A Florida man who said he was “exercising my political expression” was arrested yesterday and charged with trying to run down Republican Rep. Katherine Harris with his car while she campaigned in Sarasota, Fla.
Barry M. Seltzer, 46, a real-estate investor from Sarasota, has been charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison, and is being held at the county jail, said Jay Frank, spokesman for the Sarasota Police Department. Mr. Seltzer faces an initial hearing at 1 p.m. today.
“I intimidated them with my car … they were standing in the street. … I was exercising my political expression. I did not run them down. I scared them a little,” Mr. Seltzer told investigators, according to the police report.
Prior to the incident Tuesday, Mr. Seltzer had offered to volunteer for Democratic candidates at the party’s headquarters, but was rejected because “he was perceived by staffers to be strange,” said Virginia Hoffman, administrative chairwoman of the Democratic Executive Committee in Sarasota County.
Ardis Boch, office manager for the congressional campaign of Jan Schneider, Sarasota lawyer and Democrat, who is seeking Mrs. Harris’ seat and was narrowly defeated by Mrs. Harris in 2002, yesterday said their campaign had never heard of Mr. Seltzer.
“We don’t condone anything like that. We want to beat Katherine Harris at the polls, but that’s the only place we want to beat her,” Miss Boch said.
According to the police report, Mrs. Harris and several supporters were campaigning on the sidewalk of an intersection in Sarasota at 6 p.m. Tuesday, when a silver Cadillac started speeding through the intersection and “swerved off the road and drove up on the sidewalk.”
“He drove his car straight at Mrs. Harris, but missed her as he swerved at the last minute. Harris stated that she was afraid for her life and could not move as the vehicle approached her,” the police report said.
Witnesses told police the motorist seemed to be driving in an “aggressive” manner. The report said witnesses were “certain his reckless driving was intentional.”
A witness wrote down the license number of the Cadillac, and police determined it was registered to Mr. Seltzer. They tracked down the address of a rental property Mr. Seltzer owns, and a tenant provided them with a phone number for his landlord.
Mr. Seltzer visited the Sarasota Police Department at 3:35 a.m. yesterday to find out why police were looking for him. Without being asked, he discussed some traffic issues that concerned him and complained that “Harris supporters were impeding traffic” earlier in the day.
At that point, Lt. Steve Breakstone said, he interrupted Mr. Seltzer and read him his Miranda rights. The lieutenant told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune newspaper he called Mrs. Harris at 4:30 a.m. and informed her of the arrest.
“She was grateful for our actions. She was shooken up. It was a scary incident,” Lt. Breakstone told the newspaper.