Voter Angela Crawford said she has filed a complaint with the elections supervisor after she says she witnessed a showdown at Dwyer High School in which an elderly man berated a teenage girl.
The man was Arthur McQuinn, 81-year-old husband of school board candidate Barbara McQuinn. The girl was the daughter of McQuinn’s opponent Tom Sutterfield, Emily.
Another bystander, Sharon Kavney, says she too witnessed an exchange between the two. She said she was too far away to hear every word, said it was loud, but wrote it off when it quickly diffused.
“He didn’t do anything that I felt was threatening,” Kavney said.
What’s troubling Kavney happened hours later, when McQuinn returned to the school followed by a man from the Sutterfield camp. She says Sutterfield’s man, former state legislator Ralph Arza, bullied McQuinn and then turned on her when she tried to intervene.
Arza’s take on it is quite different.
“I even hugged the lady. We laughed. I said we can disagree, we don’t have to be disagreeable,” Arza recalled.
School police were called to the polls at Dwyer shortly after 3 p.m., Arza said he’s the one who asked them to come. But they did not make a report.
Before the night was over Barbara McQuinn claimed victory in the school board race.
Contacted Thursday, Arthur McQuinn said “We’ve moved on” and then hung up.
So what does it look like when weeks of contentious campaigning come down to one day? In the case of the race for Palm Beach County School Board District 1, it depends on whom you ask.
Angela Crawford arrived at Dwyer High in the morning to sign wave on behalf of Gregg Lerman for County Judge. She’s an acquaintance of the man’s wife and was happy to participate in the election.
While she was there, she mingled with other sign wavers including 16-year-old Emily Sutterfield and Emily’s grandma.
“Everyone I met was very nice, except for Barbara McQuinn’s husband,” Crawford said. He (Arthur McQuinn, 81) came up and intended to plant a sign near the spot that the Sutterfields had already staked out and Crawford suggested he shouldn’t. But this did not go down well, and he got angry, she said.
“I said, ‘Oh sir, you’re not going to put your sign in front of this family,’ and he said, ‘I will because her dad’s a liar.’ He just went off like a cannon with no filter. He said this is my wife and your dad is a liar. This guy was nasty with a capital N.”
That’s when Crawford said she went “full mamma bear.”
Crawford said she told Mr. McQuinn to “back off” to “agree to disagree”.
“I made a point to say she’s 16. He got within six inches of her nose, shaking his finger at her. She said he’s my daddy and I stand behind him. She couldn’t have been more graceful. ”
“The sad thing is I voted for that woman. I saw more information about her. Now I don’t have a good feeling about it.”
Crawford called to complain to the elections office and when she couldn’t get an answer, she drove there to write one out.
She got word from another person there that the man came back, she said, and Emily was left shaking and sobbing.
“I can’t tell you the details, I wasn’t there. My husband did tell me he had a verbal altercation. He was making sure we had signs out. When he went to put my sign out by Sutterfield’s sign, a woman told him no.”
McQuinn, a former teacher and principal, relayed this story as she was celebrating her victory in the race.
“I feel so thrilled that grass-roots support from people who really know me and know my work can actually beat big money funding a negative campaign. Mine was not a negative campaign. That’s how I work.”
The negative campaign she’s referring to includes a barrage of robo calls that vilified her for brief foray into charter schools as a board member of one that folded under financial duress in 2007.
“My family has been really under attack since October 31, when I received the Palm Beach Post endorsement and the North Palm Pac. These robo calls attacked. I don’t have the money to counter.”
The money to launch the attack ads can be traced through various political action committees back to money from charter school management companies.
“My grandson, who is 14-years-old, heard those TV ads. He went to school, I volunteer there, and they said, ‘What’s with your grandma?’,“ McQuinn said. “Emotions are high because when my grandson is crying about attacks on grandma … that’s just beyond.”
She says when Arthur McQuinn was challenged at Dwyer Tuesday, “My husband loves me so much, I have no doubt that he was upset.”
McQuinn said her husband called “and told me he had words with (Sutterfield’s) family.’ I said, ‘Please, just go home.’”
By multiple accounts, however, he returned hours later.
“She’s fine. She’s shook up. She went back to campaigning. A 78- or 79-year-old man going after a 16-year-old? I can’t believe it.”
“I was not there. My daughter called me in tears. Both times, innocent bystanders who had nothing to do with my campaign intervened. I’m appalled at his behavior.”
“I’m proud of my daughter because she stood up for herself and she stood up for me. We had some supporters who rushed over there to make sure it was under control. We decided that I would stay back so it wouldn’t escalate.”
Sutterfield said he saw Mr. McQuinn at another polling place earlier in the day. “He could’ve taken it out on me, not my daughter.”
Kavney arrived at Dwyer Tuesday morning to represent several Democratic candidates. She chalked up the alleged early disagreement between Arthur McQuinn and Emily Sutterfield to a bit of provocation.
“I later said to them, ‘He had no idea who you were. You should’ve just let him put his sign there and leave.’”
As for McQuinn, Kavney said “He had hurt feelings.”
Sometime around 3 p.m., Kavney said McQuinn returned.
“When he came back the daughter created this whole other scene,” Kavney said. The girl called her dad. (And, says Ralph Arza, Sutterfield called him. They are friends and Arza’s daughter is married to Marco Rubio’s nephew, Sutterfield’s campaign manager.)
“I think (Arza) was trying to get Mr. McQuinn irritated enough so that when police got there he’d be angry. We were doing our best to keep this thing civil. I was very upset with that gentleman trying to pick a fight with Mr. McQuinn. He was being argumentative and making a bully of himself.”
Kavney says that Arza then turned on her. She was sporting stickers for both Randy Perkins and Patrick Murphy – Rubio’s opponent.
“He pulled the Patrick Murphy sticker off my shirt,” Kavney said. “He said, ‘Rubio’s going to be the next president.”
“Listen, I was kidding around. I said as long as you take off the Patrick Murphy sticker, we’re OK,” Arza said. “I was trying to make light of it.
“The way I see it, the McQuinns have never been through an election process and that exposes their families to stuff. I even told that to Ms. McQuinn when I saw her earlier (in the campaign). If it’s in the public record, it comes up.”
When Arza spoke to Arthur McQuinn election day, Arza said the grandfather was upset about the bullying his grandson was taking at school and the things that had been said about his wife.
“He said to me if you put your daughter at the polls and run those commercials, some people are going to push back,” Arza said. “And that’s fair. But I said you have no right to get in a fight with a minor.”
Arza denies Kavney’s assertion that he was trying to bait McQuinn. “Not at all. I respect my elders.”
“Things calmed down. I think for the rest of the day, everyone conducted themselves in a respectful manner,” Arza said.
“It can get to you. I even said to him, I was accused of this and that, it’s tough and part of our system,” said Arza, whose temper – and obscenity-filled voice messages – ended his run as a member of the Florida House.
“I’m a very passionate guy. I’m a pretty intense human being. I’ve learned. I never had an incident like that before or after. That’s why I went ahead and called the police.”
In the end, Arza said, “They won fair and square. It was a good battle. And life moves on.”