Campaign Sign Controversy

Cathy Salustri


  A longtime Realtor says that a prominent resident with ties to the city’s Board of Adjustment threatened her clients. That resident says the Realtor misspoke. 

  Delia Davidson, a real estate agent for Beach & Luxury Realty, says that her phone rang shortly before one on the afternoon of February 10. 

  “I’m calling about the lot on Shore Boulevard,” the man told her. “I’d like permission to put a Bob Worthington sign up.”

  Ms. Davidson says that one of the two property owners, Donnie Engle, had complained that someone had placed a Bob Worthington campaign sign on Shore Boulevard lot without his permission. Mr. Engle asked his partner to remove the sign and later requested that the Sam Henderson campaign put campaign sign on the lot. Ms. Davidson explained to the caller that, as the Realtor, not the owner, she couldn’t grant permission for anyone to put a sign on the property.

  “Are you telling me the owners of that lot are not supporting the next mayor of Gulfport?” She says the man asked her. She said she started to tell him she would need to speak with the property owners but he interrupted her.

  “Well,” she says he told her, “you tell them if they ever try to build or develop anything, it will never happen. I’m on the commission.”

  “I said, ‘What commission? Wait a second, what’s your name?” Ms. Davidson says.

  “My name’s not important,” she said the caller replied.

  “I told him, ‘You’re making a threat here and I feel like they should know where the threat’s coming from’,” she said. “And then he hung up.”

  The call lasted three minutes. 

  She called her Mr. Engle to let him know about the conversation. He asked for the number; she gave it to him. Mr. Engle said he searched for the number on Google and Lawrence Burke’s name came up as a Gulfport Area Chamber of Commerce member. 

  Mr. Burke’s daughter, Gina, sits on Gulfport’s Board of Adjustment, an autonomous committee that can make decisions about zoning and variances. Ms. Burke also serves as Bob Worthington’s campaign manager in next week’s mayoral election. Theodore Kehoe, whose son is in a long-term relationship with Ms. Burke and shares a home with both Ms. Burke and her parents, also sits on the Board of Adjustment.

  “That would explain his threat and why it wouldn’t be an idle one, either,” Mr. Engle said. He told the Gabber he felt “disbelief that that goes on in Gulfport” when Ms. Davidson told him about the call.

  “Of course I would expect that coming from St. Louis, in a big city, but in a little tiny town of Gulfport I would never think someone would be threatening, especially someone so prominent as Delia. Certainly Larry knew this was not going to stay with Delia,” Mr. Engle said.

  “It’s going to eventually hurt Donnie [and his partner], because if anyone wants to buy the lot they’re going to think that the city has a vendetta,” Ms. Davidson said. 

  City Clerk Lesley DeMuth said the city’s Board of Adjustment has autonomy from the city council.

  “They’re autonomous. None of their decisions come to council unless they’re appealed by the application,” City Clerk DeMuth said. 

  “I can assure you that there are many checks and balances before one individual can influence the process that way. Nobody can have that much influence. Many of the things the Board of Adjustment would see are covered by Florida Statute,” City Manager Jim O’Reilly said. “I would think this is connected – and I hate to use this word – it’s obviously politically oriented. I can assure you that none of these individuals speak on behalf of the city. The Board of Adjustment does grant variances, but they don’t have the authority to rezone a property.”

  Mr. Burke told the Gabber a different version of the phone call.

  “They misspoke in regard to what I said,” he says, explaining that he had considered buying the property several years ago and when he saw a Sam Henderson mayoral campaign sign on the property, “since I knew who the original owners were, I put the Worthington sign on it,” he said. He said when he noticed the sign was gone, he called Ms. Davidson, asked her why the sign came down, and told her “ ‘it seems to me you need all the support you can get, is what I was saying.”

  “I was told there was no authorization for any sign. Sam Henderson was not an authorized sign, according to the Realtor. My feeling is, very clearly, I’m not going to support somebody [who] accepts an unauthorized sign up there… I was told there was no authorization for any sign. Sam Henderson was not an authorized sign, according to the Realtor, and it was removed.”

  Mr. Engle told the Gabber that he supported Sam Henderson because he “hoped that someone younger, like Sam” could change the things he disliked about Gulfport.

  Mr. Henderson, upon learning of the sign controversy on the lot, told Ms. Davidson “if your guys want to take down my sign, I don’t mind. I don’t want to cause them any problems,” according to Ms. Davidson. Mr. Engle told Ms. Davidson he wanted to keep the Sam Henderson sign on the property.

 “I try not to be political,” Ms. Davidson says, “but this was totally just wrong and not OK. You can’t discriminate on the way somebody might vote. It’s wrong.”

  “I help everybody I can,” Mr. Burke told the Gabber. “My track record and the millions of dollars I’ve spent in the city of Gulfport should speak for itself, so if somebody wants to challenge me, bring it on.”

 

Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.