Raleigh, N.C. — A day before the election, Debra Goldman, the embattled Wake County school board member and Republican candidate for state auditor, appealed to the media to focus on her campaign and steer away from the personal controversy swirling around her.
Goldman told a group of reporters assembled at her attorney's office in downtown Raleigh that she wants them to turn their attention toward the auditor's race. She called out what she described as irregularities in the campaign finance report of her opponent, Democratic incumbent Beth Wood. She also said the number of audits and investigations has decreased while Wood has been in office.
"If she can't audit her own campaign finance report, how can we trust her with our state finances," Goldman said with her attorney, John Austin, by her side. "I think there are some real issues, and I'd like to ask you to focus on that and stop focusing on gossip...and what I see as tabloid fodder."
Goldman was referring to allegations stemming from documents leaked to the media that call into question a police report she filed in 2010 about a theft at her home.
In the report, she told Cary police about $100,000 worth of jewelry, $20,000 in cash and $10,000 in coins were missing from her home. At one point, Goldman accused fellow school board member Chris Malone, but investigators determined her claim was unfounded. They also noted an alleged romantic relationship between the two, which Goldman strongly denies.
Former board chairman Ron Margiotta has said the allegations have made some question whether Goldman voted against the Republican-backed 2010 school assignment plan to spite Malone.
In a September report filed with Cary police, Goldman accused board vice chairman Keith Sutton of threatening her during a meeting about the firing of Superintendent Tony Tata. Investigators closed the case without ever talking to Sutton, who told WRAL News it didn't happen. Goldman said she never intended for a report to be filed.
Goldman said she thinks she knows who is behind the leaks, but she would not give a name. She promised to release documents and audio recordings Monday to help prove her case.
However, before the news conference got under way Monday, Goldman’s attorney invited reporters to step away from the cameras and listen to the audio recordings. He would not allow reporters to air or record the audio.
The first recording was a conversation among Goldman, Malone and Margiotta. In it, Goldman reads a written statement asking them not to send personal texts or emails. Malone responds, sounding surprised and saying he thought they had a professional relationship and did not mean to make her uncomfortable.
"We believe the transcripts that we played verily denies that Chris thought there was a relationship," Austin said.
The second recording is a conversation among Goldman, Margiotta and board member John Tedesco about the 2010 assignment plan in which Goldman expresses reservation. She said the audio proves she voted against the plan out of concern, not to spite Malone.
Goldman said she began recording her conversations because she felt the need to protect herself against her fellow board members.
Board chairman Margiotta said Monday that he was shocked to learn about the secret tapings.
"I think this shows how unstable this woman is," he said. "She actually invited Mr. Tedesco and myself to her home to discuss the plan. Her husband was present. There certainly wasn't any reason to fear."
Goldman is in the midst of a contentious divorce from her husband, Steve Goldman, who told WRAL News last month that he refused to file an insurance claim for the stolen items because he was suspicious about the theft.
Austin stopped short of identifying Steve Goldman as the source of the leak. But the attorney cast doubts on his statements amid such an acrimonious divorce.
Wood also dismissed Goldman's comments, saying her opponent attacked her because "it's the only thing she has."
"She's not qualified to do this job," Wood said. "She refused to debate me, and she knows that she can't get in the same room with me at the same table and talk about this office."
Wood did acknowledge that she hasn't issued as many reports as her predecessor, Les Merritt, because Merritt pulled staff from other divisions to tackle a backlog of audits. So, Wood said, the comparisons are not equal.
"I can't help the personal – the mess she's created in her personal life," Wood said when asked whether she thought Goldman was being unfairly targeted for personal issues.
"I don't have the same mess in my personal life," she said. "I'm happily married and love my job. And we're making an impact on how state government does business."
Goldman said she chose the day before the election to speak out because she wanted to set the record straight and set a good example for her children. She said she's been through a lot in her life, including surviving breast cancer.
"It takes a lot to put yourself out on the line," she said. "I felt it was time do two things: Share the truth and show the world, because everyone is watching this, that there is so much more here. That I'm not a caricature...I am a real person."
Goldman emphasized her dedication to public service, her time on the school board and work as a volunteer firefighter and emergency responder.
"I don't miss meetings. I don't play games," she said. "I stand strong and firm. I dig and find things, and I ask a lot of questions about them."