Saffo banked big in summertime fundraising, so did a few council candidates

Donors from the development and business worlds boosted Mayor Bill Saffo’s campaign this summer. He has far outperformed his challenger Harper Peterson in fundraising so far. (Port City Daily/Mark Darrough)

WILMINGTON –– The money-chasing in City of Wilmington political races is ramping up. Since July, local players in the development community and other power bases have filled the campaign coffers of Mayor Bill Saffo and a few candidates for city council.

Campaign finance records show that Saffo entered the final stretch of the mayoral race with a more than $100,000 advantage over his opponent, former Sen. Harper Peterson. Submitted at the end of September, the latest records cover the period between July 1 and Sept. 21 of this year. 

The contribution records also reveal three of the eight candidates for city council emerged from this summer with war chests far more sizable than their opponents’. 


Candidates Luke Waddell, Jonathan Uzcategui and Charlie Rivenbark, all Republicans, each raised more than $20,000 during the nearly three month window. Their five opponents raised less than $9,000 apiece during the same timeframe. 

The 2021 mayoral race is a redo of 2007, when Peterson sought his old seat back from then-councilman Saffo but lost by a sizable margin. For council, voters can pick three candidates, for three openings, from the eight-person slate.

Saffo, a real estate broker and self-described “consensus-builder” with 18 years of experience in city politics, raised $176,000 during the summer window. Peterson, a former one-term mayor who also was elected to a term in the N.C. Senate in 2018, raised $47,000 during that time. 

According to campaign finance reports, that left Saffo with around $150,000 cash on hand as of Sept. 21, and Peterson with nearly $38,000. 

Saffo’s donor rolls are replete with individuals representing varied business interests like custom home building, private wealth management and insurance. 

He got $5,400 from the president of Alpha Mortgage, $11,200 from a couple in New Hampshire affiliated with a property management company, and $500 from a partner at the architectural firm charged with designing New Hanover County’s Project Grace

There was also a $1,000 contribution from former mayor Spence Broadhurst, who is now the president of the endowment created to handle $1.25 billion in public money received from the sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center to Novant Health; a few thousand in contributions from members of the Cameron family; and a $5,600 backing from prominent real estate tycoon Roy Carroll, the developer behind The Avenue planned on Military Cutoff. 

Peterson, by contrast, received only eight four-figure contributions out of the nearly 100 payments made to his campaign committee between July and Sept. 21. Around 90 contributions made to Peterson were for $500 or less, and he also appears to have personally loaned his committee $8,000. 

Luke Waddell, principal broker for the “boutique real estate firm” Cadence Realty, lead candidates for city council in fundraising numbers. His campaign raised nearly $59,000 in the summer window. 

He has a $2,000 backing from Tim Milam, the owner of Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage who regularly supports local Republican candidates, and four-figure support from other figures in the real estate, business and finance worlds. 

The majority of Waddell’s fundraising came from affiliates of one development company, SHP Acquisitions, and their family members. The company owns an office park on Sir Tyler Drive, off Eastwood Road. 

Chris Bowden, a partner at the firm, gave Waddell $5,600 on Aug. 3. That same day, Ellen Bowden, whose address is listed identically to Chris’s on campaign finance reports, contributed the same sum to Waddell’s committee.

Michael Burnham, a partner at the firm, gave Waddell $5,600. Kevin Smith, also a partner, gave him $5,600 too. 

Daniel Smith, another partner, contributed $5,600 to Waddell, as did Denise Smith, whose address in Naples, F.L. is listed as the same address of Daniel Smith. 

The six donations — each the maximum individual contribution amount of $5,600 and dated within the same four-day window in August — amount to $33,600. It’s more than half the total funds received by Waddell’s committee between July 1 and Sept. 21. 

Charlie Rivenbark, an incumbent first elected in 1993, and the brother of freshman New Hanover County Commissioner Bill Rivenbark, fundraised about $20,000 during the summer window. His backers include two of his brother’s political fellows, county chair Julia Olson-Boseman and and vice-chair Deb Hays, who contributed $250 and $400, respectively. 

Jonathan Uzcategui, a Venezuelan-born entrepreneur and Second Amendment enthusiast, raised $31,000 during the timeframe. D. Logan of Logan Homes gave Uzcategui $4,000 in July. His wife Lara Logan also gave the candidate $4,000. 

Records show that Uzcategui’s wife Laurel was paid $165 by the campaign for a “Food Meeting” she provided and $325 for an “Azalea Festival Ticket Meeting.” She also personally paid the campaign $5,000. Uzcategui and his wife own Churrasco, a Venezuelan restaurant in the Landfall shopping center, and a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu facility in town.

Incumbent Clifford Barnett raised just $1,650 in the same time period. Newcomer Philip White raised nearly $3,000, and former city councilman Paul Lawler raised $8,800.

Angelica Ulmer and Joel Brookins have not filed campaign finance disclosure forms for the summer window. (Candidates who vow to raise less than $1,000 are not required to file the forms.) 

Cape Fear Community College will host candidate forums for the mayoral and city council races on Oct. 21 at 6:30. It will be a free event moderated by WECT’s Jon Evans. 


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