Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Where is the money coming from in the six-person New Hanover Commissioners race?

From top left: Debra Hays, Skip Watkins, Bill Rivenbark (Port City Daily/courtesy NHC GOP) From bottom left: Jonathan Barfield, Kyle Horton, Leslie Cohen (Port City Daily/Courtesy NHC Democratic Party)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The current slate of commissioners in New Hanover County presided over the region’s largest financial deal in recent memory: the mutli-billion-dollar sale of the New Hanover Regional Medical Center to Novant Health. The next group of commissioners will oversee the deal’s execution (if a majority wish to back out of the sale, they’ll have to shell out $25 million of the county’s funds to do so before it closes).

Republicans Woody White and Patricia Kusek terms are expiring and are not seeking re-election this cycle. Democrats Rob Zapple and Julia Olson-Boseman are not up for re-election this year, leaving just one incumbent, Jonathan Barfield (D) fighting to keep his seat. Six candidates – three from both parties – will be vying to fill three open slots.

RELATED: With traditional campaigning impossible, social media takes the spotlight in local elections

In North Carolina, the State Board of Elections requires quarterly filings for campaign finance reports. The first quarter runs from Jan. 1 until Feb. 15; the second quarter starts on Feb. 16 and goes until June 30. The third quarter runs through mid-October, but the reports won’t be available until the week prior to the election.

Often, campaign spending ramps up in the third and fourth quarters, with committees shelling out large sums to improve a chosen candidate’s name recognition and public image just ahead of the election. This makes it difficult to track major, last-minute donors and donations before ballots are cast.

Still, it’s worth checking in on campaign finances to date. Below are breakdowns of each candidate’s major donors and funding sources in 2020, as culled from available reports State Board of Elections website:

Democrats

Jonathan Barfield

2020 Contributions

  • 1Q contributions: $14,695
  • 2Q contributions: $1,400
  • Total contributions in 2020: $16,095

Top individual donors in 2020

  • Jason Thompson, American Property Experts: $1,500
  • George Rountree, Attorney: $1,000
  • Andre Boyd, Chief Operating Officer – New Hanover Regional Medical Center: $1,000
  • Adam Sosne, MFH Construction: $1,000

Breakdown: As the only incumbent in the race, Barfield has an advantage in that he’s had years in office to establish a community presence. His top donor, Thompson, is chair of the NHRMC Board of Trustees. Beyond his contributions from individuals, Barfield has a $3,000 backing from the NC Realtors PAC, and has been a licensed realtor since 1997.

Leslie Cohen

2020 Contributions

  • 1Q contributions: $5,815
  • 2Q contributions: $8,479
  • Total contributions in 2020: $14,294

Top individual donors in 2020

  • Dennis Dixon, Retired: $3,845
  • Mike Glancy, Disability Advocate/Paralegal: $2,700
  • Patricia Looney, Property Manager: $1,775
  • Elizabeth Mann-Salinas, U.S. Army Nurse, San Antonio: $1,000

Breakdown: Cohen established her political committee when she challenged incumbent Holly Grange in a 2018 race for a state house seat. One of Cohen’s largest donors, Dennis Dixon, has contributed upward of $10,000 to her two campaigns. Richard Poole, the chairman of the New Hanover County Democratic Party, personally gave Cohen nearly $1,000.

Kyle Horton

2020 Contributions

  • 1Q contributions: $11,993
  • 2Q contributions: $5,550
  • Total contributions in 2020: $17,543

Top individual donors in 2020

  • Leslie Antos, Unemployed: $1,500
  • Matthew Burke, Unemployed: $1,000
  • Dennis Dixon, Retired: $1,000
  • Frieda Harrington, Unemployed: $1,000

Breakdown: Horton challenged U.S. Congressman David Rouzer (R-N.C.) for his seat in 2018, which gave her the chance to set up a widespread donor network. She boasts the largest contribution bankroll of all six candidates. Unlike most of her other opponents, Horton lists a significant number of four-figure donors as “not employed” on her committee’s campaign finance reports.

Republicans

Bill Rivenbark

2020 Contributions

  • 1Q contributions: $5,006.42
  • 2Q contributions: $2,256.00
  • Total contributions in 2020: $7,262.42

Top individual donors in 2020

  • Christine Rivenbark, Consultant: $1,700
  • Hank Estep, Griffin Estep Benefit Group Insurance: $1,012.84
  • Timothy Milam, Coldwell Banker: $1,000
  • George Rountree, Attorney: $1,000

Breakdown: One of the more notable takeaways from Rivenbark’s reports is the inclusion of George Rountree — one of few Wilmingtonians to put more than $1,000 toward candidates of both parties. Christine Rivenbark, Bill’s highest donor of 2020, lists her address on the report at the same location as Bill’s address. Hank Estep is the regional manager for Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Wilmington area, and is the husband of Lisa Estep, who recently stepped down as chairperson of the New Hanover County Board of Education; Estep contributes to various local Republican candidates and state-level races.

Skip Watkins

2020 Contributions

  • 1Q contributions: $4,656.42
  • 2Q contributions: $4,155
  • Total contributions in 2020: $8,811.42

Top individual donors in 2020

  • David Lynch, Chik-fil-A franchise owner: $2,000
  • Scott Sullivan, Cameron Management: $1,000
  • Henry Estep: $506.42
  • Michael McCarley, Carolina Marine Terminal: $500

Breakdown: A former member of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners and an investment advisor, Watkins is backed by multiple heavyweights of Wilmington’s historically wealthy families. Besides Scott Sullivan, who works for the company that manages Cameron assets, Watkins has financial support from Raiford Trask III. He also received support from former Wrightsville Beach Mayor Bill Blair. The Henry Estep in Watkins’ records has an identical address to that of Hank Estep in other candidates’ records.

Deb Hays

2020 Contributions

  • 1Q contributions: $7,907.42
  • 2Q contributions: $1,150
  • Total contributions in 2020: $9,057.42

Top individual donors in 2020

  • Hank Estep, Griffin Estep Insurance: $1,206
  • Timothy Milam, Coldwell Banker: $1,000
  • Scott Sullivan, Cameron Management: $1,000
  • William Cameron, Cameron Management: $250

Breakdown: Hays has a long track record of real estate work in the Wilmington area, and like Barfield, received financial support from the NC Realtors PAC, which gave $4,000 to her campaign. Timothy Milam is the president of Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage, and has also contributed to Rivenbark. Hays has backing from multiple individuals linked to the Cameron family — Sullivan, and also William Cameron. Sullivan and Cameron co-founded Cameron Management, which oversees the family’s assets.


Send tips and comments to Preston Lennon at preston@localdailymedia.com

Related Articles


Stay Informed