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Phelps: Steinburg's Currituck contract 'wrong'

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Cole Phelps, the Democratic candidate in state Senate District 1, criticized his Republican opponent, Bob Steinburg, on Saturday for seeking and receiving a $50,000 sports marketing contract from Currituck County, describing the contract as “wrong.”

Phelps, speaking at a Democratic Party picnic at Waterfront Park, said near the end of his speech that he needed to address “the elephant in the room” and talk about “this thing that’s going on in Currituck County with my opponent.” 

Phelps, a Washington County commissioner, was referring to a $50,000 contract Steinburg, a state lawmaker from Chowan County, signed with Currituck County in December 2017 to have his private sports marketing company, the WolfeStein Group, promote and market a men’s college basketball tournament the county is sponsoring in November. The “visitcurrituckobx.com Battle in the Blue Ridge” will be held in Asheville the weekend after Thanksgiving. 

In approaching Currituck about sponsoring the tournament, Steinburg said he believed it would be a great benefit to the county. Though the event will be held in Asheville, Steinburg said it would be broadly promoted on social media, including by the participating teams. 

Currituck Travel and Tourism Director Tameron Kugler has said Currituck’s sponsorship of the basketball tourney offers the county valuable nationwide exposure.

Steinburg has strongly rejected any suggestion of impropriety or a quid pro quo with the deal, given he asked one of the counties he represents in the state House to contract with him. Being a state lawmaker is a part-time job and lawmakers are allowed to hold other jobs, he has said.

Steinburg has also said he cleared the potential arrangement with state ethics officials before approaching Currituck.

Phelps, however, said he questions the contract. He also claimed on Saturday that voters in the 1st Senate District are questioning it as well.   

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t hear about it when I’m on the campaign trail,” he said.

“It needs to be called out because it’s wrong,” Phelps continued. “And what makes it wrong is that this is a contract that he entered into behind closed doors with the manager in Currituck County — and took $50,000 from the taxpayers of Currituck County.”

Phelps noted that Steinburg secured passage of a couple of bills in the General Assembly for Currituck.

“So, Pasquotank County, I ask you, what is the price for legislation? Twenty-five thousand dollars per bill?” he asked.

Steinburg, reached Sunday afternoon, declined to respond to Phelps’ characterization of his company’s contract with Currituck.  

“I will have no further comment on these ridiculous, unfounded and absolutely absurd categorizations of my involvement with the www.visitcurrituckobx.com 'Battle in the Blue Ridge Basketball Tournament,'” he said.

As for Phelps, Steinburg said, “What voters need to know about Cole Phelps is he's a tax-raiser and a gun-grabber. Just ask the NRA.”

During his speech on Saturday, Phelps said he doesn’t want to talk about Steinburg because he wants to run an issue-driven campaign. However, he said his opponent is claiming he wants to take away citizens’ guns when nothing could be further from the truth.

Phelps drew laughs from the audience when he said, “My grandfather and my father have enough guns that if I want guns, I can go to the house and get guns.”  

Staff Writer Jon Hawley contributed to this report.

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