Developer Dominic F. Antonelli Jr., one of Washington's major commercial landowners, and 15 corporations in which he is a partner have contributed at least $57,500 to three of the major candidates for mayor in the Democratic primary.
The contributions, which account for one of every nine dollars of the $502,728 contributed to the four major candidates, occurred within a span of three days last week and mark the first time that any one person has assumed such a dominant role in local campaign financing here. D.C. election laws permit corporate campaign contributions.
According to reports filed with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, Antonelli gave one candidate, City Council member John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2), $26,500, which accounted for 28 percent of the $96,048 that Wilson has collected. Most of those contributions were made last Thursday.
On Friday, Antonelli and associates gave at least $12,000 to Mayor Marion Barry's reelection committee, about 7 percent of the money raised so far by the Barry campaign, according to finance records.
On Saturday, the Antonelli-affiliated groups gave $19,000 to council member John Ray's campaign committee--nearly 10 percent of the $203,761 Ray has collected so far, according to the records. A fourth major candidate, council member Betty Ann Kane, received no money from Antonelli or the firms.
Antonelli, 59, an often private but highly respected businessman in Washington, is the owner of the city's largest parking firm, Parking Management Inc., and a coowner of at least eight shopping centers and nearly two dozen office buildings.
Antonelli has been one of the dominant forces in Washington development for decades, helping to shape the skyline of the nation's capital. He is a partner in nearly five dozen corporations.
Over the years, he has avoided contact with the news media. Yesterday, he declined to return several telephone calls from a reporter.
Ray said yesterday that he presumes Antonelli is "covering all the bases" by making campaign contributions to most of the major candidates, but doubts Antonelli is pursuing some grand strategy.
"He knows me, John and Marion, and he probably feels each of us would be a mayor he could live with," Ray said.
Ray said he and Walter Pozen, a lawyer who is active in Ray's campaign and a member of Stroock Stroock & Lavan, a law firm that represents Antonelli, had a luncheon meeting with the developer Jan. 19.
At the meeting, Ray said, Antonelli stressed the importance of D.C. officials providing economic incentives to keep and attract businesses in the city.
Throughout the luncheon, Antonelli complained about the large number of businesses that have left Washington, Ray said, while praising Mayor William Donald Schaefer of Baltimore for having created an economic climate favorable to business in that city.
"He and other businessmen feel there's an antibusiness climate in this city," Ray said of Antonelli. "He spent 25 minutes rattling off the number of businesses he knows of that have left the city . . . He understands that if we're to have the adequate tax base here, we need to encourage business to stay and grow."
Wilson, head of the council's taxation committee, said yesterday he had not solicited the money and did not realize that Antonelli had given him that much.
"If the question is are we for sale," Wilson said in a telephone interview, "the answer is no. If the question is are we accepting campaign contributions, the answer is yes.
"Let me make it perfectly clear so we understand. Everything they have wanted to do we have opposed," said Wilson, whose ward includes most of the downtown area.
"Is he trying to buy something?" one longtime friend and occasional business associate asked rhetorically. "If he were, this is certainly not the way to do it. It's too obvious. Nick is a smart businessman and a smart person. I can't believe it . . . . He's out on the point."
Antonelli was a member of one of five groups competing for selection as the developer of the 10-acre Portal site in Southwest Washington. Yesterday, however, the city urban renewal agency passed over the Antonelli group and chose another partnership, Banneker Associates, for the project.
Lindell Tinsley, director of the Office of Campaign Finance, said the contributions from Antonelli and the firms in which he is involved do not violate city law. Tinsley said Antonelli would be breaking the law only if the corporate entities that made the contributions were set up solely to funnel money to political campaigns.
District election law permits an individual or a company to give up to $2,000 to every candidate in both the primary and general elections.
Among the Antonelli-affiliated firms that made contributions were MayWash Associates, which owns the 1,000-room Mayflower Hotel at 1127 Connecticut Ave. NW; Whippet Associates, which owns land and a parking garage at Eighth and D streets NW, and several firms named for the address of the properties they own in Northwest Washington--1752 N Street Associates Ltd. Partnership, 1111 19th Street Associates, 1101 17th Street Associates and 1325 G Street Associates.
Last year, in a filing with the Redevelopment Land Agency as part of his bid for the rights to develop the 10-acre Portal Estate site, Antonelli submitted a listing of his holdings as of Dec. 31, 1980, showing that he is a principal or partner in 57 different firms.
Most of the contributions were for $1,000, $1,500 or $2,000. Antonelli gave some of the money as an individual and some was also contributed by his wife Judith and his daughter Lee.
In April 1978, a federal grand jury indicted Antonelli and Joseph P. Yeldell, former director of the D.C. Department of Human Resources. According to the indictment Yeldell arranged for the city to lease an Antonelli property at 60 Florida Ave. NE for $5.6 million in exchange for Antonelli's help in securing $54,000 in loans for Yeldell and a travel agency of which Yeldell was a coowner.
Yeldell and Antonelli were convicted of bribery and conspiracy charges by a U.S. District Court jury here on Oct. 25, 1978, but the verdict was thrown out after it became known that a juror had failed to disclose that her father had once been fired by Antonelli. At a second trial in Philadelphia in September 1979, the two men were found innocent.