NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The New Hanover County Democratic Party will have to find a new candidate to challenge incumbent Sen. Michael Lee in the fall election. Jason Minnicozzi unexpectedly withdrew from the race over the weekend.
He cited a lack of financial resources to move forward, as addressed in a Facebook post Sunday evening:
“Over the last several weeks, it has become clear to me that the Republican Party apparatus intends to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to drown out my message of hope and renewal, and instead resort to their old political playbook of negativity and debasement.”
The withdrawal comes after Minnicozzi was accused of exploiting his power to obtain personal information of a woman who appeared in court in an assault case. Minnicozzi is currently a public defender in New Hanover County.
Last week, the woman posted to her Facebook account screenshots of their interactions on Instagram from December 2015; the screenshots were emailed to Port City Daily as well. They show Minnicozzi saying he wanted to ask for her phone number after her trial and admitting he used information overheard in court to locate her on social media.
In her explanation of the situation, the woman — who will remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of information — said she was in court to testify against her ex-boyfriend, accused of abuse. Minnicozzi was in the courthouse, representing a different man incriminated for assault according to the Instagram exchanges.
Though their conversations took place seven years ago, the woman detailed on Facebook on June 21 she decided to publish her experience after Minnicozzi reached out to her.
“So, why share this now?” the woman wrote in her post. “Well, he just sent me a friend request and it turns out the low-life is now running for NC Senate. After realizing his mistake, he immediately blocked me.”
The woman wrote she thought it was inappropriate for Minnicozzi to use her information to pursue a date.
“His sympathy was zero,” she wrote in her post. “His unlawful use of my information did not evade me and his only interest was clear to me: he wanted to use his privilege to prey on victimized women, in particular.”
Minnicozzi has not published a statement on the situation and did not respond to Port City Daily’s request for comment.
“Harassment of any kind cannot be tolerated,” the North Carolina Democratic Party Chair Bobbie Richardson said in a statement, also given to WHQR, who first reported the incident. “Mr. Minnicozzi made the right decision to drop out of this race. New Hanover deserves a leader who serves with integrity and someone they can trust to do the job.”
In his announcement Minnicozzi said he was stepping back to allow a candidate with more financial power to enter the race.
Lee reported $148,000 cash on hand at the beginning of this election quarter that he accrued from last year’s campaigning. Minnicozzi started his campaign reporting no cash on hand.
However, Minnicozzi received almost double Lee’s receipts — around $64,000 — in the first election quarter. Individual contributions made up $48,000, political committees $10,000 and political committees, such as PACs, $22,500.
Lee’s reports reveal he received $36,800 in the first quarter from individual contributions ($14,300) and “other political committees,” such as PACs ($22,500).
Expenditures show Minnicozzi spent more than Lee by $7,000 — $18,700 this quarter compared to Lee’s $10,000. At the end of the quarter, April 30, Lee reported $174,000 cash on hand compared to Minnicozzi’s $45,000.
Since District 7 only encompasses New Hanover County, the NHCDP has the authority to name Minnicozzi’s replacement.
NHCDP Chair Andre Brown would not respond to PCD’s multiple requests for comment. He told WECT the executive committee will need to meet, nominate and then vote on a candidate. The meeting could be scheduled any day between this Friday and the middle of next week.
According to his announcement, Minnicozzi is not ruling out a campaign in the future. He claimed in his social media post the Democratic Party needs a candidate with the money to “counter the Republican attack machine.”
“We must do all that we can to prevent a Republican supermajority from taking over the State Senate,” Minnicozzi wrote. “Although 2022 has proven not to be my time for a run for elective office, I am incredibly thankful for the support I have received and I am hopeful that the people of North Carolina and the residents of the 7th District will welcome me again when the time is right.”
Port City Daily reached out to the local and state Republican party leaders to find out what, if any, ads were planned to run addressing Minnicozzi’s candidacy. New Hanover County Republican Party Chair Will Knecht said the local GOP had not planned to launch any in response to Minnicozzi’s actions but concurred with the NCDP’s statements.
“We believe Mr. Minnicozzi made the correct decision. As the chair of the NC Democratic Party said, predatory behavior cannot be tolerated,” Knecht said. “It is unfortunate that Governor Cooper’s hand-picked candidate was not vetted and clearly was not fit to serve in office.”
Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at firstname.lastname@example.org