Orange County

Candidate quits Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board race over reported Trump donations

Louis Tortora
Louis Tortora Contributed

A candidate for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education ended his campaign this week after questions surfaced about his donations to President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Chapel Hill resident Louis Tortora is a former English teacher and marketing professional who touted his volunteer work in education, including as a former co-chair of the Phillips Middle School School Improvement Team; a former board member of Children’s PressLine, a New York City youth journalism program; and with the Teacher Assistant-to-Teach program.

He also has worked as a tutor at Ephesus Elementary School, according to his campaign, and has led fundraising campaigns and donated over $130,000 in resources and equipment to schools and students.

Tortora quit the campaign because of “negative attacks” related to the Trump donations that were uncovered and the effect they have had on his family, he said Saturday in a Facebook post.

“To be clear: I have no political affiliation with President Trump, and I do not personally support his policies, the way he has handled public education or his treatment of people,” Tortora said. “I have been relentless in my dedication to improving our school system for the past five year. However, we live in a small community, and these negative attacks take their toll not just on me, but on my family.”

State voter registration records show Tortora is a registered Democrat.

However, Federal Election Commission records show a Chapel Hill resident named Louis Tortora made four contributions totaling $650 to Trump’s campaign since 2016. The contributions include $150 donated in February and March of this year.

It is not unusual for voters who do not align with the Democratic Party to register as a Democrat in Orange County, where the party holds a solid majority over Republicans.

The information about Tortora’s earlier donations to the Trump campaign was brought to light by local activists and some members of the Hate-Free Schools Coalition, according to Facebook and Twitter posts.

Tortora did not answer Facebook commenters who asked him if the donation information was true. He declined to comment when reached by phone Tuesday.

Tortora is the second Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board candidate to withdraw since July. Carmen Huerta-Bapat bowed out of the race in August, citing health issues related to a sleeping disorder.

Five candidates remain in the race for four seats, including incumbent board member Rani Dasi. The other candidates are former school board member Andrew Davidson, Deon Temne, Jillian La Serna and Ashton Powell.

School board members James Barrett, Pat Heinrich and Jean Hamilton, whose terms will expire in December, decided not to run for re-election.

Barrett is campaigning for N.C. superintendent of public schools. Heinrich and Hamilton, who was appointed in May to serve the remaining term of former board Chair Margaret Samuels, did not say why they were not seeking re-election.

Samuels resigned in February when a group of parents threatened to recall her, Barrett and Heinrich for the board’s vote to make Glenwood Elementary School a Mandarin language magnet school, The News & Observer reported. Barrett and Heinrich were accused of improperly communicating before the vote with parents who supported the magnet school plan. Samuels was accused of not upholding board policies, charges she called “baseless and without foundation.” The recall effort was dropped when she stepped down.

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Tammy Grubb has written about Orange County’s politics, people and government since 2010. She is a UNC-Chapel Hill alumna and has lived and worked in the Triangle for over 25 years.