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Mayor Jerry Sanders’ campaign consultant, Tom Shepard, said he was clueless of Mike McSweeney’s attempts to plant anti-Steve Francis statements with fellow mayoral candidate Eric Bidwell. He didn’t find out, he said, until Bidwell showed an e-mail from McSweeney to last night’s debate audience.

“The first I heard of it was when Eric pulled the sheet of paper out at the debate,” Shepard said.

The sheet of paper was a copy of an e-mail with suggested talking points against Francis that McSweeney now admits writing to Bidwell. “When I saw that I knew right away that it was wrong,” Shepard said.

Shepard said he met with McSweeney first thing this morning, and McSweeney immediately acknowledged his ethical lapse and offered his resignation, which Shepard accepted.

“We have pretty clear guidelines on what is ethical and appropriate during a campaign,” Shepard said. “And this was way over the line, and he knew it.

Shepard said that as far as he knows, this was “the first thing of this sort that he has done, but I can’t swear to it.”

Shepard says he hired McSweeney between eight and 10 weeks ago. And, to Shepard’s knowledge, McSweeney does not have prior experience as a campaign manager. Rachel Schira, who has been Sanders’ assistant campaign manager, will take over as campaign manager through the June 3 primary, Shepard said.

DAVID WASHBURN

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