Junior League survives bumpy road to inaugural ball

cjarvis@newsobserver.comJanuary 10, 2013 

STANDALONE.NE.010913.CCS

A worker pulls cables at the Raleigh Convention Center Wednesday, January 9, 2013 in preparation for Friday's night's gala for new Governor Pat McCrory.

CHRIS SEWARD — cseward@newsobserver.com

— A string of obstacles that bedeviled the Junior League of Raleigh’s inaugural ball this year will not take a toll on the charitable group’s historic event, organizers said Thursday.

Ticket sales and sponsorships have both surpassed the organization’s goals this week, said president Pat Wilkins.

“History and tradition have prevailed, for sure,” Wilkins said. “What has happened is, the show goes on. The support has been overwhelming.”

A little while ago that wasn’t a certainty.

First, an opinion by the state Ethics Commission in May reversed what had been standard practice and said the Junior League could no longer give free tickets to legislators, members of the Council of State – the 10 elected executive officers – or certain other public servants.

Then, just as the Junior League was sending out its invitations for Friday’s inaugural ball – as it has done for 20 previous balls – a new nonprofit political organization tied to Gov. Pat McCrory decided to throw its own party on Saturday, posing competition for the ball. The Saturday event is being held to raise money to promote conservative issues, and provide high-dollar face time with the new governor.

Finally, first lady Ann McCrory abruptly declined to host the Junior League’s “first ladies luncheon,” which would have been Thursday. At the time, the league said McCrory’s staff didn’t give a reason for bowing out.

But on Thursday the first lady showed up at the Durham Rescue Mission, where she read to children and handed out lunch plates. Chris Walker, the governor’s spokesman, said Ann McCrory decided to skip the lunch – which has been held twice, during Gov. Mike Easley’s inaugurations – so she could do something for the community.

“She wanted a service element to what she was doing during inauguration week,” Walker said. “In lieu of lunch, she wanted to spend time doing volunteer work.”

Insisting they weren’t taking it as a snub, Wilkins said the Junior League kept its focus on selling tickets and attracting sponsors. She said more than 3,000 tickets have been sold so far. Two years in the planning, the ball is the Junior League’s premiere fundraising event. Proceeds have been used for community programs that have benefits beyond Wake County. Its sponsors, big and small, are identified on its website – unlike the contributors to the McCrory alt-inaugural party on Saturday.

Saturday’s “Nothing Could Be Finer” party sold out earlier this week, reaching a limit of 3,000 tickets, according to Foundation for North Carolina spokesman Dan Spuller. Both the Friday and Saturday events are at the Raleigh Convention Center, but tickets are still available for the Friday ball because the Junior League is using the entire center.

Foundation for North Carolina, a 501(c)(4) social welfare nonprofit group, doesn’t have to disclose its contributors, and its money can be used for a wide variety of political purposes. Besides a $1,000-a-ticket private reception with the governor, party tickets went for $75. It has plans for spring and fall conferences with McCrory at memberships as high as $25,000 and $50,000.

Corporate money is also pouring into the Junior League events, which include the ball and a Thursday night event for Council of State members. So far a total $1 million in sponsorships have been committed. Some of the contributors have interests with state government, such as the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, GlaxoSmithKline, Reynolds American and BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina.

Jarvis: 919-829-4576

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