Taverns Triumph Over Tenants in Campaign Donations

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Editor’s Note: This article originally ran yesterday under the headline “Tenants Trump Taverns in Campaign Donations.” The premise, that those in favor of further night life restrictions downtown had donated more than those against the restrictions, was incorrect and based on an incomplete analysis of campaign finance reports. We also incorrectly listed Player’s Retreat as a donor. It was one of their employees. A re-analysis has been completed, although it is possible there are a few small donors missing from each “side.” 

A recent claim that bar owners have an outsize voice in shaping the future of downtown Raleigh is bolstered by an analysis of campaign finance records through September 30 for the 2015 council and mayoral races.

Bar and restaurant owners throughout Raleigh have donated a total of $26,890 to a total of 10 candidates for mayor and city council this election cycle.

The number goes up to $27,490 when a $500 contribution from Devan Patel, who plans to build a hotel in downtown Raleigh, and a $100 contribution from the NC Lodging and Restaurant Institution, are included.


Those who have publicly come out in favor of more restrictions on downtown night life donated a total of $14,100 to five candidates over the same period, or slightly more than half the amount spent by their opponents.

“Raleigh Residents Are Being Left Out of the Conversation”

Last week, the political action committee Wake Citizens for Good Government kicked off a media campaign focusing on the downsides of Raleigh’s growing bar scene. Chaired and funded to the tune of $30,000 by Public Policy Polling CEO Dean Debnam, the campaign is known for coining the term “DrunkTown.”

The ads claimed that Raleigh residents were being left out of the conversation on the future growth of the downtown core, and that bar owners had an outsize voice in shaping this future.


A portion of an ad that ran in the News & Observer last week

Reliable figures for the cost of this campaign, or for promotional and get out the vote efforts conducted by competing groups such as Keep Raleigh Vibrant, were not available for analysis.

In addition to the Wake Citizens PAC, campaign finance records show that Debnam was the largest contributor in favor of more restrictions, and that he has contributed  a total of $10,100 to four political candidates in 2015.

These donations included $1,000 to Councilor Bonner Gaylord District E, $2,000 to Mayor Nancy McFarlane, $2,000 to District A Challenger Dickie Thompson and $5,100 to Councilor Russ Stephenson, At-Large.

Gaylord voted against a restriction on sidewalk dining in August, while both Stephenson and McFarlane voted in favor.

Greg Hatem, a Fayetteville Street resident, the owner of Empire Eats and Empire Properties and a known proponent for a quieter downtown, donated $3,000 to three separate campaigns.

Hatem donated $1,000 each to the campaigns of Gaylord, Stephenson and Thompson.

Will Marks, a downtown resident and a vocal advocate for both outdoor dining and outdoor noise restrictions, donated a total of $2,000, split evenly between Stephenson and Kay Crowder, District D.

Note: Hatem and Marks are both members of a group named the Fayetteville Street District Community Action Group, which has worked to advocate for both noise and sidewalk dining restrictions.

Keeping Raleigh Vibrant

Given the amount of night life options in downtown Raleigh, it should come as little surprise that more than 30 restaurant and bar owners have contributed nearly $30,000 to various council and mayoral campaigns.


The final number we’ve come up with — $27,490 — is based on an analysis of campaign finance records and, as we mentioned includes two non-restaurant donations. We only counted contributions from owners or investors in restaurants and bars, and not regular employees. There were some restaurateurs excluded from this figure, which we will address below.

The largest donor has been Niall Henley, owner of the Hibernian and the Raleigh Beer Garden. Henley donated $2,500 each to Baldwin, Smith and Tomasulo and $1,000 to JB Buxton for a total of $8,500.

For a full list of the donors we took into account for this article, please check the spreadsheet below, which also lists PAC donations to most candidates.

One group that did not donate but which has been active on the side of bars and restaurants has been the Young Government Association. Former mayor of Raleigh Smedes York of York Properties was a speaker at the launch of the “Young Government Association” at Hunt Library on NC State’s campus in September. The group’s stated goal is to increase voter registration and turnout among young voters.

We considered including York Property’s donations as part of the overall figure, but did not. Due to the large number of development and construction companies that donated, we felt York did not deserve to be singled out. We also excluded Sam Longiotti of Plaza Realty, who donated $4,000. Longiotti owns the Crabtree Valley Mall and other properties.

