Barry Saunders

Saunders: Drunk Town ad may have been effective, but what happened to that dude?

Businessman Dean Debnam says his “Drunktown” ads, which featured this nauseous-looking man on a sidewalk.
Businessman Dean Debnam says his “Drunktown” ads, which featured this nauseous-looking man on a sidewalk.

Did somebody at least do something to help the chubby dude leaning up against the lamp post?

While city officials are rightfully concerned with the way Raleigh was portrayed to the outside world in a recent newspaper ad featuring a portly port-chugger, I – being sensitive to a fault – was more worried about the kid.

The millennial-looking lush, clad in the male millennial’s official party-time, fashion-backward outfit of untucked dress shirt and blue jeans, appears to be green around the gills, two sheets to the wind, about to call Earl.

In other words, he looks lit up like a Christmas tree.

Who is he? I fretted. Did somebody call him a cab? Get him a barf bag? The phone number to AA?

Janet Cooke, a reporter for the Washington Post, once wrote a story about an 8-year-old heroin addict that sent D.C. officials and cops on a desperate humanitarian mission to find and save him.

Turned out that the prepubescent drug abuser existed only in Cooke’s amoral, ambitious mind, and thousands of dollars in money and manpower were wasted hunting for a “victim” who didn’t even exist.

Neither did the drunk dude in the lamp post ad, so relax.

He was, according to Dean Debnam, the Raleigh businessman who led the political push against downtown bars, “(j)ust an actor our vendor hired” and he made it home safely. “Sadly, however, that isn’t always the case for the patrons of the bars downtown.” An N&O story identified the lamp-post leaner as a recent N.C. State University grad.

When I asked Debnam if he thought the ad was effective in shaping the election, he said, “I know the ad was effective because I own a polling company, and like we tell our clients, there is no reason to guess when you can know.”

He also cited as proof of the ad’s effectiveness that incumbent councilwoman Mary Ann Baldwin (portrayed by some opponents as the pro-puking, pro-partying downtown candidate) came out ahead of incumbent Russ Stephenson with less than 1 percent of the vote. (Both Baldwin and Stephenson were easily re-elected in the at-large race.) And, Debnam said, every pro bar candidate except Baldwin and Bonner Gaylord was defeated.

“We also spent less than 5 percent of the total money spent on races in Raleigh, and we were able to frame the entire debate. Yes that is effective,” Debnam said.

Will the election results prevent Raleigh from becoming Drunk Town? I asked.

“It already is, on Fridays and Saturdays,” Debnam said. He later added, “A vision for Raleigh needs to be more than bars and nightclubs, and that is currently where things are heading downtown.”

It’s understandable that the initial impulse of some city officials would be to rebel against Raleigh’s portrayal as a wicked weekend vomitorium overrun by rambunctious rum-and-Cokers, but some people – OK, just I – think the city should embrace the designation as a destination for drunks. The city flag, which features an antlered deer on one side, could show that deer falling off a bar stool – or that fellow in the ad leaning against a lamp post about to hurl.

Here, with apologies to one-hit wonder Lipps Inc., is their 1980 hit “Funkytown,” adapted to what should become Raleigh’s theme song. (Lipps Inc., on the other hand, should apologize to music lovers everywhere – or to anyone with ears – for making that over-synthesized dreck.)

Maestro, hit it:

Gotta make my move to a town that’s right for me,

Where when I get drunk people won’t even look twice at me.

Well, I talk about, talk about, talk about movin’...

Won’t you take me to Drunky Town?

Won’t you take me to Drunky Town?

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