Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Businessman Gave Cecil Group $100,000; the Ponte Vedra Beach Man Backs a Referendum to Return the Facility to Navy Control

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Businessman Gave Cecil Group $100,000; the Ponte Vedra Beach Man Backs a Referendum to Return the Facility to Navy Control

Article excerpt

Byline: GREGORY PIATT

Ken Underwood contributed nearly $100,000 last month to Vote Jacksonville, the group he helped found to generate a voter referendum that would require Jacksonville to let the Navy reopen Cecil Field as a master jet base.

Underwood, a small-business entrepreneur who owns more than 100 companies, was the sole contributor to the group, according to a campaign treasurer's report filed Friday.

Vote Jacksonville spent nearly $96,000 in July on a public relations campaign, filming at least two television commercials, paying for people to collect signatures for its petition and for a lawyer to represent the group.

Underwood, who lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, said he doesn't want to ask for contributions until the issue is going to be on the ballot.

The Duval County Supervisor of Elections Office announced Thursday the group had enough signatures on its petitions to get the referendum, which would change the city's charter, on the Nov. 7 general election ballot. However, city leaders who oppose the Navy's return to Cecil have said they plan to challenge the referendum in court.

"That's why I used my own money," Underwood said. "It shows my commitment to national defense."

Underwood, a former Navy pilot and retired American Airlines pilot, said reopening of the base would help the Navy in its training of fighter pilots and boost the local economy.

In 1994, Underwood started a driver education company in Jacksonville and in two years it became the largest in the country, graduating more than 100,000 students a year from 150 locations, according to the Web site for his online traffic school. He eventually sold the company to a group of investors led by Ford Motor Co. and J.P. Morgan Chase and Co., the Web site said.

Now, he has re-entered the driving school business along with other businesses that put consumers on the National Do Not Call Registry. …

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