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St. Petersburg council candidate Bill Dudley is 2nd to lean heavily on single donor

ST. PETERSBURG — A second candidate for City Council has gotten a major infusion of cash for his campaign war chest thanks to the efforts of a generous donor.

Last month, Bob Kersteen's campaign received $5,000 from Bill Edwards, which made up about a third of the money he had raised. Edwards is the owner of BayWalk and the manager of the city-owned Mahaffey Theater.

Turns out that Bill Dudley, the incumbent in the council's District 3 seat, has received about 35 percent of his contributions via another donor with strong ties to a city vendor.

Jonathan Stanton, president of a semiconductor company called NAC Group and his wife contributed $1,000 to Dudley's campaign on Dec. 8. According to Dudley, Stanton also collected money from friends, family and business associates to contribute another $4,500. Through Oct. 14, Dudley had raised $15,702 for his Nov. 8 contest against Brent Hatley.

A former teacher at Northeast High School, Dudley said he taught Stanton in the 1990s.

In 2007, Dudley said, Stanton helped raise more than $10,000 for his council campaign. Wanting to scare off potential challengers this year, Dudley went to Stanton again.

"My thought was, raise a bunch of money to show that I was serious," Dudley said. "So I called up Jonathan and said 'I'm running for re-election, will you be willing to raise money for me?' He said 'absolutely.' Two weeks later, he said he had the money."

One of the contributions that Stanton gave Dudley was $500 from Lema Construction & Developers, Inc. According to Florida corporate records, Stanton was Lema's president in 2009. Its president now is John Von Hof. Corporate records show that the address for Stanton's current business — 10001 16th St. N — is the same address for Lema.

Lema is a major city vendor.

On May 20, 2010, the City Council members and Dudley voted on consent — meaning it was on the part of the agenda where items weren't discussed and were approved automatically — a $1.6 million contract for Lema to build the new Lake Maggiore Fire Station No. 8. Dudley attended the station's Sept. 6 grand opening, which was touted in a news release for using sustainable energy design.

Today, the City Council will vote on awarding a $1.6 million contract to Lema to install roof top solar panels at 18 buildings in parks throughout the city.

Dudley, 67, said he doesn't see a conflict in accepting a sizable portion of his contributions through one person, even one with possible ties to a city vendor. Dudley said at the time he accepted the money, he believed Stanton was affiliated with Lema. Stanton couldn't be reached for comment.

"None of this matters because these contracts go through the bidding process, which I'm not a part of," Dudley said. "There was no impropriety."

Still, council members give final approval for contracts of more than $100,000.

Dudley said he asked city legal staff if he had a conflict and was told he didn't. It's the only time he remembers asking if he needed to abstain from voting.

Still, he doesn't remember when or what type of conflict he might have asked about. Nor does he remember who he asked — City Attorney John Wolfe or Chief Assistant City Attorney Mark Winn.

Neither Wolfe nor Winn said they recalled speaking to Dudley about the matter. Both said, however, that they were certain that there was no conflict for Dudley to accept contributions from vendors. Florida law gives candidates wide parameters in accepting campaign contributions, which are seen by the courts as a form of political speech.

But Hatley, who has raised about $4,500, most of it his own money, said he sees a potential conflict. "Mr. Dudley is the only one who knows if there is a conflict, so he shouldn't have to ask the attorneys if there is one," said Hatley, a radio producer. "If there's a conflict, he should recuse himself from (today's) vote. And sometimes, in politics, appearance of a conflict is bad enough."

Times researcher Caryn Baird and staff writer Jamal Thalji contributed to this story. Michael Van Sickler can be reached at mvansickler@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8037.

St. Petersburg council candidate Bill Dudley is 2nd to lean heavily on single donor 11/02/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 3, 2011 6:59am]
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