One Republican challenger in the race for Pinellas County Sheriff is becoming increasingly elusive just as the primary is drawing near, forum organizers say.
was noticeably absent at a July 2 candidate forum in Clearwater, two weeks after during a forum in Palm Harbor. And some forum organizers are under the impression that Rice — slightly ahead of his opponent, according to an unscientific poll conducted by St. Pete Polls — is now refusing to attend any other forums before the Aug. 14 Republican primary, except for being streamed live on Patch.
“If you only knew the story behind the story to make sure Rice didn’t fail to show up at the debate,” said Harvey Smith, coordinator for the July 17 Sheriff’s candidate debate at the Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater Octagon Arts Center. “[He] has said he won’t participate in any more as it’s (quote Rice) ‘an exercise in stupidity.' ”
Rice confirmed his attendance to the July 17 debate with both the debate coordinator and a Patch reporter.
He said it would be his last before the campaign.
"I have about exhausted all the forums,” Rice said during a phone interview. “It is the same thing over and over again."
Carl Schrader, who helped put together the July 2 Clearwater forum, said Rice was elusive about his plans leading up to his event. Rice said he would call back, but he waited until two days before the forum to say he had a previous engagement.
“For whatever reason, (Rice) said he had something more important to do,” Schrader said at the outset of the July 2 candidate forum.
Rice told Patch that he could not attend because he had committed to helping at a food pantry opening for Beaming Hope Church in Clearwater.
During the forum on July 2, Interim Sheriff said he was not going to address the Democrat candidate ’s campaign points, but rather focus his attention on Rice, even though he was not present.
“He and I are not running against each other right now,” Gualtieri said reminding the crowd that he first must win the nomination in the Aug. 14 Primary Election. “My opponent in the Republican primary decided not to be here tonight.”
Rice said he welcomes the public to call him with their individual questions at 727-365-1298.
Be sure to watch the candidates debate at 6:30 p.m. July 17 at Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater's Octagon Arts Center, 2470 Nursery Road, or catch Patch's . The debate is sponsored by Patch, the National Armed Services & Law Enforcement Memorial Museum and Bay News 9.