A congressman and retired Navy vice admiral who is challenging Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania's May 18 Democratic primary election is accusing the fifth-term senator of using "Swift Boat"-style attack tactics in an ad that suggests the Navy fired him.
U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak on Wednesday released a list of former Navy officers who support him while a group of veterans held a news conference in suburban Philadelphia calling on Specter to remove the ad.
In an e-mail to veterans, the Sestak campaign called the ad "baseless" and compared it to the attacks mounted in 2004 by the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which sought to tarnish Sen. John Kerry in his challenge to President George W. Bush.
The ad, which first aired Tuesday, begins with a narrator saying, "Joe Sestak, relieved of duty in the Navy for creating a poor command climate" — a term for morale — then criticizes Sestak for missing votes in Congress last year.
The ad cites an August 2005 report in the Navy Times.
The Navy has never issued an official statement on the reasons for Sestak's reassignment from his job as deputy chief of naval operations in 2005, and a Navy spokesman would not comment on it Wednesday. The Navy has not disputed the newspaper's characterization, however.
"We absolutely are saying that that account is inaccurate and no one has gone on the record and there's been no document that says anything like that," said Sestak campaign spokesman Jonathon Dworkin.
Specter's campaign manager, Chris Nicholas, said the ad is accurate and there is no discussion about discontinuing it.
Sestak spent 31 years in the Navy and was promoted to a deputy chief of naval operations by Admiral Vernon Clark in 2004 and awarded three stars. In 2005, Michael Mullen replaced Clark and promptly reassigned Sestak under the vice chief of naval operations for six months. Sestak retired Jan. 1, 2006, as a two-star rear admiral.
Sestak then returned to his boyhood home in suburban Philadelphia to run successfully for Congress and become the highest-ranking former military officer ever elected to the body.
The Navy has declined to release Sestak's personnel records.
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