From a turnout standpoint, Monday evening’s candidate forum at Palm Coast’s Hilton Garden Inn was very successful: some 200 people turned out, some of whom couldn’t find seats.
But between the first and second segment—during the switch-over between county commission and school board candidates—an incident took place between County Commissioner Nate McLaughlin and challenger Mark Richter’s 27-year-old son, Kevin Richter, that resulted in a deputy being called in to “escort” McLaughlin and his wife to their car, because McLaughlin and his wife felt threatened.
Kevin Richter said the only threat he levied was of legal action against McLaughlin after McLaughlin, according to Richter, shook his hand so hard as to harm him. Mark Richter was not involved in the incident.
Mark Richter and McLaughlin are both Republicans. They’re facing each other in the Aug. 26 primary. There is little love between the two: they don’t shake hands before public encounters such as Monday’s forum, nor did they the following evening at a forum in the Hammock. The tenor of their race can be as bitter as that between incumbent Frank Meeker and Dennis McDonald, two Republicans in another county commission race. McDonald, however, whose history in Flagler County is much more extensive than Richter’s, can also be genuinely cordial and often humorous even as he antagonizes his opponents. Both McDonald and Richter represent the local Ronald Reagan Republican Assemblies group, which establishment Republicans like Meeker and McLaughlin revile—and fear, to some extent, because of the perceived clout of the group in primaries, when more polarized voters go to the polls. That larger context is part of the atmosphere surrounding the incident Monday evening.
Mark Richter and his son spoke about the incident at length in phone interviews this morning. Neither initiated the calls. Nor did McLaughlin.
McLaughlin declined to address the matter in detail. “Anything I say is construed as political, so I can’t say anything,” McLaughlin said, “and you struggle with that dilemma. Do I say something, does the public have a right to know? Yes they do.” But McLaughlin said he is not the one to describe the matter. “It’s a very serious issue, but it can be made political,” he said. In a second interview, after hearing a summary of the way Kevin Richter described the incident, McLaughlin again declined to get into a “he-said-she-said” debate, but said: “At the end of the day, people around me saw the threat to me and took appropriate action.”
He also said that Wes Priest, the vice president of the Flagler County Republican Club, was with him for most of that part of the evening and could describe the events.
What Witnesses Saw, and Didn’t See
Priest, a supporter of McLaughlin’s campaign, said he did not witness the original encounter—the handshake—but that during the commissioner’s segment, he noticed Richter’s sons, Kevin and Mark Jr., “being kind of loud and cheering for their dad.” After the segment ended, he noticed McLaughlin walking out of the room, and the two brothers “followed him out there and saying things to him and his wife that were designed to intimidate them.”
“Nat said they were harassing him and his wife, so I came back in with him,” Priest said. By then the next segment of the forum had started, featuring school board members. The two brothers, Priest said, “kept opening the door and trying to get Nate to come out there.” He added: “My opinion, these two guys were trying to start something by the way they were acting because they kept going after Nate, and Nate was just standing at the back of the room. I can’t tell you about the handshake, I can tell you that the whole time I saw these two guys they were trying to confront Nate and intimidate his wife.”
Jason DeLorenzo, the Palm Coast City Council member, was at the forum in his capacity as the Flagler Home Builders Association’s political affairs director. The association was one of the three organizations, along with the Flagler chamber and the Realtors association, sponsoring the event. It was DeLorenzo who called Mark Carman, the Palm Coast precinct commander for the Sheriff’s Office, to request a police escort for McLaughlin.
Interviewed Tuesday evening, DeLorenzo initially did not want to address the matter, saying McLaughlin himself did not want to address it out of concern for his family. DeLorenzo then provided the following statement later Tuesday evening: “Midway through the event, one of our forum participants expressed he was uncomfortable by some action by at least one guest. He expressed he may like an escort to his vehicle. I offered to escort him myself, but through further discussion, I decided to call for a deputy to assist us. When the deputy arrived, I escorted the participant to the hallway, and handed him off to the deputy. Ensuring the safe environment for our participants to speak freely is important for the process. I made the decision to be cautious and make sure an uncomfortable situation did not escalate.”
