Pantele Campaign Pins "R" on Benedetti 

Is this typical jockeying, a smear campaign or a sign of pre-election jitters? None of the above, Pantele says. "I really regret that it had to come out," Pantele says about the flyer and how it highlights Benedetti's party affiliation.

Pantele criticizes Benedetti for claiming to be bipartisan — independent, even — yet is deeply rooted in Republican soil. Benedetti is a first-time political candidate whose consulting firm, Benedetti and Farris, fund raises and plans events for myriad politicians including Republicans Sen. George Allen and Attorney General Jerry Kilgore.

"Why isn't this on his Web site?" Pantele asks.

In a local City Council election ostensibly free from partisanship, does it matter? Benedetti — whose wife gave birth last week to the couple's second child — calls Pantele's approach divisive. According to Benedetti, the flyer represents "tactics not only of Pantele but also of [Mayor Rudy] McCollum and their shared consultant in Craig Bieber." The effect of the negativism, Benedetti says, "is just breaking the city apart in every sort of direction you can go instead of saying, What are we going to do to unite as a whole?"

John V. Moeser, professor of urban politics at VCU, and a neighbor of Pantele's, says the mailer could hurt Pantele more than help. "It's clearly trying to energize the Democrats in that district," Moeser says. "In regard to the negative campaigning, I think when you lay that on top of a city that has already gone through some really tough times with public integrity, this could backfire," he says.

Pantele disagrees. "Is this negative campaigning? I don't think so," he says. "The voter should decide if it's relevant information. It's done in a cartoonish kind of way. It could have been a lot worse." — Brandon Walters and Scott Bass

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