http://www.capecodonline.com/cctimes/islandairport23.htm Island airport wants its share of John Kerry catering bill Manager on overdue $847 commission: 'Apparently they don't feel like he needs to pay fees to the airport' By LOMI KRIEL STAFF WRITER NANTUCKET -When the biggest plane to ever land on the island touched down with U.S. Sen. John Kerry and his entourage, airport manager Al Peterson never imagined he would have trouble getting paid. Kerry just raised a record-breaking $99.2 million in three months, and his personal finances reach the $1 billion threshold with his wife, Theresa Heinz Kerry. But a caterer who bought food on the island for Kerry's campaign jet ducked one bill and haggled over another. "Apparently they don't feel like he needs to pay fees to the airport," Peterson said. "I gather the senator objects to that because his aide quoted him as saying that he already pays taxes on the island." Peterson is out $847 from the two visits Kerry has paid to the island since he became the presumptive Democratic nominee. The first time, the person who arranges food service for Kerry's chartered Boeing 757 worked directly with a Nantucket caterer, bypassing the 25 percent handling fee typically paid to the airport. The food bill had come to $2,388, so Nantucket airport would have been paid $597. The second time, after being reminded to go through the airport for catering, Scott Lalka, who coordinates food for Kerry's flights, said he would only pay $150 of the $400 bill he owed the airport. According to Peterson, Lalka told him that he represented the Kerry campaign and the candidate did not feel he needed to pay the fees because he already pays taxes on Nantucket. The airport has never had a problem with other passengers paying handling fees, Peterson said. And it's not that the cobbled streets of Nantucket are untouched by fame. The island has long been host to many a celebrity's summer vacation including other political heavyweights like Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee. The island is also a getaway for actor Jim Carrey and crooner Harry Connick Jr. "But everyone else pays a catering fee," Peterson said. Kerry's campaign spokeswoman declined to comment. Boeing jet Lalka works for Catering Specialist, a catering company hired by Air Charter Team, which handles the logistical details of Kerry's air travels. During most of the primaries Kerry flew on a succession of chartered jets, but he upgraded to the customized campaign plane now emblazoned with his name when it became clear he had secured the Democratic nomination. Similar to the one used by President Bush during the 2000 campaign, the 94-seat plane is divided into five cabins, including a VIP cabin, a conference room and two compartments for news media. The Boeing 757-200 costs $26,000 per flight hour. The expense of the plane makes the dispute over such a small amount all the more curious. And exactly who is responsible for paying the bills in unclear. Peterson and Tina Smith, the business operations manager for Nantucket airport, said Lalka represented himself as speaking for the candidate. "I talked to him," Smith said. "He said he was speaking on behalf of the Kerry campaign. Absolutely." Jonathan Tasler, a part-owner of Air Charter Team, said Lalka was misinterpreted. "My sense is that Scott was representing that he was catering for Kerry's campaign but does not speak for the Kerry campaign," Tasler said. Lalka could not be reached to comment. Smith explained the 25 percent handling fee is charged by the airport for all catering transactions. Customers typically call the airport and are matched with a catering company that best fits that customer's palate. The airport usually refrigerates the food and transports it to the plane. But even if the airport has no direct involvement with the food, as in Kerry's case, Smith said the handling fee is a standard charge. "It's business for the airport," Smith said. "We don't take any taxpayer money." Commission added Normally the airport will pay the local caterer and the bill the plane's owner with the 25-percent commission added, she said. Last year the commission added up to $27,500 for $110,000 in catering business. On Kerry's Father's Day weekend visit to the island in June - his first under Secret Service protection - Lalka worked directly with a local catering company when ordering food for the campaign plane. Smith said someone representing Kerry first called the airport for catering suggestions and were given "A Taste of Nantucket," a local catering company that offers anything from a traditional Nantucket clambake to steak dinners. Smith said "A Taste of Nantucket" was told the campaign had made agreements to pay the caterer and airport separately, but no such arrangement had been made. The catering company "assumed that they were telling the truth," Smith said. That bill, which included breakfast and lunch for 50 passengers and nine crew, came to $2,388, Smith said. "We did find out about it but by then it was too late," Peterson said. On Kerry's second visit this past weekend, the campaign again wanted to order food for the plane. This time, Peterson said the catering company reminded Kerry's staff about the airport fee. "The caterer told the campaign what the airport fee was and they called us and complained," Peterson said. Peterson said Lalka objected to the $400 fee and instead offered to pay $150. "It's like you don't like the size of your telephone bills and you tell them what you're going to pay," Smith said. The original menu included dinner at $32 a head, but dinner was swapped for appetizers, reducing the bill to $1,600, Smith said. Kimberley Reed, who owns A Taste of Nantucket and has worked through the airport since 1998, declined to comment. Tasler first said Lalka might have thought the 25 percent service charge to be unreasonable when all the airport did is allow the food to be delivered. "Our caterer is very good at keeping so many clients for so many different airports," Tasler said. "If he sees something outside the norm, he's going to go back to them and ask them to be more reasonable." For his part, Tasler said his company "never intended that (Peterson) make an exception for the Kerry campaign." But after a Cape Cod Times began asking questions about the dispute this week, Tasler said the bill would be paid. "We're going to take care of Al and make sure he's all squared away," Tasler said late yesterday afternoon. Henry Brady, a political science and public policy professor at the University of California at Berkeley said he didn't think Kerry could be blamed for the airport's unpaid bills. "He hired someone to do something and he acted poorly in his name," Brady said. "It's not like (Kerry) did it." Peterson said the airport had never previously had problems with Kerry. Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, often ordered catering when traveling on her private plane, Smith said, and "there's never been a problem before." And management from Black Eyed Susan's and Oran Mor -restaurants on Nantucket which Kerry likes to frequent - said Kerry's never had problems paying his bills. "He's just a normal customer," said Peter Wallace, manager and owner of Oran Mor. Kerry has vacationed on Nantucket since he was 3 years old. After marrying Heinz, the two have used her $9 million, five-bedroom house near Brant Point as a quiet getaway destination. Kerry spent most of this week relaxing at the Nantucket home and writing his acceptance speech for the Democratic National Convention next week.