Decked stacked in favor of incumbent Deb Denys with Daytona Beach News-Journal candidate debate

DAYTONA BEACH -- Off the bat, let me say this: Daytona Beach News-Journal Editor Pat Rice did an excellent job in moderating his newspaper's candidate debate for the district 3 County Council race Tuesday at the Brannon Center in New Smyrna Beach. But let's be real about this: This was engineered to favor the two-year incumbent, Deb Denys, who purposely avoided not one, but two "public candidate debates" that we held; the most recent just eight days earlier in the same venue and the earlier one last month in Oak Hill.

The print newspaper debate was a charade -- not only in format, but what was reported in the following morning's paper. The challengers -- David Machuga of New Smyrna Beach and Justin Kennedy of Edgewater -- would have fared better in their campaigns had they informed Rice in advance they weren't going to show up because they have felt the coverage all along overly favored Denys.

Add to the fact that she twice purposely blew off the two prior debates and turnaround would have been fair play. It's not the audience that hurry them as much as what the newspaper actually reported or should I dare say mis-report? The latter certainly fits the bill.

Consider what was written in the morning's paper about the audience:

Denys and her challengers Justin Kennedy and David Machuga squared off before a standing-room crowd in the Brannon Center, and it didn't take long for them to find their differences.

A standing-room-only crowd implies there weren't enough seats. The newspaper took down about 125 chair from the stacks and set them in front of the debate table. The other 50 or so people stood in the back.

And the crowd was clearly there from Denys' camp, predominantly the Republican Party of Volusia County. There were so many GOPers there, it even featured something never seen before -- not one, not two, but three current and former Volusia County Republican chairs in current Chairman Tony Ledbetter and his two predecessors, Stan Escudero and Joe Stich.

Among other prominent Republicans: Denys' predecessor, Joie Alexander; lame-duck Mayor Adam Barringer (who showed up late and left early); New Smyrna Beach Commissioner Judy Reiker and her husband, Guy Mariande; as well as dozens of members of the Southeast Volusia Republican Club and insider developer-attorney Glenn Storch.

Machuga was there by himself, save for maybe one or two supporters and Kennedy's immediate family members and a few supporters.

The questions were designed to give Denys an opportunity to speak from an incumbent's point of view such as the inner workings of the county budget while giving her the opportunity to pin her council's Waverly investigation delays and added expenses on Kennedy.

Again, here is what the News-Journal published the following morning:

And Denys struck back at Kennedy when the moderator, News-Journal Editor Pat Rice, asked what the council should do next with its investigation of Waverly Media, the bus-bench advertising company under scrutiny for illegal political campaign contributions. Denys said Kennedy, who has not responded to subpoenas in the case, has “become an obstructionist to the process.”

Kennedy said he was unaware of any potentially illegal donations from Waverly during his 2012 campaign and the investigation has become a “convenient” political witch hunt. Denys said she will be pushing for a public report on the investigation this week.

Denys supported the council's Waverly investigation pushed by colleague Doug Daniels last winter, even though there already is an investigation into in-kind bus bench advertising from the previous two election cycles and County Attorney Dan Eckert advised against the elected body investigating it because he felt it wasn't legal.

Daniels, a lawyer, disagreed and convinced a majority of his colleagues on the dais to hire former law partner Jonathan Kaney, Jr., to do the job. The cost to taxpayers so far has been $150,000.

Then during a final segment of the debate where candidates could ask each other questions, Denys went for the jugular with Kennedy, asking him about previous homestead exemptions where he claimed two properties. Here's how the News-Journal reported that aspect in the morning paper:

Toward the end of the debate, the tense Denys-Kennedy back-and-forth continued with Denys confronting Kennedy about making a “conscious decision” to claim homestead exemptions on separate properties in the past. Kennedy explained that the issue was a mix-up that he addressed with the property appraiser. “No way did I make a conscious decision,” he said. “And shame on you for implying that.”

Though the newspaper gave Kennedy his due with his explanation that it was a mix-up, the story made no mention of how old Kennedy said he was when such a mix-up occurred: When he was 25 years old. Kennedy, who is married with five children, is now 44 years old.

The homestead issue and Waverly are integrally linked in this election, but not to Kennedy, but rather to Daniels and the News-Journal itself. That's because Denys stood to benefit with the Waverly investigation from the onset to try and keep Kennedy from running. After all, Kennedy ran against Denys in 2012, but came up short in the primary, won by fellow Democrat James Hathaway in the non-partisan race. Denys would go on to defeat Hathaway in the general election.

Ironically, Kaney has targeted Kennedy as one of a few candidates who have refused his subpoenas, but Kaney has never sought out Hathaway, who also received Waverly in-kind contributions in the 2012 election campaign.

And ironically, it was Daniels and his wife, Angela Cameron-Daniels, married in 2011, who each claimed homestead exemptions on their respective homes the last two years, even though she changed her voter registration and driver's license to his Ormond Beach home shortly after their marriage as opposed to her property in Daytona Beach. She's the assistant director of the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach. The county's auditor's caught the double homestead exemption  on April Fool's Day and two days later Doug Daniels' residence was named the homestead exemption and a penalty was paid for the claim on Angela Daniels' property.

Doug Daniels was well aware of the tax issues in his own home, yet he he was on the dais pushing for the expenditure of taxpayer monies for Waverly.

Funny, there was no mention of Daniels or the double homestead exemption and being caught in the morning's story on the district 3 candidate debate at the Brannon Center.

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Short Bio

Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet covering the Daytona Beach-Sanford-Orlando metro area via HeadlineSurfer.com since 2008. A longtime cops & courts reporter focused on breaking news & investigative reporting, Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most prolific daily news reporters, having amassed close to a hundred award-winning byline stories nearly evenly split in print and digital platforms. Frederick earned his Master of Arts in New Media Journalism with academic honors from Full Sail University in Winter Park in February 2019. He was a metro reporter with the Daytona Beach News-Journal for nearly a decade and then served as a city editor for the Taunton Daily Gazette in Taunton, Mass, while maintaining a residence in Central Florida. Prior to moving to Florida, Frederick was a metro reporter for the Rockland Journal-News in West Nyack, NY, for seven years. Headline Surfer was named the Sunshine State's top internet news site by the Florida Press Club in 2018.