Calling For an Escort
DeLorenzo spoke in more details after delivering his statement. He said he did not witness the initial encounter between Richter and McLaughlin. DeLorenzo was letting people know that seats had opened up along the wall at the back of the room when he got to the far corner of the room an ran into McLaughlin. “The person he was concerned about was in the doorway, between him and the doorway, at the doorway,” DeLorenzo said, referring to Kevin Richter, with no mention of Kevin’s older brother. Of McLaughlin, he said: “All he said is he was uncomfortable, and he felt he needed someone to escort him to his vehicle.”
Rebecca DeLorenzo, the president of the chamber (she is married to Jason) was in the room, helping the chamber’s Gretchen Smith run the forum. DeLorenzo became concerned only by the perceived disruption of Kevin Richter coming in and out of the room as the school board members’ segment was getting under way. She also did not mention Kevin’s brother. “He was just coming in the door and out the door,” DeLorenzo said, “I could not understand what he was saying at all, it was just kind of a whisper but not really a whisper. Nate was in back of the room with his wife, so I don’t know what he was saying, just that it wasn’t pleasant, but I don’t know to what extent.” She added: “There was no confrontation or any kind of conflict. I think Jason just called to make sure it didn’t escalate.”
The sheriff’s dispatch center, according to its records, got a call at 7:18 p.m. (The forum started at 6 p.m.) A dispatcher noted: “Councilman called to notify that a commissioner was threatened.” A few seconds later: “Requesting escort to his vehicle.” The dispatch was received by a deputy at 7:27 p.m. At 7:35, the dispatch notes indicate, a deputy “escorted Mr McLaughlin and his wife to their vehicles without further incident.”
Bob weber, the sheriff’s spokesman, said no further reports were filed on the incident. No investigation was being conducted—though McLaughlin was under the impression that it was. There was no talk of charges by anyone.
Kevin Richter’s Version
Kevin Richter, who says he’s consulting with an attorney, does not dispute the sequence of events, nor much of the way they are described: he was in and out of the room some, but only because he was getting calls and text messages he sought to answer, and his actions were misinterpreted or mis-characterized: “The threat was of legal action,” Richter said, “it was of no harm or ill will toward anyone, other than, hey buddy you can’t go around just doing that, you’re not Attila the Hun, and I’m not your serf. Basically.”
He described his initial contact with McLaughlin in detail.
“I went and shook his hand, you know, congratulated him, wished him luck for the race, I said hello, I’m Kevin Richter, if you have a moment I’d like to show you a picture of my dog.”
The dog issue is a whole other story, but it is also part of the context of Monday’s incident. A rumor has been flying around the county that Mark Richter beat up a dog he owned. Kevin said he was tired of the rumor and wanted to dispel it by showing McLaughlin a picture of his healthy Labrador, Duke. (The rumor is focused on a different dog, Misty, now at Second Chance Rescue in Bunnell, which Mark Richter says he never owned and doesn’t “remember anyone ever rescuing a dog from my property.”) The dog rumor, in other words, was the catalyst of the encounter.
Kevin never got the chance to produce the picture. “When I tried to pull my hand away from shaking his hand after he realized who I was, that I was Mark Richter’s son,” Kevin Richter said, “he continued to squeeze like a vise around my knuckles, in some form of intimidation.”
“I felt violated,” Richter continued, “The only thing I can see that to be misconstrued was to let him know that if he put any more injury against my body or my person, I would press charges. There was no threat of physical violence or any form of retribution.”
Richter said he is a musician and a carpenter, and works with his hands. McLaughlin, too, is a musician, and the member of a local band. “I respect a firm handshake, that’s how I was taught by my grandfather,” Richter said, “but this was an entire different thing, this was a like a power play to intimidate me.”
“I have no response to that, I’m not going to get back and forth with this character,” McLaughlin said. “Obviously I’m a much smaller person than he is, I don’t know how he can perceive something like that. I have a much smaller hand.”
