City Council Candidates Campaign for Cash
Between the brick, windowless walls of the Benjamin Branch Public Library meeting room, the Joel Landau campaign committee sat 13 strong in a semicircle. Campaign chairman Nick Divitci rifled through a sheaf of papers on his lap and aimed his next announcement at the group.
‘“Now I have to ask for a volunteer to be the fundraising coordinator,’” he said, a slight accent halting his words.
Mindy Wray, raised her hand to fill the position. Divitci moved on, effectively dumping the daunting task of fattening the $265.06 bank account toward the $10,000 goal. For political novice Landau, a relative latecomer to the city council campaign, the last month has demanded a steep learning curve. But fundraising might be the biggest challenge of all, as Landau races to catch up to local political heavyweights wielding war chests already almost a hundred times larger than his.
Don Vaughan, an incumbent and Landau’s opponent in the at-large race, has raised $48,043 in his bid to retain the seat he has held since 1991. Another political veteran, former District 4 Councilwoman Florence Gatten, has collected $29,940 to fund her campaign for one of the three at-large seats. Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson, who is also running for reelection to one of the at-large seats, has spent more than half of the $5,865 she started the campaigning with.
One challenger in the at-large race filed a campaign finance report with the county, which requires the information from campaigns that have raised $3,000 or more. Sandra Anderson, who has run a home-building company since 1979, has amassed $12,590 in her bid to win an at-large seat, she said. Anderson said she hopes that the monetary support she has received, most of it from individuals, will translate into voter support in the October primary and the November runoff.
Diane Davis, an at-large challenger, would only admit to having ‘“a bit’” of money in the bank.
‘“It’s difficult for challengers to raise money, especially in the primary,’” Davis said. Donors interested in buying political influence are more likely to give to established candidates who are more likely to win.
Some challengers contend that money is not indicative of public approval and is not as important. ‘“Having money helps,’” Landau said. ‘“But whether it’s absolutely crucial ‘— I don’t think it is.’”
Back in the library, Divitci ran through a list of campaign materials to be designed and printed: buttons, palm cards, lapel pins and door hangers. Other expenses like office paper, stamps and envelopes can quickly deplete a shoestring budget.
‘“It is an expensive proposition,’” said Vaughan about campaigning for an at-large seat on the city council. ‘“You have to campaign in an area larger than most state Senate districts.’”
Vaughan held his first fundraiser July 13, several weeks before Landau even decided to run. The successful event boasted 217 individual sponsors and snared several donation checks. Vaughan’s fiscal advantage is obvious to any Market Street commuter distracted by the yard signs bearing his name.
Donors to Vaughan’s campaign include neighbors, colleagues and old friends from high school and college. He said he expects the bulk of donations to come from individuals with one or two from political action committees.
Those candidates running to represent city council districts have less need to raise the kind of money fueling the at-large race. Ed Whitfield held his campaign kickoff in Sternberger Park on Summit Avenue, the heart of District 2. He hoped the high profile event featuring music and free food would lure potential voters to the campaign.
His strategy differed from some other candidates who started their campaigns with exclusive events open only to potential donors.
One of Whitfield’s opponents in the race for the open seat, Goldie Wells, filed a campaign finance report indicating $4,453 in the bank.
Volunteers with the Landau campaign coordinated the delivery of the first wave of fundraising letters to the place where they would be folded, stuffed into envelopes and stamped. Money collected by these letters will provide seed money for even more fundraising. Despite their hope that massive grassroots campaigning will reduce the need to raise and spend money, Landau and Davis echoed a sentiment familiar to candidates, monied or not.
‘“I’m not the kind of candidate that can be bought,’” Davis said. ‘“But I won’t turn down money from anybody.’”
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