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Craddicks Seek Donors for Residence

Capitol apartment work could top $500,000
Story Courtesy of The Dallas Morning News
By Karen Brooks

AUSTIN – House Speaker Tom Craddick and his wife, Nadine, will soon start raising at least half a million dollars from lobbyists, corporations and other sources for an extensive renovation of their apartment inside the Capitol.

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Take a video tour of the apartment
It's unclear precisely what the project will cost. Documents recently released by the State Preservation Board and the speaker's office include an estimate of $441,000 for construction. And that doesn't include nearly $40,000 of wall-to-wall carpeting – partially paid for by the state, with the Craddicks planning to reimburse the cost with donations.

It also doesn't include new countertops, fixtures, appliances, kitchenware, bookcases, china, bathtubs, shower walls and other details that have been mentioned in documents as part of a "wish list" for the renovation, said Alexis DeLee, a spokeswoman for the Republican speaker.

Those details haven't been decided yet, she said.

But the new plans for the apartment, which was extensively renovated 11 years ago, have raised questions about the use of special-interest money to build a lavish residence for the speaker in a public building.

"You have to wonder what it is that's gotten into these so-called tightfisted leaders that they think it's all right to spend half a million dollars renovating their living quarters," said Tom "Smitty" Smith of the group Public Citizen, which tracks money in politics. Mr. Smith said apartments in public buildings should be renovated with public funds, not private donations, and are expected to be serviceable but not lavish.

Former Democratic Rep. Gib Lewis, during his tenure as House speaker during the 1980s and early '90s, came under similar criticism for building a loft inside the apartment and redecorating with private donations.

The apartment is unique, the only residential space in a capitol building in the country. Located behind the House chamber, it includes Mr. Craddick's office and a modest-sized living area, and it is often used for meetings and meals for state leaders. It is not open to the public and is not a stop in standard tours of the Capitol.

A similar space for the lieutenant governor was turned into an office and entertainment area after a fire in 1983.

Construction won't start until the cost estimates are completed, Ms. DeLee said, but the Craddicks "would like to finish the entire project before the beginning of the next regular session," in January.

The fundraising would target "regular donors and those interested in historical preservation," she said.

MEM Associates, a company connected with top lobbyist Bill Miller, a Craddick friend, has already donated $14,000 toward remodeling parts of the apartment. That check, Mr. Miller said, was "just to get things rolling" and was not the result of any formal request by the Craddicks.

Ms. DeLee said the AT&T Foundation, which has donated to other remodeling projects in the Capitol, expressed interest in funding at least part of the apartment renovation.

The Craddicks originally considered obtaining $1 million in state bonds for the project but opted to fund it entirely through donations.

A brochure targeting potential donors is in the works, Ms. DeLee said.

Drafts of the fundraising materials released by the preservation board include a letter from Mrs. Craddick asking for help in making the area "grand in style as well as function."

The donations are not subject to regular ethics rules governing gifts and donations to public officials because they are going through the State Preservation Board. Corporate donations are allowed.

The remodeling project includes replacing 10-year-old plastic countertops; gutting and remodeling both bathrooms and kitchens; eliminating the loft Mr. Lewis created; replacing plumbing fixtures and appliances in the bathrooms, kitchens and laundry room; installing a system to eliminate steam in the master bathroom; and rebuilding the master closet.

Ideas for additional details have included marble or granite countertops and $4,000 bathtub surrounds.

"We were told the only thing that would be required from speaker to speaker would be a new coat of paint," said Nelda Laney, wife of former Democratic Speaker Pete Laney, who lived in the apartment after its 1995 renovation.

Ms. DeLee has said the renovations are appropriate because of the wear and tear on the apartment and the fact that the kitchens are "woefully inadequate" for preparing food for the 150 House members.

Dealey Herndon, who oversaw the Capitol's extensive restoration as the executive director of the State Preservation Board in the mid-1990s, volunteered as a consultant on the Craddicks' project but said she hasn't been involved for at least eight months. The removal of the loft is good news, she said, because it deviates from the historic layout.

"My view always was that if private money is available and it's sensitive to the preservation of the building, there's no harm done," Ms. Herndon said.

E-mail kmbrooks@dallasnews.com

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