The controversy swirling around President Obama’s upcoming campaign stop in Durham has seemingly reached a satisfactory – if mysterious – conclusion, as an individual donor has stepped forward to cover costs to be incurred by the town that the Obama campaign initially refused to pay.
The estimated cost of a Presidential visit to the 14,630-person town are $20,000 to $30,000, primarily for police and fire public safety services. This cost is not part of the town’s budget, and represents twenty-five to thirty percent of Durham’s budgeted public safety overtime costs for the fiscal year.
The primarily Democratic town, led by Town Administrator Todd Selig, proactively reached out to the Obama for America campaign’s NH Office last week, seeking a commitment from the campaign to reimburse the community for these campaign-related costs. When an agreement was not reached, an emergency Town Council meeting was initially scheduled for Monday.
Selig explained the longstanding historical precedent that guided Durham’s request, stating, “Historically, when the President of the United States visits Durham, NH on an official Presidential state visit, the Town has absorbed the costs associated with the additional police and fire public safety services required by the Secret Service. However, when the candidates visit Durham on a campaign visit, community leaders have taken the position that the campaign, regardless of party affiliation, should absorb the added local public safety costs rather than local taxpayers.”
However, both the town and the Obama campaign caught a break when an anonymous donor surfaced over the weekend and pledged to cover the majority ($20,000) of the costs incurred by the visit.
Durham Town Council Chairs Jay Gooze and James Lawson released a statement on Sunday detailing the thought process behind Durham’s request, and its resolution. From the statement:
We want to be clear that our town’s request was not motivated by partisan politics (a majority of Durham voters are registered Democrats) or by a want to make a national statement about campaign reimbursements. We have more than enough civic work on our plate. To be clear, our request came from the basic responsibility that a local government has to its residents to ensure that expenses outside our approved budget are recovered in a fair and equitable manner. As in small towns across the country, we have struggled to save money while providing essential quality services to our public. We commend our Town Administrator, Todd Selig, for respectfully raising this issue. We owed it to our residents to ask the Obama campaign to help cover our costs. Unfortunately, they declined.
Happily, this afternoon, an anonymous donor, a Durham resident, contacted the Town Administrator and Council Chair and offered to pay for town public safety costs up to $20,000. The donor wanted us to make public his/her sentiment that our Town had done the right thing in asking the campaign to do its part. We are grateful for this generous offer. With this development we have decided to cancel Monday’s special Town Council meeting. The issue of proper compensation for public services from any political candidate is a matter for discussion at a future Town Council meeting.
That said, we believe that now is not the time to further deliberate the issue but to look forward to Monday’s visit. It is a privilege for any town to host a sitting President of any party and we do not take that responsibility lightly. Durham residents will welcome the President with open arms tomorrow and the proud members of our police and fire departments will do their jobs with honor.