Bill Edwards cut a sweet deal with St. Petersburg to run the city's Mahaffey Theater. He bought the nearly empty BayWalk retail complex, where taxpayers have invested more than $20 million, for a song. Now the music promoter and mortgage executive wants to buy control of a seat on the City Council.
Edwards has contributed $5,000 from businesses he controls to Robert Kersteen, who is running against Charlie Gerdes in the race for the District 1 City Council seat (full disclosure: The Times has recommended Gerdes). Never mind that Edwards says he has never met Kersteen. His 10 checks of $500 each now represent about one-third of what Kersteen has raised.
In races for state or federal offices, bundling checks totaling $5,000 would not raise an eyebrow. Campaigns for the Legislature cost six figures, and statewide campaigns run into the millions. In St. Petersburg, where even well-financed City Council candidates often raise far less than $50,000, it's cause for concern. Edwards controls one of the city's prime assets in the Mahaffey. He has not disclosed his plans for BayWalk, but you can bet he will be dealing with the city on issues ranging from the adjacent city-owned parking garage to marketing along publicly owned walkways.
Kersteen says he asked Edwards for a contribution and says, "I'm my own man.'' That wasn't necessarily the case in his previous tenure on the council, when he was criticized for conflicts of interest involving his then-employer. And Edwards has never shown any previous interest in St. Petersburg city elections.
Businesses and individuals who contract to provide goods or services to the federal government are prohibited from contributing to candidates in federal elections. If Edwards' contributions to Kersteen represent a new trend in St. Petersburg, the city should consider a similar ban.