tampabay.com

Itty-bitty race sure is big on donations

By SUE CARLTON
Published February 14, 2007


Six-figure war chests.

Eyebrow-raising contributions.

A citizen who called it outrageous when he thought the incumbent was asking for a little financial quid pro quo.

All this for one itty-bitty Tampa City Council race?

If campaign coffers are a measure, incumbent John "Keep Common Sense On City Council" Dingfelder has a serious challenger in lawyer Julie Brown. (I keep thinking Downtown Julie Brown, the old-school MTV veejay.)

Hair stylist Joseph Citro also is running, though he has not made major headlines, something for which he probably is grateful.

Round One: Last year, Dingfelder initially supported a rezoning that would have let car dealer Jason Kuhn expand his Kennedy Boulevard businesses. But Dingfelder ultimately sided with residents worried this would hurt their neighborhood. Kuhn lost by a 6-1 vote.

He decided to throw some support - the financial kind -- to Brown. That's politics: you don't like the current guy, you help out his opponent.

Here's where it gets interesting. Brown collected more than $20,000 from Kuhn, his relatives, his employees in car dealership departments from sales to repairs to accounting, his employees' relatives, his employees relatives' toddlers' play dates ... just kidding on that last one, but you get the idea. Nearly all gave the maximum $500.

Kuhn said he didn't encourage them to give, but that they thought Brown "may be more accommodating to business."

You saying "Hmmm," too?

I asked Brown if she considered giving any of that money back after news stories about this. She said no, the donations were legit.

Last week, it was the Dingfelder campaign's turn to make news.

Local resident J. Scott Taylor e-mailed his city councilman to complain about a law that would not allow his son to fish at a Davis Islands park. (Fish, at a waterfront city park set aside for leisure and enjoyment? The very idea!)

Dingfelder sent back an e-mail agreeing with him. Then he followed with a PS e-mail encouraging Taylor to remind a neighbor involved in the fishing issue - Dingfelder's former law partner - to send in a campaign check.

Sound like a hint? Taylor thought so.

Dingfelder got the wheels turning to get the no-fishing ordinance revised, though that won't be decided till after the March election. He e-mailed Taylor to let him know. A couple of minutes later, he sent another e-mail, this one asking for a campaign contribution of up to $500.

Ouch.

When it comes to looking bad, this did not look good.

Dingfelder has since apologized to Taylor and said he would separate his e-mail accounts into city, campaign and law firm business. He said he thought he was asking for support from a "happy constituent" and never intended anything inappropriate. He offered reporters hundreds of pages of e-mails to show there was no pattern.

To his credit, he also said what he did was "pushy" and "a little rude and a little aggressive." He blamed it on the pressures of the campaign "frenzy for money."

Truth be told, he and Brown have each raised more than $100,000 - more, even, than in the race for Tampa's mayor.

Sounds expensive - not to mention beside the point when it comes to deciding who deserves your vote.