Robert L. Luddy, the founder of the Thales Academy chain of private schools and CEO of commercial kitchen ventilation systems company CaptiveAire, makes a lot of political donations. 

Over the years, Luddy and his wife Maria have given thousands of dollars to Republicans in North Carolina and across the country—and Luddy’s not sitting out this municipal election cycle, either. 

Pre-election campaign finance reports filed Thursday show that Luddy donated $5,000 each to three candidates for Apex Town Council: Christine Hale and Tim Powell, both Republicans, and Gordon Williford, who is unaffiliated. Luddy also gave $5,000 to Sean Mayefskie, a Republican who is running for mayor of Holly Springs. 

Voter records indicate Luddy is a resident of Wake Forest. He hasn’t made any donations to candidates running for office in his hometown, and he also hasn’t responded to requests for comment regarding these donations. 

Thales Academy has two school locations in Apex, an elementary school and a junior high/high school, as well as locations in other parts of the Triangle, including in Cary, Holly Springs, Knightdale, Raleigh, Rolesville, and Wake Forest (and in Virginia, Tennessee, and South Carolina).

At its North Carolina locations, the private school chain has been in the news during the pandemic. 

Thales Academy reopened its eight North Carolina campuses to students to learn in person in August of 2020 while COVID-19 case numbers were still rising and public schools were teaching virtually. Initially, masks were optional. Outbreaks of COVID-19 occurred on various campuses, and parents began complaining about the lack of a mask policy. Luddy reportedly told a parent in an email that “the flu is far more serious for children than COVID.” For the 2021-2002 school year, Thales Academy made masks optional.

Christine Hale, one of the candidates for the Apex Town Council, has been vocal on social media about her opposition to masks. She’s also on the board of the Carolina Teachers Alliance, a group that formed within the last year as an alternative to the state’s teachers unions with the mission of fighting masks in schools and opposing critical race theory. 

Hale did not respond to the INDY’s request for comment. 

On August 24, five days after the town of Apex instituted a policy requiring face coverings in all government buildings, all three town council members—Hale, Powell, and Williford—attended a town council meeting in person without wearing masks. 

“I carried a mask with me, as I have done for the past year, just in case there was a mask law in Apex that was being enforced,” candidate Powell wrote in an email to the INDY. “When I arrived and saw that this was not the case, and knowing that I was well that day—I had no fever, no symptoms, had been social distancing and working outdoors all day—and that others in the building were also not wearing a mask, I kept my mask handy just in case I needed it.”

Williford also said that he felt he didn’t need to wear a mask to the meeting.

“From a mask perspective I feel that you should follow the rules per the location that you are in,” he wrote in an email to the INDY. “Masks were recommended but not required at the Council meeting and I chose not to wear one as I had not been exposed to anyone with COVID and was not showing any symptoms. There were law enforcement personnel present at that meeting as they are at all of them to enforce the rules and I was never asked to put on a mask.”

Hale, Powell, and Williford have been campaigning as a bloc. A flyer from the Wake County GOP promotes the candidates’ platforms as “Prioritize Election Integrity,” “Cut Government Spending,” “Stop Critical Race Theory,” and “Ensure Public Safety.” 

When asked why prioritizing election integrity and stopping critical race theory is relevant to the campaign platforms of candidates for town council, Powell and Williford said they didn’t have input in the GOP flyer.

“That was a GOP flyer stating high level GOP platform statements,” Williford wrote. “Election integrity is something that every citizen should be concerned about as every vote needs to be counted to ensure a fair democracy regardless of your political views.”

“I was not involved in the creation or distribution of the flyer,” Powell wrote. “Apparently, the Wake GOP used party priorities to encourage Republicans to go vote for me.”

Powell said he was grateful for Luddy’s campaign donation but said he doesn’t know Luddy or have any connection to him and that the donation came as a surprise to him. His children, he wrote, have attended Wake public schools for a combined 15 years. Powell added that having school choices “is important for a town like Apex.”

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