City Council candidate Jerry Mullins has put his money where his mouth is — in a big way.
Mullins has loaned himself thousands of dollars to fund his run for Seat 4 on the Pinellas Park council. That is not unusual. Candidates often spend some of their own money when running for office.
What's unusual is the amount — $20,500.12 — for a job that pays $15,090 a year. And there are still two weeks left until the March 11 election.
Compare that to the amount his five opponents have taken out of their own pockets, in cash and in-kind contributions for their campaigns: Patricia Johnson, $5,300; Randy Heine, $2,626.50; Eddie Kosinski, $2,500; Patricia Macfarlane, $800; and Mary Brennan, $322.
And consider the candidates' financial reports from the other two races in Pinellas Park.
Mayor Bill Mischler, running for re-election, gave himself $200.
His opponent, first-time candidate Jan Macumber, donated $1,000 to herself.
Rick Butler, running for re-election to Seat 3, has taken $100 out of his own pocket. His opponent, well-known political gadfly Marshall Cook, contributed $300 to his own campaign.
Mullins, who owns a concrete business, said he's wealthy and can easily afford the money. But so can other candidates. So, why spend so much money for a seat on a City Council in a small town?
Many reasons, Mullins said, but the prime reason is to maintain his independence. Mullins said he has had offers of large contributions but has turned them down and has asked instead for small donations.
"I don't want the voters to think that I'm going to be owing anybody anything," Mullins said. "If I've paid my own way, if I get in there, I can vote my own conscience."
He also has had a couple of scrapes with the law, and that could necessitate an especially vigorous campaign.
Mullins said he considers his run for office a way of paying back a city that has been good to him. In the past, he has donated more than $100,000 to local charities, and he says this is simply a variation on that. A seat on the council, he said, will allow him to do much more for the community than donating money here and there. When the amount is placed in that perspective, he said, it is not so much.
"This is another way that I'm going to try to give back to the community that's been very good to me," he said.
Managing his history
This is Mullins' first run for the office, and he said he does not know how to do it. So he hired Mity Mo Design to advise him. Darden Rice, niece of former Sheriff Everett Rice, is one of Mity Mo's consultants to his campaign.
Mullins is not the first Pinellas Park candidate to hire a consultant. Nor is he the only candidate in the race for Seat 4 who has sought professional advice. Johnson, for example, has hired Neil Brickfield.
But with the funds he has been able to give Mity Mo, Mullins has cranked up the level of campaigning in Pinellas Park.
He's running a slick campaign that's a far cry from Pinellas Park's usual aw-shucks style, where candidates concentrate on the pancake circuit at the Mainlands.
He has papered the city with signs. They're so numerous that non-Pinellas Park residents who drive through the city comment on them. His Web site, www.jerrymullinsforcouncil.com, takes a potentially negative history, puts it out front before an opponent can do so, and tries to put a positive spin on it:
"My problems were alcohol, drugs, and getting caught up in bad decisions from that, including unfortunately even a DUI and drug possession. My struggles were self-inflicted, and I take full responsibility for my mistakes. I learned a lot of things the hard way, and I stand before you today a humbled, honest, and wiser person. I am thankful for my family who loves me and helped me when I needed them. Since then, I have started over. When (you) look at my record, you'll see the record of a man who has given back to his community and served with a cause and a purpose."
And money or no, Mullins is getting support. The Pinellas Park Dance Reunion and the Pinellas Park Thunderbirds youth football team have endorsed him. That's a first for both groups.
He has gotten the endorsement of Pinellas Park's branch of AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. AFSCME's $500 contribution is the largest Mullins shows on the campaign finance reports filed so far. He also has the endorsement of former Pinellas Park Mayor Mel Dinsmore, who gave him $100.
Butler, the Seat 3 incumbent, also supports Mullins.
Others get support
Mullins is not the only candidate to receive support from political notables in Pinellas Park.
Mary Brennan, a former state representative, was urged to run by Patricia Bailey-Snook, who is vacating Seat 4. Bailey-Snook has endorsed Brennan.
Former Mayor Cecil Bradbury has donated $140 to Eddie Kosinski. Kosinski also has received $60 from Joe Shelley, a regular at council meetings who demands that the council hire a voice analyst to determine who in the audience said something uncomplimentary about Randy Heine.
Several candidates have received money from Ron Book, the city's lobbyist. Pinellas Park pays Book a $60,000 retainer.
Mischler, the mayor, got $500 from Book and an additional $500 from Book's wife, Patricia. Butler, the Seat 3 incumbent, got $500 from Ron Book and another $500 attributed to both Books.
Brennan is the only challenger to receive money from Book. The $750 total Book donated to her is half of Brennan's $1,500 war chest.