What you should know about Raleigh’s DrunkTown wars | Triangulator | Indy Week
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What you should know about Raleigh’s DrunkTown wars 

The unfortunate thing about being a weekly publication that goes to press on Tuesday afternoon and distributes Wednesday is that you're inevitably behind the Election Day 8-ball: You, dear reader, know who won the Raleigh and Durham municipal races, but we don't.

As such, we don't have anything particularly meaningful to say about the results. (This is why we have a blog.) But we do have some thoughts about the insane 11th-hour campaign war waged last week in Raleigh.

First, on Wednesday, a bizarre full-page ad slamming Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin and candidates Ashton Mae Smith and "Mike" (um, it's Matt, guys) Tomasulo appeared in The News & Observer. A staged photo of a low-eyed bro leaning on a lamppost in decidedly not-downtown-Raleigh was supposed to convince voters that downtown becomes "DrunkTown" around 2 a.m. and the bar owners and their favored candidates were trying to "reshape the city's downtown with liberal liquor laws." (Fact check: The bars aren't the ones trying to reshape "liquor" laws; that's the ABC's domain. Rather, they're trying to maintain what was, until August, the city's nearly decade-old status quo.)

The ad was widely ridiculed on social media, but that didn't stop similar ads from hitting local radio and television airways, part of a last-ditch assault on the Keep Raleigh Vibrant crowd.

Then came reports of people receiving an also-bizarre pizza-themed mailer denouncing the City Council—the mailer didn't name names—for passing rules that made it more difficult to eat outside. (Fact check: The Fun Gestapo was never coming for your pizza, and eating outside was never really the issue.)

These two efforts represent the dueling sides of what became the most visible issue of city elections this fall: the new rules regulating sidewalk drinking.

On the pro-ordinance side, a homegrown PAC called Wake Citizens for Good Government—chaired by Public Policy Polling president and Boylan-Pearce building owner Dean Debnam—targeted Baldwin and the candidates she was thought to be backing. (Fun fact: Baldwin donated $2,000 to this same PAC in 2014.) Then, on Monday, Debnam filed a complaint with the Wake County Board of Elections alleging that Keep Raleigh Vibrant and political consulting firm Targeted Persuasion were "illegally coordinating through ongoing expenditures, collection of contributions and in-kind contributions, the support for the election of one or more clearly identified candidates."

KRV organizer Zack Medford and Targeted Persuasion chief Jeffrey Tippett both denied wrongdoing and dismissed the complaint as a sign of desperation. Indeed, the complaint offers little evidence for its claims of collusion and gets basic facts wrong. (Example: Tippett was never retained by KRV, both he and Medford say.) And even if the BOE investigates Debnam's claims, it will be too late to affect Tuesday's outcome.

The pizza mailer, on the other hand, was paid for by an out-of-state group called Generation Opportunity, a Koch brothers-affiliated nonprofit that recently inserted itself into the city's debate over food trucks. To Generation Opportunity, the sidewalk regulations, like the food-truck regulations—actually, like most government regulations—are oppressive, infringe on the pursuit of happiness and need to be done away with.

This gets at an important point: The sidewalk squabble has morphed into something bigger. What that something is depends on whom you talk to. Medford, for instance, labels it a "generational divide," and he's probably correct. Ordinance supporters, however, see developers trying to use the uproar to unseat council members—e.g., Russ Stephenson and Kay Crowder—they perceive as in the way. There's probably some truth to that, too.

In a sense, sidewalks have become a fast-boiling proxy war, subsuming wider-reaching issues like the Unified Development Ordinance. Regardless of how the election has shaken out, that's not really a good thing.

This article appeared in print with the headline "As #drunktown turns"

Reach the INDY's Triangulator team at triangulator@indyweek.com.

  • Some final thoughts on the defining fault line of the city’s election

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