Colleagues, friends fund mayoral bids

The half-dozen candidates vying to replace Mayor Joe Riley at Charleston City Hall have, together, raised more than $1 million from thousands of donors.

The half-dozen candidates vying to replace Charleston Mayor Joe Riley have together raised more than $1 million from thousands of donors, and a review of the contributions shows the bulk of their support coming from current and former professional colleagues.

Several high-profile Lowcountry businesses and figures, such as The Beach Co., businesswoman Anita Zucker and lawyer Joseph Rice, have donated to multiple candidates.

And many candidates also reported multiple donations from family members outside the Charleston area.

While there have been a smattering of public forums so far this year, much of the campaign activity has involved raising money in preparation for this fall’s homestretch. Filing for city offices doesn’t open until August, and the election is not until Nov. 3.

While the candidates and their campaigns are raising money, they also are pointing to their opponents and raising subtle — or not so subtle — questions about potential conflicts, out-of-town donors, and the balance of individuals and businesses writing the checks.

Here is a look at who is supporting whom:

Ginny Deerin, who ran Riley’s 2011 re-election campaign and recently ran as a Democrat for S.C. secretary of state, reported the most small donations, including many donors such as Louisa Hager of Chicago, who gave $5.

Deerin said she didn’t recall who Hager is but said she is proud that she received more donations from individuals — not corporations — than any other candidate. Her total take of $217,802 is third-highest in the race.

She also received many donations from community volunteers and those in the media and nonprofit sectors, two areas where she has worked. Former marketing and public relations executive David Rawle and Jennet Robinson Alterman LLC both gave her the $1,000 maximum.

She also received a donation from New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell, author of “The Tipping Point.” He gave $1,000. Deerin said she met Gladwell through her son, and Gladwell has been interested in her former work as the founder of the nonprofit group WINGS for Kids.

Several of her donations come from residents on Sullivan’s Island, where she lived before moving into the city.

Deerin, who is a member of the LBGT community, also was recently endorsed by The Victory Fund, a national organization that has helped thousands of openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender candidates win elections.

Deerin said she is not sure if the fund made any difference in her latest campaign disclosure form, which was filed before the fund’s endorsement.

“I’m not running as an LGBT candidate,” she said. “I’m running for mayor because I think we’ve got real challenges ahead of us, and our next mayor is going to have to bring people together to face those challenges, and I’ve got experience doing that.”

City Councilman William Dudley Gregorie, who is making his third run for mayor, is vying to become the first black mayor in the city’s long history.

Many of his donors are prominent black figures, such as former Chief Municipal Judge Arthur McFarland, who gave $250; artist Jonathan Green, who gave $100; and the medical practice of Dr. Thaddeus J. Bell, which gave him $250.

“We’re reaching our goal, and we are getting support form the African-American community but other communities, as well,” Gregorie said, noting that Zucker has given him a donation. He had raised $36,929.41 as of April 30, including $1,263 of his own money.

“We’re comfortable with where we are. We just think we need to manage well,” he said. “Of course we wish we had more.”

Asked about his opponents’ fundraising, Gregorie said he has not looked at their reports.

State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, was the first candidate to top the $300,000 fundraising mark, partly because he has received donations from several fellow lawmakers — an even mix of Republicans, such as Rep. Jim Merrill of Charleston, and Democrats, such as former Rep. Bakari Sellers of Denmark, and Rep. James Smith of Columbia.

He also cashed checks from several lawyers, restaurateurs — Stavrinakis’ family runs Manny’s Neighborhood Grill — and from several developers, including The Beach Co. and Bennett Hospitality Co. He likened his variety of backers to those who have given to Riley’s and Gov. Nikki Haley’s campaigns.

“I think people across all different professions and walks of life are responding well to the message that we need a hands-on mayor. We need a mayor who is ready on Day One,” Stavrinakis said. “People are on board because they believe in me and believe in that message.”

Asked about his support from The Beach Co. — which is embroiled in a controversial development plan — Stavrinakis said his vote is not for sale on anything.

“I’ve been in office for a while and I don’t think anybody has the impression they can buy my votes on anything,” he said. “I have always done what is best for this community and that is what I’ll always do.”

Former Charleston City Councilman Paul Tinkler is a practicing lawyer, and many of his donors are also lawyers — a far higher proportion than donors to Stavrinakis, who also is a lawyer.

Tinkler has raised $208,135 ($100,000 of which he loaned to his campaign) and is one of four contenders to top the $200,000 mark.

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“The money I have raised has come from friends, family members, clients and professional colleagues who know me personally and know that I will act in the best interest of the people of Charleston, as I always did when I was on City Council,” he said.

He noted developers such as The Beach Co. and Michael Bennett have given to his opponents, and said the city has important decisions to make about development in the future, “and I would rather not solicit a bunch of money from real estate developers.”

“I’m raising money not from people who are looking to make a buck off doing business with the city,” he said. “I also have put my own funds into the campaign because I am confident I am the best candidate to advance innovative solutions for Charleston.”

He also said he would not be soliciting money from outside groups. “Is this going to decide the election? I think that’s the question that people have to ask,” he said.

Charleston businessman John Tecklenburg, who worked under Riley as the city’s director of Economic Development from 1995 to 1999, has raised $266,766 — the second highest of the candidates’ totals.

He has received several donations from Realtors and commercial real estate agents, a business he has been associated with since 2001.

Also among his biggest donors are some of Charleston’s maritime interests, such as a $1,000 donation from Whitemarsh Smith of the Charleston Branch Pilots Association and another $1,000 from Marine Repair Services Inc. He also received a $1,000 donation from Keyserling Enterprises of Beaufort, the company of Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling.

“Right from the start, we’ve said that this campaign should be about putting the people of Charleston first, and our fundraising reflects that commitment,” he said. “That’s why we’re so honored to have received the most donations to date from the most Charleston-area residents, with a strong focus on individuals and local small businesses rather than high-dollar or special interests.”

“That’s not the easiest way to raise money in politics, but it is the right way — and we plan to keep doing it that way all the way through to the end of the race,” he added.

Former Charleston City Councilman Maurice Washington is among the most recent entrants to the race and has raised $6,700 so far.

At least four of his biggest donors — who each gave $1,000 — are connected with the Zen Asian Fusion restaurant on Sam Rittenberg Boulevard.

Washington said in a statement he is having some early success with his targeted markets, including local small businesses and diverse residents.

“I have made a conscious decision not to take or solicit contributions from developers that have current business interests before the city or special-interest businesses represented by General Assembly-type lobbyists,” he said. “I realize this is a more difficult road to take, however, it is the road that I am most comfortable with. Raising big money is important to campaigns for a number of reasons; more important is not putting City Hall up for sale in order to do so.”

Staff writer Diane Knich contributed to this report. Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.