Restaurants want payment for catering NC Senate candidate's fundraiser

You know you’ve got trouble when someone in the food service industry takes to social media to publicize how you owe them hundreds of dollars. After all, restaurateurs typically enjoy loyalty, name recognition and street-level respect that most politicians would kill for.

The campaign of Earline Parmon, the Democratic nominee for NC Senate District 32 in Winston-Salem, apparently doesn’t see it that way.

James Douglas, general manager at the popular King’s Crab Shack and Oyster Bar on West 4th Street, posted on his Facebook page yesterday that the Parmon campaign “contacted me desperate for a catering when another restaurant backed out. I organized food for 200 people and the Governor(!) in three hours. I got three prominent downtown restaurants to help as well. The food arrived, everything was perfect until it came to the bill. ‘Well, we thought this would be a donation!’ Nope. We donated our time, resources and equipment; they can pay for the food. The campaign manager hung up on me. Time for persistence.”

Douglas said the emergency request came from Ray Herrera, who is a political operative who has worked closely with the Parmon campaign, on the day of a campaign fundraiser for the candidate at the Milton Rhodes Arts Center. Billed as a “Parmon Women’s Rally,” the April 25 event’s special guest was Gov. Bev Perdue.

At Herrera’s prompting, Douglas called Willow’s Bistro, which, like, King’s Crab Shack, is owned by Will Kingery, and Finnigan’s Wake Irish Pub and Kitchen. Both restaurants agreed to go in with King’s Crab Shack to provide food for the event.

Kingery was voted "best chef" in YES! Weekly's 2012 reader's poll and Willow's Bistro won "best bistro." King's Crab Shack took first place for "best sea food" and Finnigan's Wake took first place for "best Irish."

Douglas said Herrera suggested that the campaign would like the catering service to be considered a donation.

“I said, ‘We’ll be happy to donate our equipment, time and resources, but we’ve got to get paid something,’” Douglas recalled. Typically restaurants or catering companies require a deposit, but considering the emergency nature of the job there wasn’t time for that, Douglas explained.

Kingery presented Herrera with an invoice for $722 to cover the cost of meatloaf and mashed potatoes provided by Finnigan’s, roasted vegetables, along with hummus, shrimp and crab dip. Kingery hand-wrote an itemization of the goods and services the restaurants were contributing for the event: pita valued at $24, set-up and break-down valued at $180, coolers valued at $27 and plastic wear valued at $60. The total value of the catering job was figured at $1,013, but the restaurants marked down the price to $722 to cover the cost of food.

Herrera signed the invoice indicating that he understood that the restaurants had an expectation to be reimbursed for their costs.

Douglas said he finally received a call back from the Parmon campaign yesterday after he threatened to go to the press.

“They said, ‘Ray Herrera is not affiliated or associated with the campaign, never has been. He is on the volunteer list, but the debt is with him and not the Parmon campaign,’” Douglas said.

That didn’t square with Douglas’ interactions with Herrera on the night of the fundraiser.

“He said he was basically a fundraising person,” Douglas recalled. “He seemed in charge. He was calling the shots to the various volunteers.”

Douglas said he met with Herrera about the disputed payment yesterday, and Herrera told him he was not involved in Parmon’s campaign or those of Linda Coleman, Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, and Everette Witherspoon, a Forsyth County commissioner who ran unsuccessfully for NC House.

“I laid it out to Ray that the story he was giving me was suspect,” Douglas said.

Reached on his cell phone this evening, Herrera said he was unavailable to talk and abruptly hung up the phone. Later, Herrera called back and launched into a tirade, which he said was off the record. He asked not be bothered about the situation. Messages left for Parmon and her campaign for this story were not returned.

Herrera rose to speak in support of Coleman’s candidacy during the Forsyth County Democratic Party convention earlier this year. Later, he handed out Coleman campaign cards, along with fliers endorsing a slate of candidate promoted by the Forsyth Leadership PAC in front of an early-voting polling place.

The notion that Herrera was not involved in Parmon’s campaign also strained credibility. Douglas said he saw Herrera working at the Parmon campaign office on West 4th Street a couple blocks from the restaurant late at night. He went over to look for Herrera there and spoke with a security guard who knew Herrera on a first-name basis. Douglas raised those points Tonya McDaniel, who identified herself as Parmon's campaign manager.

“Yesterday, she said [Herrera] is no longer welcome and they are changing the locks,” Douglas said. “She mentioned that he might be associated with Chris Church.

“I’ve heard whispers around about political impropriety,” Douglas added.

Church helped organize the Forsyth Leadership PAC. His political consulting company paid for the production of fliers endorsing a slate of candidates that included Parmon, Coleman, Witherspoon and others, and paid salaries to poll workers who handed the fliers to voters. The committee was investigated by the state Board of Elections before the office received its organizational report after the beginning of early voting.

The board of elections is currently investigating Church as the treasurer for the campaign committee of Forsyth County Clerk of Superior Court Susan Frye, which is accused of filing a false campaign finance report. The violation, if proven, is a Class I felony under state law.

Parmon said in a prepared statement five days before the May 8 primary that she had no knowledge of the Forsyth Leadership PAC “until I was approached by Chris Church, who contacted my campaign office to request support of the PAC. At the time I was advised that the Forsyth Leadership PAC would be endorsing me as a candidate for NC Senate.”

Notwithstanding Parmon’s distancing herself from Church, the consultant is reported to have worked on the candidate’s campaign. Dr. Bruce Peller, a congressional candidate and former client of Church’s, said Church brought him over to Parmon’s campaign headquarters and had him wait outside while he worked on a computer.

Douglas said he told McDaniel the event at the Milton Rhodes Arts Center was obviously a fundraiser for Parmon and Herrera obviously represented her campaign. He pulled together food from a group of restaurants to help the campaign out in a pinch, and the restaurants expected to be paid for the food.

Douglas said McDaniel ended the conversation by saying, “We’re not afraid of the papers.”


Roch said...

Is it not against the law for a company to make a donation to a political campaign?

Tracie Flowers said...

Tonya McDaniel a campaign worker? Hardly, try campaign manager. Appears that evertime someone associated to the Forsyth Democratic Party has an issue they scream Chris Church. Not the first time an outside surrogate has been used.

Jordan Green said...

Roch, yes it is illegal for a company to contribute to a campaign, but an in-kind contribution could be made by James Douglas, but in that case I suppose Douglas would have to reimburse the three restaurants for the cost.

Tracie, thanks for the clarification. The Parmon campaign never responded to my question about who was serving as her campaign manager. But Douglas did say McDaniel was the manager. I'll amend the story accourdingly.

coopkeeper said...

Interesting, the number of times Chris Church's name comes up in this type of situation.

Don Freedman said...

Restaurants and caterers often get screwed. (I know: our company runs Triad Bridal Association and produces The Carolina Weddings Show, and we work with dozens of them.) It would be instructive to know whether the other restaurant -- the one which 'backed out' - was going to donate the food, or charge for it. AND to learn who (Herrera? or someone else?) made the arrangements with the original restaurant.

Roch said...

"Roch, yes it is illegal for a company to contribute to a campaign, but an in-kind contribution could be made by James Douglas..." -- JG

My point may have been missed. The campaign is not allowed to receive an in-kind donation from a company—food, equipment or labor. Since the campaign accepted these goods and services, whatever their expectations may have been, the law will not allow them to be donations.

In other words, the caterer should bring the unpaid bill to the attention of the Board of Elections. "We thought it was a donation," will not fly with them because that would be the same as saying, "We thought we'd skirt the law."

Jordan Green said...

Your point is clear.