The restaurateurs we left out include:

  • The Angus Barn’s Van Eure, both because the Angus Barn is not downtown and because the candidates to whom she donated were somewhat of a mix: Baldwin, Gaylord, Stephenson, Woodhouse
  • $5,000 from Theodore Fowler of Golden Corral, to Eddie Woodhouse in District A
  • $500 from James Maynard of Investors Holding Company, the owners of Golden Corral, to Eddie Woodhouse in District A
  • $100 from Drew Schneck, owner of Rally Point in Cary, to Bonner Gaylord
  • $250 from Andy Martin, owner of two North Raleigh McDonald’s franchises, to Nancy McFarlane
  • $450 from the owners of the Irregardless Cafe, as this money was only donated to McFarlane, Stephenson and Crowder

We did include, however, $100 from the owner of Mitch’s Tavern to Kay Crowder, although it was unlikely related to the vibrancy issue.

Back to the Young Government Association. YGA’s website is registered to Mike Occhipinti, the CEO of Average Joe Promo. On its website, Average Joe Promo lists Raleigh pizza restaurant Rudinos as a client, as well as several restaurants in Pittsburgh, including a Popeyes and a Subway.

Zach Medford, the owner of Isaac Hunter’s Hospitality, which owns the bars Coglin’s, Common 414 and Paddy O’Beers in downtown Raleigh, was also a speaker at the YGA meeting in September.

Medford has been an outspoken critic of the restrictions placed on sidewalk dining, and has been working through the 501(c)(4) organization Keep Raleigh Vibrant to promote candidates who support the easement of restrictions on downtown night life.

Average Joe Promo employees have worked with Keep Raleigh Vibrant at voter registration and get out the vote events.


Medford himself donated a total of $875 to three campaigns: $675 to District D challenger Ashton Smith, $100 to At-Large challenger Matt Tomasulo and $100 to At-Large incumbent Mary-Ann Baldwin.

Ben Yanessa and Brad Bowles, both also of Isaac Hunter Hospitality, donated a total of $650, all of it to Smith.

Other donors of note on the restaurant and bar side:

  • $5,100 to Smith from Dan Lovenheim, owner of the 606 Lounge
  • $1,000 to Baldwin from Abdessamad Hachby, owner of Babylon
  • $2,300 to Smith from Kenneth Yowell, from DLK Holdings and the director of Operations for Oak City Meatball Shoppe, East Main Meatball Shoppe, Calavera Empanadas and Tequila, and Moonlight Pizza
  • $1,000 to Smith from Hans Huang, an investor in Calavera
  • $1,500 to Bonner Gaylord from Doyle Parrish of Summit Hospitality

Overall donations in this field:

  • Smith $13,575
  • Baldwin $4,600
  • Tomasulo $3,250
  • Woodhouse $1,750
  • Gaylord $1,650
  • Buxton $1,500
  • Weeks $1,250
  • Crowder $100 from the aforementioned Mitch’s Tavern
  • Stephenson $75 from the owners of Deep South, which also donated to Baldwin.

 Other Donations of Note

One of the claims made by the Wake Citizens for Good Government campaign was that At-Large Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin was receiving significant backing from the bar and restaurant industry, and that she was fueling the candidacies of Matt Tomasulo and Ashton Smith.

From an ad that ran in last week's News & Observer

From an ad that ran in last week’s News & Observer

In fact, the only candidate to whom Baldwin donated was Councilor Weeks in District C; $500 on July 10. Her husban, Jim Baldwin, donated $250 to District B’s John Odom on August 25.

As for Baldwin’s bar bucks, she received $1,000 from Abdessamad Hachby of Babylon, $150 from David Rose of Deep South, $500 from Gaurav Patel from Eschelon, $2,500 from Niall Hanley of Hibernian, $100 from Zach Medford, $100 from NC Lodging & Restaurant Association and $250 from David Meeker of Trophy Brewing.

This is a total of $4,100, or around five percent of the total amount of money, $74,249.45, that Baldwin’s campaign had raised as of September 28.

Mayor Nancy McFarlane and her husband Ronald, however, spent a significant amount of money, both as individual donors and through the Nancy McFarlane Committee, supporting other candidates.

The largest beneficiary was Kay Crowder in District D, who received a total of $14,100 from the McFarlanes. She received $2,000 from Nancy McFarlane on June 2, another $3,000 from her on September 4, $5,100 from her husband Ronald McFarlane on September 14 and $4,000 from the Nancy McFarlane Committee on September 15.

