A seemingly cordial Hilton Head Island Town Council race turned nasty Tuesday afternoon.
Mary Amonitti, a home-care company marketing representatives, is running against local publisher and fellow Palmetto Dunes resident Kim Likins to replace John Safay, the current officeholder, who is among a field of seven candidates vying to replace Tom Peeples as mayor.
Amonitti accused Safay and his "little pack of goons" of harassing her by lodging "unfounded" complaints with town staff and Beaufort County elections officials alleging she violated state law by campaigning and soliciting votes at a polling location.
Brian Hulbert, town staff attorney, said Amonitti was inside a polling location, wearing a name badge. State law prohibits candidates running for office from displaying any identification, including campaign buttons or stickers, inside a voting site. Hulbert said Amonitti immediately removed the badge after being informed.
However, mayoral candidate Tom Crews said he also was at polling locations across the island, thanking poll workers, shaking hands and getting a feel for voter turnout. Crews said he wore a name badge inside the voting site, but was told by a poll worker the badge was permissible because it did not indicate he was running for office.
“They said it was OK as long as there was no campaign reference, which I was very careful to do,” he said. “I was very careful not to do any campaigning.”
S.C. election laws allow candidates to wear a label no larger than four and one-fourth inches by four and one-fourth inches that contains the candidate's name and the office he or she is seeking outside a polling location. Signs, campaign literature and any other campaign material is prohibited within 200 feet of the polling site entrance.
Amonitti said she was opening doors and greeting people at her polling location at Christ Lutheran Church, not soliciting votes.
"I know better and would not do that," she said. "I've worked the polls in South Carolina since 2000. I was simply saying, 'Hello, how are you today?'"
She said Likins, Safay and their supporters were "being nasty" and "trying to make waves."
"I don't take crap from anyone. I'm doing it legally. They run for office, but don't educate themselves as to what the procedures are. They're working on ignorance," Amonitti said of Likins and Safay.
Likins could not be reached for comment. Safay called Amonitti's behavior "tacky."
"Technically, I suppose, they're not campaigning," Safay said. "Frankly, I think it's very tacky and gives a negative impression of the candidates who resort to that."
He said he received numerous phone calls from people complaining about Amonitti and would have been remiss not reporting them to town legal staff.
"I don't have a pack of goons. I was responding to phone calls of complaints from people. And the poll workers I spoke to were appalled, but their hands were tied," Safay said.