Interpretations and Misperceptions
At the time of the handshake Mark Richter was in the hallway, speaking with other candidates. Kevin initially walked out there to tell him what happened. Mark Richter’s recollection: “I was in the other room, after speaking with a couple of other candidates, and from what I was told Nate tried to injure his hand by squeezing as hard as he could. My son had just met him, he asked him to release his hand, and Nate wouldn’t let him go, and he kept on squeezing and squeezing and squeezing until my son had to pull it out of his hand.”
It was after that that Kevin Richter says he approached McLaughlin again, apparently in the encounters that Rebecca DeLorenzo and Priest witnessed but could not make out clearly, other than through demeanor and tone. “That’s when I approached him,” Kevin Richter said, “I said I don’t appreciate the physical harm on my body, if it happens again I will press charges, that’s illegal what you did.”
Priest, a pastor who worked eight years in the Michigan prison system as a chaplain, said he’s “seen a lot of stuff and I usually know who’s starting it.” He said, always referring to both Richter brothers, that “They had this kind of funny, laughing smirk on them, both of them, like this was a big joke,” that they kept poking their head into the room, which is what got Rebecca DeLorenzo to intervene. “My opinion, these two guys were wanting to start something by the way they were acting because they kept going after Nate, and Nate was just standing at the back of the room,” Priest said, though by then it was after the troublesome handshake, and to Kevin it was McLaughlin who had started something. But both DeLorenzos and Priest concur on where everyone was. “They wouldn’t let him out of the room there unless he confronted them,” Priest said, “unless they faced him, that’s why he felt he needed an escort out of the room.”
Kevin Richter said there never was any such posturing. Within minutes, the deputy arrived and spoke with both parties. There is no record of those conversations. Kevin Richter said he explained what happened with the handshake, thanked the deputy and was allowed to go on his way. “He realized he had made the mistake by trying to crush my hand, and whenever I mentioned charges, I think at that point he called his people,” Richter said.
In fact, McLaughlin never called police, nor asked that DeLorenzo call for a deputy, though he did ask for an escort, which DeLorenzo provided out of the room. “Once I handed him off to the deputy I watched the three of them, they walked to the end of the hallway, they had a discussion,” then they walked out, DeLorenzo said.
There has been no contact between Mark Richter and McLaughlin. Asked if he’d called his opponent after the incident to talk or perhaps work things out, Richter said he wouldn’t. “I’ve got an election and there’s issues that are at hand, and these aren’t part of the issues. If he has an anger-management problem, that’s his problem.”
Richter claimed McLaughlin has a record of confrontations, citing one with McDonald—the other Republican candidate—and one with John Rogers, a Bunnell City Commissioner, though he witnessed neither, suggesting that those stories, like the dog story, are making the round of the electoral circuit’s amplifiers.
McDonald said that on Nov. 19, at a tea party meeting, he was taking the audio equipment out of McLaughlin’s car when McLaughlin allegedly “threatened to break my knees,” because he was upset about something McDonald had told the county commission that week. Though he claims McLaughlin was “totally serious,” even McDonald didn’t take the comment seriously: “I laughed, I looked at him and told him to go home and look in the mirror and went on my way.” Now McDonald says he did not take the alleged comment as a joke, but acknowledges he “just dismissed it.”
Rogers says a confrontation did take place at Captain’s BBQ at Bings Landing, during an event attended by several local government officials. The two commissioners argued about the old county courthouse, which the county donated to Bunnell only for Bunnell to reject it. The issue soured relations between the two sides.
“We had a disagreement, you know what I mean?” Rogers said today. “That was about it, it might have gotten a little bit loud. He was talking about the courthouse and I was talking about the courthouse. It was nothing—we were both kind of emotional about the situation. I was of the opinion that we couldn’t afford it. This is when it first started, what was it, the fall of last year maybe? It was in the corner, we were professional about it. I’m not denying to didn’t happen. We’re friends, we just had a disagreement about the issue for a brief period of time until he realized the real financial condition of the city of Bunnell.”
