In quiet race, prominent money shifting toward Hagwood

kjahner@newsobserver.comOctober 18, 2013 

— The three-person Town Council race for two seats has been amicable and nonpartisan, as candidates promised. If anything, separating the candidates has been difficult as no one has publicly criticized an opponent or taken a controversial stand – or even had a candidate forum to attend.

But campaign finance records indicate that, at least initially, conservative donors have shifted support from longtime incumbent Gra Singleton to challenger – and their friend – Jeanette Hagwood.

Some of those regular donors have supported Singleton in the past but given instead to Hagwood, though Singleton’s own long-held hesitation to request money might also play a role.

George Rucker, Jonathan Adams and Jerry Jones each donated to Singleton in his 2009 and 2005 re-election campaigns. The prominent businessmen also continue to support incumbent Kathy Behringer with donations bottoming out at $200. But this year each gave at least $200 to Hagwood. Singleton’s campaign has been self-funded, according to early October campaign finance reports.

Rucker said he also plans to donate to Singleton but just hasn’t yet. He noted Singleton’s aversion to asking for money, but said he’s never asked for anything in return.

“What I do support is good town government. The group we have up there is a good group,” said Rucker, a developer. “More often than not (Singleton’s) going to come down on the right side of the issue.”

Brady Hurley donated $1,000 to his friend Hagwood.

“I figure it never hurts to have someone with a business perspective on there,” Hurley said.

Hurley, Hagwood, Rucker, Adams and Jones all participate in same Rotary Club. Hurley said Hagwood’s support stemmed from those relationships (some of which span decades), her background, and her conservatism.

“(Rucker, Adams and Jones) are all very conservative – maybe not as conservative as I am,” Hurley said.

Mayor Ronnie Williams agreed that those causes played a role, adding that Hagwood also got a head start on a race customarily quiet until after Labor Day.

“She jumped early, got out there early,” Williams said.

Williams also said he’s noticed in recent elections that even Garner Democrats have shown conservative tendencies in the voting booth.

Singleton is a registered Democrat, but has long been as fierce a budget hawk as Republicans on the council.

Singleton said he has never aggressively raised funds during his 20-year tenure on the council. He said he sent his last fundraising letter in 1997.

“I was so uncomfortable I swore I would never do that again,” said Singleton, adding that he typically funds at least half of his campaign. “I never have been one that likes asking people for money … People have been gracious over the years.”

Hagwood downplayed the importance of any shift, saying it was too early to tell before votes were counted.

“We’ve all been friends, I’ve known these people for a long time,” Hagwood said. “I hope they do think I will bring a fresh perspective.”

Adams is partner at the CPA firm owned by his father, John D. Adams & Company. Jones owns Jones Insurance Agency. Hurley owns Tarheel Commodities, a meat wholesale company. All actively donate to a variety of Garner causes, and are active in the Chamber of Commerce. Jones has declined to discuss his campaign donations; Adams did not return request for comment.

Jones appeared at a council meeting this month when his company appealed the town’s choice of another insurance broker. Town Council advocated giving Jones Insurance further consideration despite town staff’s recommendation. He is unaffiliated according to voter records; the rest are registered Republicans.

Donations in the $25-250 range and candidate contributions typically fuel council races. As of the beginning of the month, Hagwood had raised $3,425. Singleton had contributed the entirety of his $3,000 and Behringer had raised $2,800.

Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland

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