Justin Lamar Sternad, a Democratic primary candidate for Congress in Florida, gave a colorful response Tuesday to nagging allegations that his primary campaign has been orchestrated by Republican operatives.
"Kiss my 'lily-white' ass," Sternad emailed the Miami Herald, replying to a question about how he could afford numerous campaign mailers despite fundraising figures suggesting he spent almost all of his cash covering a filing fee for the 26th congressional district race.
The Herald reports that Sternad's campaign has raised a grand total of $11,262. With $10,440 going toward the filing fee, the campaign presumably has only $822 to fund its operation.
Despite these diminished totals, Sternad has sent at least six mailers to constituents in his district. The campaign literature, organized by a firm earlier employed by Rep. David Rivera, the Republican in the race, has been criticized as racially charged and misleading.
Some of Sternad's fliers use imagery of Martin Luther King and other African American leaders. Critics have used this detail to accuse Sternad, who is white, of deceiving voters about his ethnicity. Another mailer repeats refuted claims -- once touted by Rivera -- that Joe Garcia, the frontrunner in the Democratic primary, divorced his wife while she was battling cancer. In fact, Garcia's wife -- not Garcia -- filed for divorce. She has since supported her ex-husband's campaign.
The Miami New Times provides some more background on the upstart candidate:
Not a whole lot is known about Sternad. He's never run for office before, and hasn't been noticeably active in politics. He's a night time employee of the Wyndham Garden hotel in South Beach, and describes himself as a "hotel administrator." Despite being a white guy named Justin, he's prominently using his middle name Lamar, a name prevalent among African Americans, in his campaign. Broken links at the bottom of VoteLamar.com link to now deleted Twitter and Facebook accounts that use the name Justin. JustinSternadforCongress.com now redirects to VoteLamar.com. Odd.
Despite his relative unknown status, Sternad appeared on a local television earlier this year, spending the majority of his time blasting Garcia and avoiding Rivera.
"It would be pretty pretentious or arrogant of me to start going after David Rivera's jugular like one of the other candidates, Joe Garcia, is doing," he said. "He's mudslinging. And I want to get through the primary. And then we'll tackle David when we get to that point. Right now, I see the problem with Joe Garcia is he's a three-time loser. He hasn't won anything. One-two-three, you're out. But in his case I think he thinks one-two-three he's in."
Sternad has also been pressed about potential ties to a recent robocall that featured a message of Garcia speaking in Spanish, as well as his connection to GOP consultant Ana Alliegro, a Republican operative that he claimed was running his campaign. According to the Herald, Sternad has denied that his campaign organized the robocall, while Alliegro remains notably absent from any of his campaign disclosure forms.
While the questions mount, both Sternad and the Rivera campaign have maintained that the Democratic campaign is legitimate and not being coordinated by Republicans.
Garcia's campaign thinks otherwise.
"Sternad's campaign has been suspicious from the start. He is not an active Democrat, does not campaign publicly and has sent racially divisive and misleading mailers," a spokesman for Garcia told the Herald. "Now Sternad has broken the law and failed to file his campaign reports, this is a serious matter considering how much money he is spending. Sternad's campaign appears to be little more than another dirty trick by David Rivera."
Sternad lost to Garcia in the Democratic primary race for Florida's 26th Congressional District on Tuesday. Garcia finished with over 50 percent of the vote. Challenger Gloria Romero Roses took second with more than 30 percent, while Sternad finished in third with just over 10 percent of the vote.