Greensboro, N.C. — North Carolina's Democratic Party leaders on Sunday chose interim executive director Casey Mann as their new permanent executive director.
Mann is a close ally of embattled party Chairman Randy Voller. Her selection caps his efforts to reassert power within the party after tax scandals, management issues, financial problems and public gaffes prompted some party leaders to call for his resignation.
Mann was tapped by Voller for the interim post Feb. 11. She has served for the past year as the party's state director, responsible for field work and recruitment. She was also campaign manager for Democratic statehouse hopeful Ed Ridpath in 2006 and state volunteer director for the Kerry/Edwards presidential campaign in 2004.
Attendees said about 75 people were at a meeting on the matter Sunday in Greensboro. The debate over the executive director, however, was restricted to a closed session of the party's State Executive Council. Only about half of the 53 council members attended, either in person or by proxy.
The executive director is the day-to-day leader of the party, responsible for administration, organization and fundraising. It's an appointed, paid position, as opposed to the chairman, who is elected but unpaid. It's not typically a high-profile position, but a series of recent problems at the party have attracted the media spotlight.
In April 2012, former executive director Jay Parmley resigned after he was accused of sexually harassing a party staffer. David Parker, chairman at the time, stood by Parmley.
Parmley was replaced by Tammy Brunner as executive director. She was fired in April 2013 by Voller shortly after his election as chair.
Next, the party brought in Robert Dempsey, a seasoned party operative who formerly directed the Vermont Democratic Party. Many North Carolina Democrats told WRAL News they believed Dempsey was doing an excellent job, but he, too, was abruptly fired by Voller in February.
Voller refused to say why he fired Dempsey, but party insiders say Voller believed Dempsey was too focused on U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan's re-election campaign.
Just a day later, Voller announced a press conference at which he said he would name Ben Chavis as the party's new executive director.
That announcement touched off an ugly firestorm within the party. Chavis supporters pointed to his storied civil rights legacy and accused detractors of racism. Chavis critics brought up several past legal settlements, two dealing with alleged sexual harassment, as well as his lack of experience in party administration or organization.
After an angry teleconference with the Executive Council, Voller backed off plans to appoint Chavis, instead calling for the Greensboro meeting to discuss the matter. During the conference call, Mann was nominated by Voller and confirmed as the party's interim executive director.
Last week, Voller sent an email to Executive Council members, saying that he intended to nominate a candidate for approval at Sunday's meeting, even though observers said the position had been posted on the party's website for only about a week. Chavis reportedly did not submit a résumé.
In his message, Voller said the last executive director search "resulted in ten (10) finalists, who were all white men; none of whom resided in North Carolina. (A result which a number of party stakeholders considered to be questionable and perhaps indicative of a flawed process.)"
Voller said he wanted the next executive director to be "reflective of the diversity of the North Carolina Democratic Party.
"In addition, I would prefer that the next director to live in NC and/or have roots in NC."
He added that he had consulted with party leaders, including former Gov. