'Drunk town' stirring up Raleigh city council race

Monday, October 5, 2015
Complaint made to SBOE
#drunktown stirring up Raleigh city council race

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- #drunktown

Have you seen that hashtag yet?

A last minute political brouhaha is stirring up the race for Raleigh city council. #drunktown is a good way to stay up on it but we've got the breakdown.

A prominent Raleigh businessman, Dean Debnam, has filed a complaint with the State Board of Elections alleging foul play by a handful of Democratic candidates: Ashton Smith, Matt Tomasulo, Bonner Gaylord, J. B. Buxton, and Eugene Weeks.

It goes back to the fight over what Raleigh is going to look like in 25 years and a new "master" urban plan the City council is working up.

Some people want a more conservative future, others want a more "vibrant" one.

That has pit Debnam, who owns a building in downtown Raleigh, against a group called Keep Raleigh Vibrant.

It's led by Raleigh bar owner Zack Medford, and a handful of city council candidates who are supportive of that more lively future.

Debnam's alleging that Medford's group colluded with candidates, campaigns, and a go-between consulting group, Targeted Persuasions - all of which would be legally murky (or downright illegal).

In a statement about the complaint, Debnam describes charges "of potential illegal coordination, potential illegal corporate contributions and unreported campaign expenditures."

"Everyone needs to play by the same rules and report expendatures the same way," said Debnam. "If you have fundraisers with bar owners downtown and then you file a campaign report and you don't show the cost of those fundraisers, then that's a violation of campaign law."

Debnam financed a short, new commercial that features a young man leaning up against a telephone pole and throwing up as an announcer chastises the politicians who "support" turning Raleigh into a "drunk town."

"I had considered putting my own condo down there," Debnam said. "But after experiencing the noise down here and even consulting sound engineers, I decided it wasn't livable on downtown Fayetteville Street."

Debnam says he financed the ad and filed the complaint with the Board of Elections because he's not happy with the direction the city is going under current leadership.

"I am personally interested in the direction of Raleigh and I'm willing to write a check to push that forward," he said. "I write a check to charities as well."

"I write a check to other political candidates as well. I invest in my community and this is an investment in my community that I think is headed in the wrong direction. Coordination is illegal in the state of North Carolina."

Zack Medford says it's all smoke and mirrors. "There's been no coordination between us and the candidates. We've run our own campaign."

Medford says Keep Raleigh Vibrant, an independent expenditure committee, has spent a total of $252.09 on ads supporting candidates.

Debnam says that doesn't include glossy handouts or door 'hangers' passed out by volunteers. "He's also handing out printed material that has a checklist of the candidates they endorsed and I don't see a report on that anywhere."

"This entire complaint is a publicity stunt," Medford said. "They know that Keep Raleigh Vibrant hasn't given any money to these candidates; I have personally given some money but at the end of the day that does not mean we were coordinating together. This is a totally separate entity."

"I designed the messaging, I designed the advertising, the graphic design; everything I did myself," said Medford.

"This is a last minute attempt to distract from the issue at hand. They know this isn't going to go anywhere, but election day is tomorrow so they're trying to get as much negative attention as they can."

Jeff Tippett, from Targeted Persuasions, also named in the complaint, said:

"This is a transparent political stunt filed right before the election. It will fail just like the rest of Mr. Debnam's negative political advertising. It smacks of desperation. The allegations against Targeted Persuasion are completely baseless. The real losers here are the people of Raleigh. It's sad when people stoop to this level in politics."

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