The war of words over a restaurant coupon and allegations of vote-buying in the District 4 Wichita City Council race escalated Monday.
It’s a dispute that appears headed for Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett’s desk.
Joshua Blick, one of four candidates for the council seat, said Monday that state ethics commission officials tell him they have no jurisdiction over a coupon his opponent Craig Gabel, a Wichita restaurateur, is circulating with his campaign literature.
The coupon, on the back of campaign cards Gabel is placing on doors in District 4, offers a $5.99 chicken fry or half off a meal with a drink at Gabel’s restaurant, Mike’s Steak House. Blick calls it an attempt by Gabel to buy votes.
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Blick said an ethics commission official, however, suggested he refer it to Bennett’s office. Blick said he intended to do that.
Gabel fired back in a Monday afternoon news conference at his restaurant, Mike’s Steak House, calling Blick’s complaint “a smear campaign.
“He’s falling behind and he has to change the dynamic of the campaign,” Gabel said.
Carol Williams, director of the state ethics commission, didn’t address specifics of her office’s interaction with Blick and Gabel. But she confirmed that her office deals primarily with campaign finance issues.
Gabel said he’s altering the palm cards with the food coupon with hand-written “paid ad” notes under the coupon. A woman sat behind Gabel during the press conference writing on the palm cards.
At various points in the news conference, Gabel said he’s distributed 500 and 1,000 of the palm cards thus far. His goal is to put one on each of the 4,000 doors in District 4, he said.
Gabel said the $5.99 chicken fry offered on the coupon is not a discount.
“It’s not even as good a deal as we offered two years ago,” he said.
There are no state statutes governing the coupon, Gabel said, adding that Williams cleared such campaign tactics two years ago.
However, Bennett said his office enforces several electoral statutes on the state books. One, KSA 25-2409, prohibits “conferring, offering or agreeing to confer, or soliciting, accepting or agreeing to accept any benefit as consideration to or from any person either to vote or withhold any person’s vote, or to vote for or against any candidate or question submitted at any public election.” Violation of the statute is a felony.
“We do handle a lot of these kinds of issues,” Bennett said. “It’s not uncommon at all for us to take a look at these kinds of situations ... although I don’t recall one specifically like this one.”