In the race for mayor of Durham, three candidates have each raised between $74,000 and $107,000, the latest campaign finance reports show.
“It’s not a small amount. It’s not $500,000 either,” said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, a nonpartisan organization that promotes “meaningful” pro-democracy reform. “For an open-seat race, it’s an understandable amount in a local political race.”
With longtime Mayor Bill Bell retiring, there are six candidates seeking his seat. Council member Steve Schewel, businessman and former council member Faradi Ali, and “artivist” Pierce Freelon have raised the most money heading into the Oct. 10 primary. Durham holds a nonpartisan municipal primary, so the top two vote-getters move on to the general municipal election on Nov. 7.
Without Bell running, “this year is definitely more competitive than previous years,” Freelon said. “I think that’s one of the reasons there’s more interest and excitement in the race.”
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“Durham is a city on the national stage and we’ve reached out across the city to talk about principles that are bigger than Durham, and that’s resonated throughout the country,” Freelon said.
Campaign finance reports for the three other candidates – Shea Ramirez, the Rev. Sylvester Williams and Tracy Drinker – are not available on the Durham County or N.C. Board of Elections websites, which post reports of $10,000 or greater.
It’s a significant amount of money, and I think has a lot to do with the fact it’s an open seat.
Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina
Raising the most money does not make a candidate a front runner, Hall said.
“You need money to get your message out and to run an effective campaign,” he said. “Afer a certain point, whether you are the absolute top money raiser is less important than that you have enough to be competitive.”
The latest reports, due 35 days before the primary, show campaign contributions in July and August as well as overall.
Schewel’s 35-day report showed $74,000 in total money raised. He said he’s up to about $85,000 or $86,000 as of Tuesday.
Many of Schewel’s individual contributions, ranging from $75 to $500 each, are from familiar names in Durham: County Commissioner Wendy Jacobs, former Downtown Durham Inc. leader Bill Kalkhof, former Durham Mayor Sylvia Kerckhoff, Duke University Vice President of Student Affairs Larry Moneta, City Council member Charlie Reece, N.C. Rep. Marcia Morey and former Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham leader Marcia Owen.
Schewel had about twice as many individual donations from Durham residents as Ali and Freelon, though he raised the least overall of the three.
Ali’s donations totaled $107,000. His individual donors include small business owners like Dorian Bolden of Beyù Caffè downtown, N.C. Central University athletic director Ingrid Wicker McCree and U.S. Rep. David Price’s district coordinator, Tracy Lovett. Those donations, like Schewel’s, were smaller amounts – $75 to $125.
Bolden also donated to Freelon’s campaign. Another downtown business proprietor, Jennings Brody, donated to Schewel. Campaign contributions, like the candidates’ finance reports, are all public records and available on the State Board of Elections site.
Freelon’s report shows more out-of-state individual donations than his competition, with some from musicians, both local and not local. He has raised $89,000 overall.
Freelon leads the hip-hop jazz group The Beast, and his mother is acclaimed jazz singer Nnenna Freelon. Durham donors include Cicely Mitchell, co-founder of the Art of Cool Festival, and MK Asante, his brother-in-law. His individual donors include musicians like Mike Posner, who lives outside North Carolina.
Schewel also has out-of-state donations from family members in Virginia, but added, “I do think it’s best for the city, and the people that live here, that the vast majority of the candidates’ funding comes from Durham.”
Ali, who chairs the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority, said Tuesday that his work the past 10 years has been local, regional, statewide and national, and so his support is, too.
“All of it’s linked to the connectivity of my work, not outside influence,” he said. “People believe in me and my work.”
An effective candidate needs both financial and grassroots support, Hall said, adding, “Volunteers can have an impact in a local election.”
However, he acknowledged that money can help indicate a candidate’s chances.
“If they’re raising money, it does indicate they’re viable within certain circles and also they’ve got resources to allow them to mount a competitive campaign,” he said.
The source of contributions helps tells the story of a candidate, Hall added.
“I think it’s not a something that necessarily should rate against a person, it just gives you more background about them,” he said.