Tuesday evening, the Hammock Conservation Coalition hosted a candidate forum for county commission candidates. The coalition’s forums are usually intimate events attended by a few dozen people at the community center off Malacompra Road. “Security” is never an issue.
That evening, two deputies were posted there.
Robert Lewis says
Bullying candidates. The kind of class I except from the RRR. What’s next pushing old lady’s? Oh wait we did that in 2012.
Diana L says
Pretty disgusting that people can’t act like adults. As I have said before, watching the RRR candidates at the City Council meetings, I am pretty sure who was out of line here, grow up and be civil to one another. So tired of this strife on every little issue.
@ Diana L: I have been attending these council meetings and have noticed no such thing. Can you be more specific? Perhaps I missed something, but I don’t think so, Diana.
Diana L says
Talking under their breath or talking as they are walking away from the podium , leveling unsubstantiated charges, dis -respecting the Mayor and council, walking in and out of the meetings- many times, being sarcastic, etc.
Jacey Jones says
It just goes to prove that this seems to be the norm for republicans. Stop electing such into office – elect a democrat who will want to work with everyone to get the county and city going forward again. No beach, eh?
johnny taxpayer says
Are they trying to give the Bunnell city council a run for their money?
Franklin's Tower says
You know what I noticed about this article? Not a word about even one issue. It’s petty individual behavioral stuff. I’ve noticed that about local politics here. Everyone personalizes it and not a whole lot gets accomplished. Could it be many local politicians are after their fair share of graft? I don’t know. I would like to hear about some issues. We need a lot done around here. The area has nothing but warm weather, foreclosures, low property values, a lack of retail, a lack of attractions to add value to residential property values and a beach. Now we do have a big load of realtors and developers who want to make a quick buck at the community’s expense. Does anyone care about anything but their own butts around here? I don’t think so. We live in a community without a collective consciousness.
Just a thought says
Maybe this article is about the confrontation and not about the issues. In fact, the title of the article alludes to the content of the article.
Palm Toast says
Your comment is right on TARGET !
Ralph Belcher says
In doing my due diligence in researching and meeting candidates and also out talking with incumbents a number of times in different encounters, I find that Nate McLaughlin’s handshake is among the firmest I encounter of the whole lot of folks I’ve rubbed elbows with. It comes across as both sincere and not meant to be a bone crusher. I can see how someone who may stop to wonder if he was getting ‘the business’ but again, it’s who he is and I’ve experienced a very firm handshake each time I’ve approached him either after a session or out and about town. I can see how someone in a tense or testy situation/mood etc could contrive it to be more than what it is.
Getting back and away from strong handshakes and into the bare reality I will not vote back again for any commissioner that voted yes to use my hard earned tax dollars in buying the old hospital. The only one that would get my vote in the future as an incumbent would be Commissioner Charlie Ericksen that voted against it, as I been told and hopefully the record shows.
Lets do not get distracted by incidents like the one described above in these primaries as in the long term losses importance. I have voted in the past for very soft spoken, cordial and attention given candidates that resulted in the biggest voting fans of developers pernicious interest and turned their faces the other way on us all, after elected.
wolley segap says
I agree….the old hospital was a very poor decision. So poor that there has to be much more to the reasoning of purchasing it. It’ll come out eventually….always does.
Really?? Over a hand shake? Lol! Grow up.
Seminole Pride says
Who chose this place ? Way to small. It should have been held at the Dennis Fitzgerald Flagler Auditorium.
Franklin's Tower says
“Who chose this place ? Way to small. It should have been held at the Dennis Fitzgerald Flagler Auditorium.” Ain’t no bar at the auditorium! This was just asking for trouble.
Let's see now says
Education starts at home… clearly, these two boys have been FAR from educated and the same for the candidates. what a disgrace to President Reagan as well. Personally, with all the behavioral issues, publicly displayed by both parties, they should BOTH be removed as candidates from the elections. There are standards to be met. We suspend and expel children from school for less actions. Neither deserve to represent nor speak on my behalf. Period!
Are we in Chicago yet.
