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Trump Donations Backlash Caused Candidate to Exit School Board Race



by: Tristan Dufresne,

CHAPEL HILL — After

local activists drew attention to contributions to Donald

Trump’s presidential campaigns made by Louis

Tortora, a prominent

candidate in the upcoming Chapel Hill–Carrboro

Board of Education race, Tortora ended his bid in a matter of days,

in mid-September.


Early voting in the race begins October 16, with five

candidates remaining in the race for four seats

available on the seven-member school board. Election Day is November 5.


A one-time English teacher and former marketing

consultant, Tortora was well known for taking an interest in local

schools through extensive volunteer work. He previously served as the

Improvement Team co-chair for Phillips Middle School, and worked at

Ephesus Elementary School as a tutor. His campaign literature states

that he organized fundraising campaigns and donated over $130,000 of his

own in resources for the benefit of the area’s education. He also spent

some time working with a New York City youth journalism program.“I

have been relentless in my dedication to improving our school system.”

Tortora wrote on his campaign Facebook page on September 15. “However,

we live in a small community, and these negative attacks take their

toll, not just on me, but on my family.”

The four contributions, which

totaled $650 spread out from September 2016 to March 2019, were

brought to light by a series of Twitter posts made

by the account @communistcatdad on September 10. Members of the

Hate-Free Schools Coalition (HFSC) picked up the story on their

Facebook page three days later. Tortora withdrew his candidacy the

weekend of September 14.

Federal Election Commission records confirm four donations by a North Carolinian named Louis Tortora, who is listed on the FEC website as a "retired" individual contributor: $250 on September 23, 2016, $250 on September 30, 2018, $50 on February 1, 2019 and $100 on March 9, 2019. Contributions to campaign committees and their contributors are public record under U.S. law.

“Louis Tortora says that he's running on a platform of equity,” HFSC member Caity McArthur wrote on HFSC’s Facebook page. “He will tell you about all of the money he has given to programs that help marginalized students. But this is an important piece of information leading up to the CHCCS school board election.”

McArthur listed five reasons why President Trump is a problematic candidate to support, including his appointment of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and his alleged discrimination against immigrants and LGBTQ people.Some community members see his dropout as a loss for local education, and expressed support for Tortora. Debra Concannon Ceglia wrote in a Facebook comment on Tortora’s post, “having known Louis since our kids were in preschool — his generosity of dedication was endless.” “The school benefited when Tortora stepped in,” Ceglia continued. “And although now we are in 2 different states, it is sad to read his reasons [for withdrawing], yet 100% understandable for his decision — therefore bowing out ever so graciously. CHCCS School Board will miss out on his talent.”

CHCCS community relations executive Jeff Nash told the Sundial he doesn't know of any similar controversy leading to a drop-out in the recent past. "We don't really track that, they're just citizens running for office,” Nash said. “We do hold information sessions for candidates so they know what they're getting into, because sometimes people just run if they're passionate about one without realizing there is more to the job, but we don't comment on the politics."

“I love our community and I care deeply about giving every kid a strong education foundation,” Tortora wrote on his Facebook campaign page. “I will continue to practice tolerance, compassion and respect for the different life experiences of others, and I hope you will join me in setting that example for our community and our kids.”

Tortora is not the only candidate to take their name out of the running for the school board this cycle. Carmen Huerta-Bapat dropped out of the race in August, attributing her decision to worsening symptoms of a sleep disorder.

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