CLEARWATER — Brainstorming with his dad, Pinellas County Commission candidate Bob Hackworth devised the sassiest yard-sign slogan yet in a local campaign this year.
"Not for sale."
The stinger is a jab against better-funded County Commissioner Susan Latvala and about "restoring faith and trust in government," Hackworth said.
Latvala has amassed more than $115,000 in contributions for the Nov. 2 race, often from people and companies doing business with the county.
For example, Waste Management gave $500. Mark Postma, chief operating officer of Sunstar, the commission-approved ambulance provider, gave $500. Clerk of Court Ken Burke, who oversees internal auditing of the county, donated $100. Pinellas County Property Appraiser Pam Dubov, successor to a scandalized office, gave $710 in cash and in-kind money with her husband.
"I'm not saying she's for sale. I'm saying that I'm not for sale, and that's important," said Hackworth, adding the contributions to Latvala and others create a harmful perception. "I think there is a perception of a pay-for-play … culture that is there."
Latvala and her donors do see Hackworth's slogan as an accusation, and deny there was any hidden meaning behind the donations.
"I'm proud of the people who support me," Latvala said.
Latvala said the donations are a sign of respect and support for her after 10 years on the commission, and her prior eight years on the School Board.
In July, Latvala returned a $500 campaign donation to Clear Channel because the county is reworking its billboard standards at the company's urging.
It is legal to take donations from companies and people up to $500 in Florida; there's no restrictions on who can give.
Hackworth has promised not to accept any contributions above $100, and nothing from companies, or anyone doing business with Pinellas. He suggests the county ought to put limits on fundraising.
Raising $39,500, Hackworth is funding much of his campaign, providing more than $20,000 and the ability to draw down a home equity line of credit. He had the same approach running for Congress in 2008.
But Hackworth, mayor and city commissioner in Dunedin from 2002 to 2009, omits a few things from his record on the campaign trail.
Hackworth received $1,000 for his Congress run from George Rahdert, a developer who also is an attorney on First Amendment issues for the St. Petersburg Times. Rahdert's donation was received on Sept. 30, 2008. A few weeks later, Hackworth and city commissioners approved an ordinance the city manager said was crucial for Rahdert's renovation of the historic Fenway Hotel.
Rahdert, who with his wife also gave Hackworth $100 each for this commission run, said he thought key decisions for his project had already been made when he wrote his check in 2008. The timing with the project "never crossed my mind," Rahdert said.
"Obviously it wasn't based in any particular interest in Dunedin. It was just I generally support Democrats who are running for important office," Rahdert said.
Hackworth also took $1,500 from Ed Armstrong, an attorney and one of the county's top power brokers. The firm represented a developer fighting Dunedin's rejection of a condo complex in 2008.
Armstrong, a neighbor of Hackworth's, has donated $500 to Latvala, whom he publicly has supported. Often hired by developers facing the commission, he declined to comment.
"I can't go down that road," Armstrong said. "It's just too awkward."
Hackworth initially disputed that the men had city business before him when he took the contributions.
Then, he dismissed questions of conflicts because they donated for a campaign for Congress, not Dunedin. He didn't apply the same donation limits to his 2008 campaign.
"His record speaks for itself," Latvala said.
Hackworth said the donations pale in comparison to Latvala's contributions.
For example, he said it was wrong for Latvala to take Dubov's money after the 2007 scandal over the county buying then-Property Appraiser Jim Smith's land. The public, he said, needs faith that land values are fair.
"She supported me when I ran for property appraiser a few years ago when a lot of elected officials stood back and waited to see what would happen," said Dubov, who lives in East Lake, which falls in the north Pinellas district that Hackworth and Latvala are vying to represent.
There's no reason to question the motives behind her contributions, Dubov said.
"I don't have any dealings of a private nature with the County Commission. I'm not going to try to invent an answer to a question that doesn't exist."
David DeCamp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8779.