The Ronald Reagan Assembly: Full of civility, good old American principles based on fine Judeo-Christian values and you-know-what-else. If it quacks like a nasty little duck, and waddles like a nasty little duck…
Nate is one of the nicest people I know and I have shaken his hand several times and it’s firm but not intimidating. This is just another example of how the RRR’s conduct themselves, and unfortunately are raising their children to do the same. Sad. :(
On the crazy-o-meter …think the far out-there Tea Party and worse… ‘conservative’ has hopefully reached its implosion point. Normal, comprisable Republicans…how did you give up your bona fides for even this long. What is it…about a 15% approval rating for Congressional Republican today.
Don’t paint all Republicans with the same brush
Ronald Reagan would probably roll over in his grave at the use of his name but so would John Kennedy at what has happened to his party
And it is both houses that deserve criticism and the president with deservedly low ratings not Repubs only
The house passed bills just sit on Harry Reids desk for inaction
We are not clones of each other with exactly the same views on every issue
Jack Howell says
I have known Nate for several years and he is a gentlemen. I have also shaken his hand on a number of occasions. Never had an issue with somebody giving me a firm handshake. If it was anything else but firm I would have to wonder about the character of that person.
Mark Richter Jr says
First and Foremost I would like to set the record straight.
There have been a lot of dirty distasteful, unfounded, lies and rumors being spread about my father by Nate Mclaughlin and his sheeple and I find that to be reprehensible considering my father has done nothing but run an honest and clean campaign. The only “attacks” made by him towards his opponent have been about his past record as a county commissioner.
That said, my father is a good man who has served his country honorably; both in the military and as a civilian contractor.
He also taught my brother and I from an early age that it is important to always be diligent in our work and to be kind and compassionate to our neighbors. He instilled the idea in us that by earning an education and with lots of hard work we could learn to be successful in anything we put our minds to.
That is why my brother Kevin was able to achieve a full ride basketball scholarship to a prestigious university in St. Louis, Missouri and also why I was able to earn a bachelors degree from Indiana State University in the field of Communication. It is also why I was able to receive an internship with NBC/ABC and why they decided to him me on afterward as a Mass Media Journalist; a position reserved for only those that prove to be honest, compassionate, and diligent individuals as they are burdened with always upholding the public trust.
So you can believe me when I say that I was shocked to find that Nate Mclaughlin and his cronies have decided to run a smear tactic campaign full of lies and deceit.
I was taught by my grandfather who served in the Korean War and who was taken POW by the chinese army that America is the greatest country in the world and that we are the greatest country because we have the freedom to choose our elected official based upon their strength of character and not their “birth right”. Therefore to keep America great It is our duty to elect those who uphold the values that we ourselves believe to be most valuable. Values such as integrity, compassion, courage in the line of fire and the ability to adapt and work with those who have a difference of opinion. Politicians that use intimidation, lies and false promises to enhance their personal wealth or position are to be cast aside for those that choose to spend their time actually trying to make this country an even better place than it already is.
An intelligent grown man should know better than to try to intimidate anyone for any reason because intimidation as we all know is a crime under florida law “760.51” and it is also a violation of our constitutional rights; those rights being the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Furthermore, any politician or person of authority and power that uses his position to intimidate anyone especially a college kid is abhorrent.
On to my statement about what really happened:
I arrived a little late to the event because I had to work late and when I arrived there were no seats available so I was standing in the back with my brother. I understand that we may have caused a small disturbance and some of those around us might have been upset with our whispering to each other as my brother and I had not seen each other for over 2 years because he live in Charleston, SC and I live here in Flagler and he had just driven down to watch the speeches. After the Q/A session I exited the conference room when I saw that my dad had exited because I wanted to talk to him about how I felt the evening went and Kevin stayed behind in the conference room. Therefore I was not present for the “handshake” but I did witness the redness and slight swelling of my brothers hand afterward and when Kevin finally came outside I asked Kevin what happened because he was holding his hand saying that it hurt. He informed me that he had told Mr. Mclaughlin that he had done a good job and that he wanted to set the record straight about his dog and show him a picture. Kevin had never met Mr. Mclaughlin before and he said that when Mr. Mclaughlin realized who he was he began to squeeze his hand tighter and started grinding his knuckles together in an attempt to cause pain. I can only speculate that this was because they were in public and it was the only way Mr. Mclaughlin could express his anger toward Kevin for trying to dispel one of Mr. Mclaughlin’s rumors. Kevin said that he asked Mr. Mclaughlin to let go of his hand because it hurt and he told him that if he didn’t he would be forced to press charges of assault. Kevin is a musician and a carpenter and he is required to use his hands for work.
