Money is rolling into the Durham mayoral race, with Farad Ali and Pierce Feelon far outraising Steve Schewel in the first six months of the year, according to campaign finance reports.
Ali, a former one-term City Council member, and political newcomer Pierce Freelon both raised nearly $60,000 in the first six months of the year, a record for this point in a mayoral race.
Meanwhile, City Council member Steve Schewel, a former school board member who has been elected to the council twice, reported raising $14,617 during the same period.
That’s $1 for Schewel to every $4 each for Ali and Freelon, according to midyear campaign reports that were due Friday.
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Schewel has raised a significant amount since that reporting period ended and now has more than $50,000 in his campaign treasury, he said.
Ali’s and Freelon’s campaigns said they have also raised additional funds, but declined to say how much.
Six people are running for mayor. Two didn’t file reports and another raised about $1,500.
Ali, 50, president and CEO of minority business development organization The Institute, raised $59,881 and spent $23,398, according to his midyear report.
At least $28,400 – or 47 percent – came from donors who listed cities or communities outside of Durham, including $10,000 from out-of-state addresses.
Ali, 50, linked the outside support to his serving on various local, regional and national boards, along with the Greater Durham County Chamber of Commerce, and his work with minority-owned firms from across the nation.
“I have been privileged to work for state organizations and national organizations, and so people have heard of my interest in running for mayor and they wanted to support my efforts,” he said.
Donors who gave more than $1,000 to Ali’s campaign include $2,500 from John Kane, founder and CEO of Raleigh real estate firm Kane Realty Corp., and $5,200 from Al Limaye, an engineer from Piscataway, New Jersey.
Lloyd Nichols, who gave a Durham address and is listed as general manager at Pipetechs Plumbing, donated $3,000. Evelyn Shaw, who listed a Fayetteville address and occupation as chairwoman of Fayetteville Public Works Commission, gave $2,000.
Freelon, a hip-hop artist and creator of Blackspace, a digital maker space on Corcoran Street, has raised $59,844 and spent $22,549, according to his report.
About $26,155 – or 44 percent – came from donors who listed their addresses outside of Durham, which includes $13,200 from out of state.
About $2,000 came from Washington, D.C.-based LaunchProgress Political Action Committee, which supports young, bold progressives from diverse backgrounds for state and local office, according to its website.
About $10,400 came from Freelon’s parents, jazz singer and composer Nnenna Freelon and architect Phil Freelon. Each gave the $5,200 maximum an individual can donate.
Joshua Parker, a Durham resident who’s listed as a principal at Baltimore, Maryland-based real estate consulting firm Cross Street Partners, also gave $2,500. Timothy David Proctor Jr, who’s listed as an investor, donated $5,200. Karen Proctor, listed as retired, gave $5,000. Michael Tiemann, chief technology officer at Red Hat, gave $2,500.
Joshua Vincent, Freelon’s campaign manager, said the donations from outside Durham isn’t surprising considering the digital media Freelon is using and the excitement the 33-year-old’s campaign is generating.
“Given the climate and the focal point that North Carolina has been for the last eight years at least, it’s not surprising that people outside of the state take an interest in local politics and things that are happening here that are shaping the political landscape,” Vincent said.
Schewel, 66, an assistant professor at Duke University, raised about $14, 617 during that first six month period, and spent $2,613, according to his report. His campaign also started this election cycle with $9,329 in cash.
About 4 percent came from outside of Durham. One $150 donation came from a resident of Bahama in northern Durham County and $450 came from donors who listed addresses outside the state.
The largest donation on his report, $1,000, came from Marcia McNally, a a self-employed landscape and city planner.
Schewel’s not concerned his initial report lagged so far behind. He said he has more than $50,000 in his campaign fund now, the great majority of it from Durham folks.
“I have not solicited out-of-state donations or donations outside the city of Durham,” he said. “I will certainly get a few from family members and friends from outside who will donate to me, but I believe Durham people ought to decide Durham’s elections.”
Fundraising is important Schewel said, but it’s not the end all be all.
In his 2015 City Council campaign, he was the fourth-highest fundraiser but received the most votes in a six-person election.
“Durham is a place where grassroots activism is what matters most,” he said.
Candidates who expect to raise or spend more than $1,000 are required to file campaign disclosure reports outlining fundraising and spending.
Candidate Sylvester Williams said he doesn’t plan to meet that threshold. Tracy Drinker said he hasn’t filed a report yet. Shea Ramirez’s report indicates she has raised about $1,563 so far and spent $1,080.
In 2007, Thomas Stith III set the record for fundraising for this point in Durham’s mayoral races by raising $53,750 in his campaign treasury in an intense battle as he tried to unseat incumbent Bill Bell.
Bell, who has been mayor since 2001 and isn’t running for re-election this year, won 58 percent of the vote that year despite Stith spending $150,000. Bell spent much less.
Bell said it’s important to look at how many local people are willing to contribute to a campaign, but that doesn’t discount the impact of money in the treasury.
Regardless of where it comes from, it pays for signs, door hangers, community events, and workers at the polls.
“It allows you to get your message out so many different ways,” he said. “And when you are doing that, the message is what attracts people, not where the money came from to get that message out. It depends what the message is.”
The next campaign finance report is due Sept. 5.
When do you vote?
Early voting for the Oct. 10 primary starts Sept. 21 and ends Oct. 7.
The top two finishers in the mayoral and City Council ward races will proceed to the Nov. 7 general election.