Midtown Raleigh News

Lightner settles debt over Jackson tribute

A legal rift between the city and Southeast Raleigh activist Bruce Lightner ended Monday when the two sides settled Lightner’s debt from a 2009 tribute to pop icon Michael Jackson.

Lightner hosted a public gathering for the screening of Jackson’s funeral celebration and rented out the Raleigh Convention Center expecting a big turnout.

But after the funeral was moved to mid-week, only a few hundred attended and paid the $5 admission Lightner had hoped would cover his expenses. The bill from the event was $24,500.

In February, the city filed a complaint in Wake County district court to collect $11,395 that Lightner still owed.

Raleigh agreed to settle the case for $8,000, said City Attorney Tom McCormick. The paperwork was completed Monday.

“It’s better to get part of something than all of nothing,” McCormick said. “Had the matter gone to judgment, I’m not convinced he had $11,000 worth of assets.”

Reached on Monday, Lightner declined to respond to McCormick’s comments. In a recent email to The News & Observer, Lightner said he was glad to put the issue behind him.

“The city played hardball with me,” Lightner said in the email. “But thanks to friends who recognized the value of my work we were able to retire this debt.”

As the two sides argued over the timing and amount of payments, Lightner told McCormick in a letter that he hoped the city would “avoid the public embarrassment” of taking him to court.

Lightner is the son of Raleigh’s first and only African-American mayor, the late Clarence E. Lightner. He owns and operates Lightner Funeral Home & Cremations.

He’s also chairman of the Martin Luther King Committee, a volunteer group that organizes civil rights events and bus trips to historic sites.

The Jackson tribute came together quickly. There were live performances by Timika Shields, Stanley Baird Trio and a local children’s choir. Afterward, video screens tuned into a live feed of Jackson’s memorial service from Los Angeles.