Mobile home money pads war chests

Dottie Reeder leads the pack of House hopefuls who accepted donations from developers.

Published August 22, 2006

For more than a year, mobile home owners in state House District 51 have pleaded with government at all levels to help save their homes from developers.

Now, all three candidates for the House seat have accepted money from developers or mobile home park owners who plan to close the parks and evict residents.

That fact does not surprise Leo Plenski, head of the Bay Pines Homeowners Association and leader of an area activist group that seeks to promote the interests of mobile home owners across the state.

"It seems like Florida politicians are all about money," Plenski said. "They'll take it from anybody."

Seminole Mayor Dottie Reeder, a Republican, leads in donations from mobile home developers.

As of early Friday, she had reported receiving $285 from Redington Shores Mayor J.J. Beyrouti, who has asked the county to rezone Lakeview Mobile Home Park, at the edge of Seminole, to allow for redevelopment.

Reeder also received $1,000 from the Travis Corp., which owns Harbor Lights Mobile Home Park, a Seminole park that the Travises say they want to sell or close. Also on her list:

- $500 from developer John Loder's East Madeira Corp., which tried to buy Harbor Lights. Loder has bought Bay Pines and Bay View mobile home parks in Seminole under a different corporate name and given residents in both parks eviction notices.

- $100 from DeLoach and Hofstra, the trustees for the Bickley family, which sold Bay Pines to Loder, and an additional $100 from Dennis DeLoach Jr. himself.

- $500 from Clearwater lawyer Ed Armstrong, who is the law partner of Tim Johnson, the attorney who has worked to change the zoning of Golden Lantern Mobile Home Park on the edge of Pinellas Park. Johnson is retiring this year, and Armstrong is likely to take over the case.

Deloach and the Deloach and Hofstra firm also donated $100 each to Janet Long's campaign. Long, a Democrat, served on the Seminole City Council until March, when she declined to seek re-election in order to run for District 51. Long also received $250 from Loder's East Madeira company.

Like Reeder, the other Republican in the race, Bruce Cotton, received money from the Travis Corp. - $500. Cotton also received $500 from the Florida Manufactured Housing Association.

He also received a $500 in-kind donation from Crabby Bill's Restaurant, which is owned by the Loder family. John Loder does not have an interest in Crabby Bill's.

Reeder defended her decision to accept money from developers of mobile home parks, saying the funding would not influence her votes if she wins the seat. Her goal, she said, is to find a compromise that gives mobile home owners more money for their losses or at least more notice that parks may close.

Sitting through the past year as tearful, elderly park residents came before the City Council to plead for their affordable way of life has been "excruciating," Reeder said.

"That will never be erased from my memory," she said.

Reeder said she also received money from those developers, and others, because they are local. For the most part, she said, they are the people who contributed to her in the past. It seemed logical, she said, to go to those same people for help when she planned to run for higher office.

Most of Reeder's contributions do come from the immediate Seminole area.

Cotton, on the other hand, is receiving many of his contributions from the Pinellas Park area. That includes money from Pinellas Park council members Rick Butler and Ed Taylor, who are holding a fundraiser for him. Ron Book, the lobbyist for Pinellas Park, has donated $1,000 to Cotton's campaign.

Cotton credited the work he did as an aide to Leslie Waters, who held the District 51 seat until this year when she termed out, as the reason for the donations. Waters helped the city get state money to solve the flooding along Park Boulevard.

Cotton's acceptance of money from the Travises and the Manufactured Homes Association has failed to dent the support he's receiving from Plenski and his followers.

Plenski said Cotton has worked with the mobile home owners and consistently tried to help them since the beginning of the fight over the Golden Lantern. Cotton said he spoke with Plenski before taking the money.

"I don't care where his money came from," Plenski said. "I think Bruce is a better man than to worry about money."

Besides, Plenski said, that's the way elections are run. It takes money to run and win.

But Plenski is not so understanding of Reeder's acceptance of development money.

"She is pro-development," Plenski said. "I don't think she makes any bones about it."

Reeder denies that charge. The Seminole council, she said, tried to do everything it could to help the homeowners. There really isn't anything a city council can do, she said. It's a state issue.

That's the point, Plenski said. It's a state issue and mobile home owners need to elect people who are more responsive to their concerns than developers', he said.

Long did not return a phone message asking for comment.