Next up was District A candidate Dickie Thompson, who received $5,000 from Nancy McFarlane on July 26, $5,100 from Ronald McFarlane on September 11 and $1,500 from the Nancy McFarlane Committee on September 1.

At-Large councilor Russ Stephenson benefitted as well, with a $4,000 donation from the Nancy McFarlane Committee on September 9 and $1,000 from Nancy McFarlane on July 2.

Ronald McFarlane donated $3,000 to District C challenger Corey Branch on September 24, and Nancy McFarlane donated $2,500 to Gaylord in District E on June 29.

John Kane of Kane Realty donated more than $19,000 to 11 campaigns. His largest donation of $5,000 was, not surprisingly, made to Councilor Bonner Gaylord, an employee of Kane Realty. Kane also made donations to all At-Large candidates except Craig Ralph, and both candidates in District C.

Local attorney Mack Paul, who appears frequently before city council, donated $6,250 across seven campaigns, including $1,250 for Gaylord and $1,000 each for McFarlane, Tomasulo, Weeks and Buxton.

Former Mayor Charles Meeker donated $3,000 across six campaigns, including $1,000 for McFarlane and $250 each for District C incumbent Weeks and challenger Branch.

Do Me a Kindness

One type of campaign contribution we did not include in the overall total were in-kind donations. These are donations of goods or services, as opposed to cash.

As many of these in-kind donations are from private individuals, we did not compile a full list of every in-kind, only the ones from restaurateurs.

Although Smith received the most cash from restaurateurs, McFarlane won out when it came to in-kinds with a total of $5,150: Greg Hatem donated $900 worth of event space, Deep South provided $1,500 worth of “PA system and labor” and Irregardless Cafe donated $2,500 worth of catering.

Smith did come in second for restaurant in-kinds with a total of $4,216 from six individuals/businesses. The largest portion came from Niall Hanley of Hibernian, who donated $800 worth of food and a $400 venue rental.

Matt Tomasulo received in-kind donations from 11 individuals/businesses in the restaurant industry for a total of $4,120. The largest portion came from Vansana Nolintha of Bida Manda, who donated $200 worth of wine and $800 worth of “wine and seafood pouches.”

Kay Crowder received a $3,176 in-kind donation for a campaign kickoff party from Greg Hatem.

Bonner Gaylord got $2,000 of catering for his kickoff from Vansana Nolintha of Bida Manda.

Although we’re not including individual in-kinds here, we did think it was worth noting that David Cox, who raised most of his money from small individual donors and neighbors, received among his in-kind donations the following: a $20.38 vegetable tray, a $53.92 plate of cookies and $30 worth of cream puffs.

Overall Campaign Stats

Here is a breakdown of the total amount of money raised, per documents available October 4, 2015. Incumbent District E Councilor Bonner Gaylord was the big winner, with a total of $184,473.10 raised.

Combined, all 18 candidates have raised a total of $1,017,418.76.

  • Mayoral Challenger Robert Weltzin: $11,941
  • Mayoral Incumbent Nancy McFarlane: $126,620
  • At-Large Incumbent Mary-Ann Baldwin: $74,249.45
  • At-Large Challenger Craig Ralph: $15,971.74
  • At-Large Incumbent Russ Stephenson: $91,158.39
  • At-Large Challenger Matt Tomasulo: $64,221.52
  • District A Challenger JB Buxton: $97,445
  • District A Challenger Dickie Thompson: $84,785.07
  • District A Challenger Eddie Woodhouse: $36,979
  • District B Challenger David Cox: $18,607.34
  • District B Incumbent John Odom: $30,955
  • District C Challenger Corey Branch: $21,174
  • District C Incumbent Eugene Weeks: $34,776
  • District D Incumbent Kay Crowder: $59,545
  • District D Challenger Ashton Smith: $45,364
  • District E Challenger DeAntony Collins: $1,142
  • District E Incumbent Bonner Gaylord: $184,473.10
  • District E Challenger Edie Jeffreys: $18,011.15


A Pair of Interesting Expenses

One last thing — while reviewing the campaign finance records, we noticed two interesting campaign expenditures from Nancy McFarlane and Russ Stephenson. Both employed Public Policy Polling, with McFarlane paying $2,250 on 9/17, and Stephenson paying $1,500 the same day.

McFarlane received a total of $2,000 in donations from Public Policy Polling CEO Dean Debnam. Stephenson received a total of $5,100 in donations from Debnam.

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