Biggest donor in mayor's race explains the gift

Chicago pastor gives $300K to Watkins

January 26, 2011

(WBEZ/Sam Hudzik)
Patricia Van Pelt Watkins (center) takes questions about the donations she received from Apostle Joseph Stanford (right).

A Chicago minister is explaining why he gave more than $296,000 to Patricia Van Pelt Watkins, a little-known candidate for mayor. Apostle Joseph Stanford's donation to Watkins' campaign was the largest accepted by any mayoral candidate.

To make the gift, Stanford said he cashed in part of his retirement account.

"My wife has been a teacher for many years and I've worked in a lot of areas to develop different pensions and different savings that I've had," Stanford said at a press conference earlier this week.

Stanford insisted he does not expect his donation to buy him anything personally. If Watkins beats the odds and gets elected, he promises to not accept any position at city hall, noting his ministry work often keeps him away from Chicago.

"It would buy us a safe city, a safer city," Stanford said. "It would buy us a better education for our children."

Stanford leads the Ambassadors for Christ  World Outreach Ministries and founded Target Area Development Corporation, the non-profit that - until recently - Watkins directed.

Not counting the donations from Stanford, and Watkins' own contributions, employees of the church and non-profit donated more than $95,000 to the campaign.

"The media has not given me much attention, so therefore I can only draw money from my friends and family and people who know me," Watkins explained.

According to campaign finance reports filed with the state election board, Watkins' campaign not only received money from Stanford, it also paid him a little. In early December, Stanford received a $3,500 fee listed as "consulting."

Sara Sedlacek, a spokesperson for Watkins' campaign, said Stanford has been "an advisor to [Watkins'] life, so it seems fitting that he gives her some advice in this next phase in her life."

Asked why Stanford did not provide the consulting work free of charge, Sedlacek said "a lot of people who've worked for the campaign have donated to the campaign."

Watkins reported receiving just over a half-million dollars in campaign contributions as of the end of December. Stanford's contributions represent roughly 60 percent of that. He gave the donation in six parts, with the largest - at $280,000 - arriving on December 29th. That was just two days before new campaign contribution limits would've made a gift that large illegal.