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Ford says she can't afford election fee

The mayoral candidate calls the $1,000 state election assessment an undue burden.

By LEONORA LaPETER nd BRYAN GILMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 16, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Kathleen Ford and her husband own a home in one of the city's most desirable neighborhoods, have a child in private school and own stocks valued at more than $20,000. As a candidate for mayor, Ford has raised more than $19,000 and blanketed parts of the city with signs.

But Ford swore in an affidavit filed at City Hall that she couldn't afford the $1,000 state election assessment fee that candidates for mayor are supposed to pay.

Ford and her husband, Harvey Ford, are both attorneys, but the City Council member said that her family's good fortune shouldn't be part of her campaign equation.

"I'm the one running, and our family has taken a decrease in income as a result of my serving on the council the last four years, which we knew going in," Ford said on the sidewalk in front of City Hall during a break in Thursday's council meeting. "But it's still an undue burden."

Ford, who earns $23,337 a year as a council member and does not have an active law practice, has raised $19,230 in her campaign for mayor. She had raised at least $13,340 in her campaign treasury by the time she filed her affidavit of undue burden Jan. 10.

"As you can see from our campaign, the assessment fee would be an undue burden because it's a pretty big fee," she said.

Terri Griner, Ford's campaign manager, pointed out that the form does not require any sort of income verification.

Ford based her claim of undue burden on her campaign account, not her personal assets. Griner said the campaign has a budget and there isn't a lot of wiggle room.

"If you look at what we budgeted in the campaign, there isn't any extra," Griner said. "There isn't a lot of money. We're not running a $100,000 campaign."

But candidates for office must swear that they cannot pay the fee "without imposing an undue burden on personal resources," according to Florida law and the affidavit that Ford filled out.

Ford declined to answer additional questions about her personal net worth, saying, through her campaign manager, that she had provided all the information she had at the time.

Ford owns a 1992 Cadillac and lives in an Old Northeast home purchased in 1987 for $185,000, according to county records. She owns shares of Allstate Corp., Bristol Myers, Caterpillar Inc., International Paper Co. and United Holding Inc.

Her daughter attends The Canterbury School of Florida, where tuition next year will be $7,900. Her son recently moved from Canterbury to St. Petersburg High School.

Ford was one of four mayoral candidates who declined to pay the fee, which goes to the state for deposit in the Elections Commission Trust Fund. Patrick Bailey, a collection agency owner; Louis Miceli, a factory worker; and Maria Scruggs-Weston, a hospital worker, also filed affidavits of undue burden with City Hall.

Another sitting council member running for office who filed the same affidavit is Earnest Williams, owner of an insurance agency. Williams, who was recently appointed to a temporary term on the council but is running for the District 6 seat, said he never considered paying the $233.37 fee to run for his seat from personal funds.

"I'm using the money (in my treasury) for campaign purposes and if there are additional dollars, they should be going to charity," Williams said.

City Council Chairman Larry Williams, a mayoral candidate, expressed surprise that Ford would swear she couldn't pay the fee. Candidate Karl Nurse, owner of a printing company, questioned Ford's rationale.

"Even with the downtown boys backing up a truckload of money for (mayoral candidate Rick) Baker, I couldn't deny that I could afford to pay it and I don't know how she can, either," he said.

Baker, an attorney, said his reading of the law made it clear that he should pay the fee.

"I never considered (seeking an exemption)," Baker said. "I don't know what the line would be, but I know that I'm above it. We paid it out of our (campaign) account."

As for Ford, Baker said, "I don't really have a comment on what she does. She obviously made her decision on that, and I don't know what her rationale was."

Candidate Omali Yeshitela also paid the fee.

Ronnie Beck, owner of a company that makes steel-shop drawings, said he paid the fee out of his campaign account, even though he thinks the state law requiring the fee is a bad idea.

"It says, "who is unable to pay the election assessment, imposing an undue burden on his or her personal resources,' " Beck noted. "Not campaign resources. I would say that that means if you paid it it would affect your ability to pay your mortgage or your groceries. Since I could come up with the money, I did."

Beck added: "I really wanted to file (an affidavit for an exemption) myself, because I could use the extra $1,000 in my campaign account. But how can you have a net worth in the hundreds of thousands and say, "I can't pay that?' "

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