Catherine Padilla wanted speed bumps in her Lantana, Fla., neighborhood. After seeing a poodle, a cat, and a school-aged girl get hit by cars, she had nicknamed her street the “13th Street Raceway," launched a petition to lobby local officials, and even gotten so desperate that she would stand outside with a homemade sign that said “SLOW DOWN.” Finally, in August 2015, the town council granted her wish.
It made for a feel-good story about civic activism — until this winter, when Padilla told local media outlets and the Florida Commission on Ethics that David Stewart, Lantana’s mayor since 2000, had asked her to have sex with him in exchange for installing the speed bumps, and she had rejected his advances. The commission announced last Wednesday that it had found probable cause that Stewart “misused his position to attempt to obtain a sexual benefit for himself," and “solicited sex from a constituent based on an understanding his vote, official action, or judgment would be influenced.”
Stewart could not be reached for comment late Tuesday night, but told the Palm Beach Post that it would be inappropriate to comment. He vehemently denied the accusations when they became public in February, calling them “totally and completely false.”
“In the 18 years I’ve been mayor, there has never been a quid pro quo or anything asked for or given in favor of me voting in a special or certain direction,” he told WPTV in February.
The complaint that prompted the ethics probe will not be made public until the investigation is over, but Padilla previously detailed her allegations against Stewart in interviews with the Palm Beach Post and WPTV. She told both outlets that she had become friends with the mayor through the Kiwanis Club, a civic group focused on community service, and they had eaten lunch together one day in 2015. Afterward, Stewart drove her to a motel and indicated that he wanted to have sex with her, Padilla said. She declined and didn’t get out of the car.
Padilla told WPTV that she heard from the mayor about a week after the incident, when he learned that she was trying to get street bumps installed. She told the station that Stewart had said to her, “It’s not too late, you can still have sex with me and I will guarantee that you get your speed humps that you want.”
Padilla’s ex-husband died in a sewage plant accident in January 2015, and she told the Palm Beach Post in February that she hadn’t felt strong enough to come forward with the complaint against Stewart until this year.
In March, Padilla filed a second complaint, this time accusing Stewart of making inappropriate comments to another city official. According to the Palm Beach Post, Padilla told the ethics commission that she had heard Lantana Town Manager Debbie Manzo complain about her entree selection at a Kiwanis Club banquet. Padilla alleged that Stewart had responded, "Well, you haven’t tried my meat yet.” The ethics commission dismissed the complaint in June without investigating it, saying the allegation did not show that Stewart had misused his position as a public official.
Stewart now can choose whether to settle the case or have a hearing, the Palm Beach Post reported. If he opts for a hearing and is found to have violated the state’s ethics statutes, he could face a penalty of up to $10,000 or potentially be suspended or removed from office.
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