WHEELING — A Democratic state Senate candidate and a Wheeling attorney who hosted a political fundraiser for him last month say having high school football players help park cars for the event doesn’t constitute a political endorsement by the school district.
Teresa Toriseva hosted a fundraiser July 26 for former U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld at her Toriseva Law office on National Road in Wheeling. It took place the same day Vice President Mike Pence was in Wheeling for rally and for a Republican fundraiser. Ihlenfeld is running against Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns.
Because of limited parking at the office, Toriseva hired four Wheeling Park High School football players to valet cars to a church parking lot down the street.
“First of all, I was proud of these young men for their good work and their attention to safety at the event,” Toriseva told The West Virginia Record. “No one asked for or received any endorsement from Wheeling Park High School or the players or anyone associated with the school or the Ohio County Board of Education.”
Ihlenfeld, a WPHS graduate, agreed.
“I was somewhat surprised to see the picture in the newspaper of the young men holding the sign,” he told The Record. “I’m not sure who took it, or who arranged for it to be taken, but it wasn’t done by me or anyone affiliated with my campaign. These guys were simply there to park cars and make some money and in no way did they endorse my campaign for state Senate.
“I played football for Wheeling Park and have always been a supporter of the program. Whenever I can help these kids, I try to do so.”
Ihlenfeld said he has family members who work for the school district, and his children attend school in the district.
Ferns was critical of how the Ihlenfeld fundraiser used the WPHS football players.
“For years in West Virginia we’ve been reading stories about politicians using taxpayer dollars to benefit themselves to get elected or re-elected to office,” Ferns said. “I think it’s unfortunate that my opponent would use the taxpayer-funded school system to further his political career, but I’m not completely surprised.
“My opponent was appointed by Barack Obama (as U.S. attorney), and Obama’s campaign team was the best at using the system for their benefit.”
Ohio County Assistant Superintendent Rick Jones said the school district isn’t endorsing any candidate in the race.
“I cannot comment about an event taking place at Toriseva Law offices that has nothing to do with the school district,” he told The Wheeling Intelligencer newspaper. “It’s impossible for the school district to endorse a candidate, so it’s an impossible question to answer.
“They get asked on occasion for things like this — clean up projects, etc. The football coach didn’t even know what the event was for and got his volunteers. Later, the organizer asked if they could wear a Park shirt so they stood out as valet people and they could tell everyone to look for the kids in the Park shirts for parking help. The coach gave them jerseys to use to park cars.
“We do not and will not consciously get involved in politics. I’ve spoken to the coach, and it was a mistake. It was not on purpose.”
Toriseva said her office contacted WPHS football Coach Chris Daugherty for possible help parking the cars of people attending the fundraiser.
“We contacted Coach Daugherty and asked for young men who might be interested in working together to make a few bucks parking cars for an event at my office since parking space is limited,” she said. “He had four speak up for the job, and we all agreed the jerseys would be good for safety … valet parking on busy National Road.
“We had a lot of cars pulling up in a short period of time, as the event was incredibly well-attended.”
Ferns said he “would personally never engage in abusing taxpayer dollars for my benefit.”
“I am focused on creating jobs and fighting the drug epidemic,” Ferns said. “I believe I will earn the vote of the people of West Virginia by continuing to take West Virginia in a new direction.”
Ihlenfeld also said he found Ferns’ criticism of his campaign “using taxpayer dollars to benefit themselves” interesting.
“To be clear, no taxpayer dollars were used by me or by anyone else to support my fundraiser,” Ihlenfeld said. “But more importantly, this remark seems to suggest that officials have gone to Charleston and used their positions to help themselves (and perhaps their families) to get rich.
“Is this truly the case? And have they gotten rich while many West Virginians struggle just to pay their bills each month? These are important questions to which voters deserve answers. Stay tuned, much more to come.”
Toriseva said Ferns’ campaign is being critical because it feels pressure from Ihlenfeld in his first political campaign.
“This criticism comes from Ihlenfeld’s opponent because the Ihlenfeld campaign is surging and gaining wide community support from Hancock down to Marshall County,” Toriseva said. “This race really is one to watch statewide.”