Roadside campaign signs are popping up across Chatham County, and while they vary in contents and colors, they convey one clear message: Mike Cross and Mary Wallace are spending the most money, the earliest, in advance of the July 20 primary.

The first two candidates to jump into the commissioners’ race this spring, both Democrats vying for the District 2 seat, already are operating campaigns in the five-digit zone, according to initial financial reports filed with the county elections office.

A total of eight candidates–six Dems and two Republicans–are in the countywide race for two of the five seats on the board, but Cross and Wallace are the only two who had raised and spent significant amounts by the end of the first reporting period in mid-April.

Reports show that Cross has raised $3,223 from individual supporters and loaned himself $9,000, for a total income of $12,223. Cross had spent $7,561–including repaying himself $1,000–leaving him with $4,662.

Wallace’s report shows she has raised $10,728 from individual supporters and loaned herself $200, for a total income of $10,928. As of the end of the reporting period, she had spent $8,304, leaving her $2,624 in cash on hand.

A retired Navy officer and resident of Corinth, Cross is making his first bid for elected office. He became involved in local politics as a citizen activist, having co-founded the Southeast Chatham Citizens Advisory Committee, a grassroots group that organized against a proposed waste dump in Moncure in 2001 and has since coalesced around various environmental and social justice issues.

Cross’ individual contributions reflect a support base among residents in his end of the county, with many small donations from his neighbors. With the exception of money he’s given himself, a $150 contribution from his campaign manager and unsuccessful 2002 commissioner candidate David LeGrys, and $150 from neighbor Roger Cross (who’s not related), all of Mike Cross’ donations so far are $100 or less, each.

Though election laws only require candidates to disclose the identity, occupation and employer of donors who give more than $100, Cross identified all of his contributors.

Wallace, who served as Pittsboro mayor from 1986-1989 and owned a downtown hair salon for many years, has raised several large amounts from a handful of individuals, including her two campaign managers, John Cooper and Victor Aldridge. Cooper, a longtime Pittsboro politico whom Wallace put in charge of her eastern Chatham campaign, has given her $700. Aldridge, a Siler City retiree overseeing Wallace’s western Chatham efforts, has given her $250.

Election records show both men were active contributors in the last county election in 2002 as well. Cooper gave current commissioners Chairman Tommy Emerson $100 and worked on his campaign, as well as donated $20 to the Concerned Citizens and Business Committee PAC, a pro-growth group that was very active in the contentious 2002 race.

Aldridge supported successful District 4 challenger Bunkey Morgan in 2002, giving him $550. Aldridge also backed Emerson and incumbent Commissioner Carl Outz, giving them each $100.

Other significant contributors of Wallace’s so far include: Heartwood real estate agent and former Pittsboro mayor Bill Warfford, who is also her campaign treasurer ($650); James C. Thomas of Pittsboro ($550); current Pittsboro Mayor Nancy May ($500); former Pittsboro police chief Larry Hipp and his wife, Mildred ($500); Joeth Springle, also of Pittsboro ($400); sport shop proprietor Theda Sawyer ($300); and land surveyor Van Finch and his wife, Marilyn ($200).

In addition to the larger checks, Wallace also reported $4,190 in 65 separate contributions of $100 or less, each, from unnamed individuals.

For many of her contributors over $100, Wallace listed “self-employed” under “employer’s name/specific field” and left the “job title/profession” field blank.

County Elections Director Dawn Stumpf says she is planning a workshop to teach all the candidates how to fill out the forms with the correct details. Stumpf says she has fielded many questions from the candidates and their helpers, including Linda Jacobs, the ReMax real estate agent who filled out Wallace’s paperwork.

On the expense side, Cross has spent the bulk of his money so far on signs, printing and advertising. Wallace has also bought signs and ordered campaign literature, as well as spent about $1,520 on invitations, catering and entertainment for her campaign kick-off party and $1,557 on “candidate photos.” Wallace also reported paying supporter Barrett Powell $75 for work designing her Web site. Powell, a real estate agent in Jacobs’ firm, has insisted that he personally, and not his company, is supporting Wallace, though he registered her web address to the business. (See “Chatham Sprawl Lobby Gearing Up Again,” April 21, 2004 ).

For the District 1 seat up for grabs, two newcomers–Chatham County United citizen group founder Patrick Barnes and former county public works director Ron Singleton–face former commissioner Uva Holland in a three-way Democratic primary. Incumbent Bob Atwater is stepping down to seek a state Senate seat in a newly redrawn district that covers all of Chatham and Lee counties and part of Durham County.

Barnes’ financial report shows he has raised $99 in individual contributions and loaned himself $5,000. He has spent $628. Singleton has raised $1,000 from one supporter, Joseph Johnson of Greensboro, whose job title is listed as “retired,” and spent $24.

The remaining candidates will submit their first financial reports next month. A third candidate in the District 2 Democratic primary with Cross and Wallace, the Rev. Barry Gray, has declared that he plans to raise and spend less than $3,000 in the race, which exempts him from detailed reporting.

Two Republicans, Andy Wilkie and Mike Tysor, will face off in a primary in District 2 as well. Wilkie has also pledged to spend less than $3,000. The winner of the November general election will take the seat vacated by outgoing Commissioner Margaret Pollard.