By Mary Thurwachter
After a cellphone video submitted by a supporter of mayoral candidate Robert Hagerty became fodder for a local TV news story, Lantana council member Mark Zeitler, a backer of incumbent Mayor David Stewart, became the focus of a police investigation.
The video, taken on Feb. 20 and submitted to the TV station and the police by Catherine Phillips, 57, a vocal critic of Stewart, shows Zeitler, 64, tossing a Hagerty sign into the street after installing a sign for Stewart. During an on-air interview with CBS-12, Phillips said she couldn’t believe an elected official would act in that manner and that at one point she thought he was going to punch her. She said the tenant had given her permission to put up a campaign sign.
Zeitler says there is more to the story. He said he had permission from the property owner to put up a Stewart sign at the Arnold Avenue address, and that man did not want another candidate’s sign on his lawn. The property owner wanted to talk to Phillips on the phone, Zeitler said, but Phillips refused.
Zeitler said he tried to give Phillips her sign back, but she wouldn’t take it and he left it on the ground in front of her car. Eventually, he tossed the sign into the street as she recorded him.
He shouldn’t have done that, Zeitler told The Coastal Star. And he said he apologizes to Hagerty for doing so.
Hagerty’s campaign manager, Jennifer Wink, appeared before the Lantana Town Council during its Feb. 22 meeting to offer this comment:
“We have been made aware of the behavior exhibited by Mark Zeitler over the weekend. We were appalled to see video footage of our local elected official acting as he did. His actions were certainly inappropriate and unwarranted. We support the constitutional rights of our fellow citizens, including those of free speech and the rights of private property.
“As the former commander of the Lantana Police Department, Robert Hagerty has faith in our local authorities to investigate the matter and we have no further comment on this issue at this time.”
The police closed the case on Feb. 26 after Hagerty said he did not want to pursue it.
Supporters of both candidates have complained about signs being stolen, but as of March 1, this was the only one that spurred a police probe.
Phillips brought a sexual harassment charge against Stewart in 2018. That allegation was dismissed after an investigation by the Florida Commission on Ethics.
By Mary Thurwachter