The Knucklehead of the Day award
Today's winner is Florida Congressman Connie Mack IV. He gets the award for the following.
ESTERO, Fla. - An unexpected $10 million congressional earmark might seem like money from heaven for a fast-growing county needing billions for transportation improvements, but that's not the case with Coconut Road.Another corrupt congressman selling his influence but to top it off he then threatens his own constituents. How lovely. Congressman Connie Mack IV is today's Knucklehead of the Day.
No local public officials asked for the earmark, which specifically calls for a study on connecting Coconut Road to Interstate 75 in southwest Florida's Lee County. The congressman who represents the area says he didn't ask for it, either. But U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, sent the money anyway and made it clear it could only be used on Coconut Road.
"It just came out of the sky," Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah said.
Then last week, The New York Times reported a Michigan builder who threw a $40,000 fundraiser for Young in Florida two years ago owns thousands of acres of undeveloped land that would become a lot more valuable if Coconut Road were extended and connected to the interstate.
Judah and other members of the county's Metropolitan Planning Organization are scheduled to discuss the $10 million earmark again on Friday. The News-Press of Fort Myers reported Thursday that the national controversy surrounding the money may push officials to reject it.
The Metropolitan Planning Organization, made up of 15 local elected officials, had considered connecting Coconut Road to I-75 in long-term plans, but twice pulled it — even after Young's appropriation. The organization was rebuked by Young when the members suggested applying the $10 million to more pressing I-75 projects.
Young's response, in effect: Use the $10 million for Coconut Road or lose it.
U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV, R-Fort Myers, followed up with a January 2006 letter warning county officials of sending Congress an "unintended message ... that our region is willing to reject scarce federal resources." Mack also said rejection might keep the county from getting federal money for other important projects. Jeff Cohen, Mack's chief of staff, said this week the congressman now supports any decision local transportation officials make.
Mack invited Young to southwest Florida to discuss transportation issues with local leaders in February 2005, a meeting that helped secure $81 million in federal support for crucial I-75 widening projects in the growing region. Reporters at the Naples Daily News and News-Press of Fort Myers soon discovered the unusual $10 million Coconut Road earmark.
Last week, the Times connected Young's appropriation to Daniel J. Aronoff of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., whose companies own thousands of acres that would increase in value if Coconut Road connector were built. During the 2005 visit, Aronoff hosted a fundraiser that brought in $40,000 to the congressman's campaign.
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