State & National
|Chavis ready to lead N.C. Democrats|
|Controversial nomination splits party|
|Published Monday, February 24, 2014 3:26 pm|
In the aftermath of the recent political firestorm surrounding the nomination of Benjamin Chavis as executive director of the North Carolina Democratic Party, Chavis says he can and will help the party muster the votes to win this fall.
But only if the state party can overcome its internal differences and divisions and unify in asking him to help.
Chavis’ nomination was temporarily withdrawn amid concerns from moderate and conservative Democrats about his past, which includes allegations of sexual harassment as executive director of the NAACP and an official with the Nation of Islam.
Meanwhile, a statewide letter petition is being circulated to Democrats, asking the NCDP Executive Council to back Chairman Randy Voller in his efforts to recruit Chavis. In addition, support among black Democrats is growing as the party’s African-American Caucus has issued a statement backing Voller and Chavis.
In an exclusive interview with The Carolinian and Wilmington Journal newspapers , Chavis said, “It is up to the [NCDP]…” if he is to become executive director. “I would never try to impose my leadership on anyone or anything.”
Chavis says Voller, whom he had known for only a short time since the Wilmington Ten Pardons of Innocence Project and supported as chair, approached Chavis with the offer to become interim NCDP executive director.
The previous executive director, Robert Dempsey, was summarily fired by Voller on Feb. 9, according to that statewide petition letter to the state Executive Council, because he allegedly, “…has ignored matters brought to his attention by members of minority groups within the Democratic Party. The members are loyal voting Democrats, and on a daily basis fight Governor (Pat) McCrory and General Assembly Republicans, while experience unprofessional treatment within one’s own party is outrageous.”
Gracie Galloway, Democratic chairperson of the Eighth Congressional District, which includes Mecklenburg County, confirmed in an interview that Dempsey was unresponsive to the needs of “minority” members of the NCDP, having dealt with him personally on several organizational issues.
Chavis was moving back to North Carolina to pursue other opportunities – particularly to help historically black colleges and universities – but says he was willing to lend his talents and services to the NCDP when Voller made the executive director offer for what is considered a crucial midterm election year.
But once word leaked out, it didn’t take long for Chavis to realize that those in the party who opposed the progressive politics of Voller were moving to block his nomination.
“Some of the people who opposed Voller used this as an opportunity to create their own agenda,” Chavis said. “I thought that when the chairman of the [state] Democratic Party extended an overture, that his overture was representative of the political will of at least a majority of the officials at the party.”
He explained: “I would have never entertained the idea of becoming executive director of the NCDP if I didn’t feel that it was a sincere overture.”
Chavis said Voller had hoped to unite all factions of the party around a massive voter registration effort, which needed to start immediately in order to generate enough of a statewide base to carry the Democrats to victory in November. The key was to do what the Obama campaign successfully did in 2008, namely bring new voters into the base.
With a tight statewide race expected for incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and redistricting essentially making almost every Republican-leaning voting district bulletproof on the state and congressional levels, many felt Chavis’ experience at running voter registration campaigns plus his skills communicating with young people through his Hip Hop Action Network with Russell Simmons might be the NCDP’s best hope of taking North Carolina back from the Republicans.
Chavis said there are 1 million unregistered voters, many of them black or Latino.
“My motive was to come to serve the people of North Carolina, to serve institutions of higher learning, and to serve those, heretofore, whose rights have been denied and suppressed,” Chavis said.
But before his plane could touch down Feb. 11 in Raleigh, Democrats opposed to Voller had revived allegations of sexual harassment against Chavis from his days as executive director of the NAACP 20 years ago and his brief membership in the Nation of Islam.
Chavis says though there was a settlement of a sexual harassment allegation when he was executive director of the NAACP in 1994, it was a “totally false” allegation, with no admission of guilt.
He also vehemently denied charges of anti-Semitism that grew out of his relationship with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Chavis said he works with Jews “almost every day,” adding that his critics would be hard-pressed to find any statements by him expressing hatred of Jewish people, because he’s never made any.
Chavis said he hasn’t been a member of the NOI for years, and is a member of Oak Level United Church of Christ in Manson, N.C.
Chavis says what has happened in the past two weeks proves that there is a fear in North Carolina that is not just generated by Republicans, and that’s what has North Carolina “trending backwards.”
“If the [NCDP] wants me to serve [as executive director], I am open to that overture, but it’s up to them,” he said. “I’m not going to stand still.”
Chavis asked Voller to withdraw his nomination, possibly to regroup in 30 days.
Last week, a statewide petition letter, addressed to the NCDP State Executive Council, not only denounced the attacks on Chavis, but challenges those members to own up to the party’s own misdeeds of sexual harassment coverups and criminal corruption by elected officials before they judge the civil rights leader.
Eighth District Chairperson Gracie Galloway says she wants Democrats to sign the letter and send it to Voller at N.C. Democratic Party headquarters. Galloway calls what happened to Chavis “ a travesty.”
Send this page to a friend