Restaurants want to be paid for catering NC Senate candidateâ’€’™s fundraiser

by Jordan Green

You know you’ve got trouble when someone in the food service industry takes to social media to publicize that you owe them hundreds of dollars. After all, restaurateurs typically enjoy loyalty, name recognition and street-level respect that most politicians would kill for.

The campaign of Earline Parmon, the Democratic nominee for NC Senate District 32 in Winston-Salem, apparently doesn’t see it that way.

James Douglas, general manager at the popular King’s Crab Shack and Oyster Bar on West 4th Street, posted on his Facebook page last week that the Parmon campaign “contacted me desperate for a catering when another restaurant backed out. I organized food for 200 people and the Governor(!) in three hours. I got three prominent downtown restaurants to help as well. The food arrived, everything was perfect until it came to the bill. ‘Well, we thought this would be a donation!’ Nope. We donated our time, resources and equipment; they can pay for the food. The campaign manager hung up on me. Time for persistence.”

Douglas said the emergency request came from Ray Herrera, a political operative who has worked closely with the Parmon campaign. Billed as “a celebration and recognition of women’s contributions to politics” at the Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts, a notice for the April 25 event on Parmon’s Facebook page offered supporters the opportunity to attend a reception with Gov. Bev Perdue for $50, directing them to the candidate’s campaign website to make donations.

At Herrera’s prompting, Douglas called Willow’s Bistro that like King’s Crab Shack, is owned by Will Kingery, and Finnigan’s Wake Irish Pub and Kitchen. Both restaurants agreed to go in with King’s Crab Shack to provide food for the event. Kingery was voted Best Chef in YES! Weekly’s 2012 readers poll and Willow’s Bistro won Best Bistro. King’s Crab Shack took first place for Best Sea Food and Finnigan’s Wake took first place for Best Irish.

Douglas said Herrera suggested that the catering service should be considered a donation.

“I said, ‘We’ll be happy to donate our equipment, time and resources, but we’ve got to get paid something,’” Douglas recalled. Typically restaurants or catering companies require a deposit, but considering the emergency nature of the job there wasn’t time for that, Douglas explained.

Kingery presented Herrera with an invoice for $722 to cover the cost of meatloaf and mashed potatoes provided by Finnigan’s, along with roasted vegetables, hummus, shrimp and crab dip. Kingery hand-wrote an itemization of the goods and services the restaurants were contributing for the event: pita valued at $24, set-up and break-down valued at $180, coolers valued at $27 and plasticware valued at $60.

The total value of the catering job was figured at $1,013, but the restaurants marked down the price to $722 to cover the cost of food.

Herrera signed the invoice indicating that he understood that the restaurants had an expectation to be reimbursed for their costs.

Douglas said he finally received a call back from the Parmon campaign on May 30 after he threatened to go to the press.

“They said, ‘Ray Herrera is not affiliated or associated with the campaign, never has been. He is on the volunteer list, but the debt is with him and not the Parmon campaign,’” Douglas said.

That didn’t square with Douglas’ interactions with Herrera on the night of the fundraiser.

“He said he was basically a fundraising person,” Douglas recalled. “He seemed in charge. He was calling the shots to the various volunteers.”

Douglas said he met with Herrera about the disputed payment on May 30, and Herrera told him he was not involved in Parmon’s campaign or those of Linda Coleman, Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, and Everette Witherspoon, a Forsyth County commissioner who ran unsuccessfully for NC House.

“I laid it out to Ray that the story he was giving me was suspect,” Douglas said.

Reached on his cell phone this evening, Herrera said he was unavailable to talk and abruptly hung up the phone. Later, Herrera called back and launched into a tirade, which he said was off the record. He asked not be bothered about the situation. Messages left for Parmon and her campaign for this story were not returned.

Herrera rose to speak in support of Coleman’s candidacy during the Forsyth County Democratic Party convention earlier this year. Later, he handed out Coleman campaign cards, along with fliers endorsing a slate of candidate promoted by the Forsyth Leadership PAC in front of an early-voting polling place.

The notion that Herrera was not involved in Parmon’s campaign also strains credibility. Douglas said he saw Herrera working at the Parmon campaign office on West 4th Street a couple blocks from the restaurant late at night. He went over to look for Herrera there and spoke with a security guard who knew Herrera on a first-name basis. Douglas raised those points to Tonya McDaniel, who identified herself as Parmon’s campaign manager.

“Yesterday, she said [Herrera] is no longer welcome and they are changing the locks,” Douglas said. “She mentioned that he might be associated with Chris Church.

“I’ve heard whispers around about political impropriety,” Douglas added.

Church helped organize the Forsyth Leadership PAC. His political consulting company paid for the production of fliers endorsing a slate of candidates that included Parmon, Coleman, Witherspoon and others, and paid salaries to poll workers who handed the fliers to voters. The committee was investigated by the state Board of Elections before the office received its organizational report after the beginning of early voting.

The board of elections is currently investigating Church as the treasurer for the campaign committee of Forsyth County Clerk of Superior Court Susan Frye, which is accused of filing a false campaign finance report. The violation, if proven, is a Class I felony under state law.

Parmon said in a prepared statement five days before the May 8 primary that she had no knowledge of the Forsyth Leadership PAC “until I was approached by Chris Church, who contacted my campaign office to request support of the PAC. At the time I was advised that the Forsyth Leadership PAC would be endorsing me as a candidate for NC Senate.”

Notwithstanding Parmon’s distancing herself from Church, the consultant is reported to have worked on the candidate’s campaign. Dr. Bruce Peller, a congressional candidate and former client of Church’s, said Church brought him over to Parmon’s campaign headquarters and had him wait outside while he did some work on a computer.

Douglas said he told McDaniel the event at the Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts Center was obviously a fundraiser for Parmon and that it was clear that Herrera represented her campaign. Douglas told her he pulled together food from a group of restaurants to help the campaign out in a pinch, and the restaurants expected to be paid for the food.

Douglas said his threat to go to the media got him a meeting with McDaniel, but not much else. Douglas said Parmon’s campaign manager ended the conversation by saying, “We’re not afraid of the papers.”