a county commissioner

Two days ago, St. Pete Beach Mayor Alan Johnson posted a graphic on his campaign Facebook page in which he falsely claimed to have received the endorsement of newly elected Pinellas County Commissioner Brian Scott. Given that Johnson endorsed Scott’s opponent Pat Gerard in the county commission race just last November, we asked Johnson how he could have possibly thought he had Scott’s endorsement.

Johnson’s false claim of endorsement

“The endorsement was based on a discussion Commissioner Scott and I had after a Forward Pinellas Board of Directors meeting in January,” Johnson responded when we asked what caused him to think he had Scott’s endorsement. Johnson said he took down the post “immediately upon hearing from the Commissioner” that same evening.

Scott responded to the endorsement claim with this short video on Facebook at 10:01 A.M. the next morning in which he said “I am not endorsing Al Johnson” and called Johnson a “high tax [and] spend liberal.” In emails to voters, Scott also rejected the endorsement claim.

Johnson said he met with both County Commissioners Scott and Justice yesterday, but it’s unclear if that is before or after Scott’s video. In posting the endorsement claim on his Facebook page , Johnson wrote that he was “honored to have earned the endorsement” of the two county commisisoners.

“I apologized to Commissioner Scott and took full responsibility for the misunderstanding,” Johnson told the Guardian. “He accepted my apology. Commissioner Justice confirmed his endorsement and I will follow up with a written confirmation tomorrow.”

Johnson was also in the news yesterday when told the Tampa Bay Times that PSTA’s new Sunrunner bus line into St. Pete Beach has caused “minimal disruption to the traffic.” His opponent in next month’s mayoral race, Adrian Petrila, disagrees.

Mayoral candidate Adrian Petrila

“My campaign volunteers and I have knocked on upwards 2,000 doors and the main concern of voters is traffic and congestion,” Petrila told the Guardian. “The residents are opposed to the Sunrunner.”

“I’d like to see the numbers behind that claim,” Petrila responded when asked about PSTA’s recent congestion relief claims. PSTA staff claimed in a presentation to its board in January that “the first three months of SunRunner service has been successful in…easing congestion.”

PSTA didn’t claim that it had reduced congestion specifically in St. Pete Beach, but Petrila was skeptical of Johnson’s claim to the Times that the Sunrunner is “beneficial” to the beach town.

“We already have a better system locally that reduces traffic congestion,” Petrila said, referring to the city’s FreeBee service. The Guardian has previously reported on the FreeBee, its performance, and its much lower cost per ride to taxpayers in comparison to PSTA’ services.

“My first thought was that this is really interesting,” Petrila said about his reaction when he saw Johnson’s claim of being endorsed by Brian Scott. “I would have thought as an experienced politician he wouldn’t make such a mistake, and I can only speculate about how or why he made that mistake.”

“FYI – I’m no politician, just a public servant,” Johnson responded when we used the same term (“experienced politician”) in our questions to him. Johnson was first elected in 2017, was unopposed in 2020.

The city that claims to be the “Sunset Capital of Florida” will chose in the election on March 14 between two candidates with clearly different visions for the future of the city. Will the current vision sunset and be replaced with a a new vision? Or will voters chose to stay the course? Time will tell.

As always….the Guardian reports and our readers decide. Like our Facebook page to find out when we publish articles.