Mr. Mclaughlin and I have met several times at Tea Party meetings and around town and our conversations have always been friendly and cordial. I have noticed his attempts to intimidate me with this same type of aggressive handshake and I have always dismissed it.Now, while I do disagree with many of his policies I have always shown him respect as a fellow human being. That is why I was so shocked to see that his people and him were accusing me of accosting and threatening him. I was never even within 20 feet of Mr. Mclaughlin the entire evening.
This is a clear attempt to smear my family by Mr. Mclaughlin by attacking the youngest member of our family; like a wolf picking off the weakest of the herd and if I learned anything from my grandfather and father it is that a man like that does not deserve my vote even if my father was not his opponent.
Diana L says
Mark Jr, I am not sure that your diatribe did anything to help the situation. Your Father ‘s campaign may have done better without your above comments.
Mark, good letter. Thank you for posting, FL.
These less than cordial and quasi aggressive confrontations are not only among our candidates:
Lets concentrate on real important facts and don’t give in to frivolous mutual accusations and distractions.
I too shook Nate’s hand right after the Q/A, and told him he had done a great job. He obviously was well prepared, confident, and articulate. I understood where he is in his Commissioner’s work and applaude him. I even offered a few suggestions to improve his presentation next time.
These insidences are not uncommon, however. My advice, “Richter, control your actions. If you know you have hands that are used in your business; ie carpentry, musician, you should conciously refrain from making physical contact – especially with those valuable hands of your’s!
Otherwise, this makes for good headlines – Nate for being correct. Richter for being a lot off base. How about an apology , , , , ?
There are always 2 sides to every story and each individual involved in an event has the right to tell his or her version. Those that like McLaughlin will believe him, those that like the Richters will believe them and then there are the ones who stay silent and have their own opinions or knowledge of things that have happened in the past and will vote or not vote accordingly. Simple as that.
MR. RICHTER YOU HAVE MY VOTE .
jennifer Lopez says
Aha moment, Nate McLaughlin was intimidated by this man felt the need to use his “position” to get attention like he was assaulted or something.
The bad part his Mark Richer, made a bad scene and his father is the one who will suffer for this [email protected]
If you read the article, Nate did not say, he was assaulted. Mark Jr. and Kevin said, Nate assaulted Kevin by squeezing his hand. Also, Nate isn’t the one who called the FCSO, one of his friends did.
Lets keep in mind that the incumbents are surely backed by the FCCOC, FCBR, FCBA. and also probably most in the FCBOCC and all the current administrators. All named want to preserve the status quo and NO changes as we obviously so that in the last FCBOCC meeting. Then is going to be an uphill battle for the new candidates to endure. But miracles happen when the electorate comes in droves to the ballot box. 2008 and 2012 has proven that and so far looks like absentee ballots are raining in.
Let's see now says
A person who has to brag about all their accomplishments, surely is one to think not so high of themselves and is seeking an outward approval and acceptance from those around on how great they are. this is typical behavior of a “name dropper” or “bragger.” Little man’s syndrome so to speak.
As far as the rest of the story, I see nothing different than posted previously by flaglerlive; so as usual, they did some pretty good reporting. I know if my parent were running for office, no matter how I felt about the opponent, I would NOT do anything to potentially cause any sort of scene. It is also not the responsibility of the children to communicate with the opponent either. this was bad form from the start. Just stop talking before you make things even worse for your father.
Ahhhhhh…gotta LOVE semantics and context. ” Was” threatened, or “felt” threatened?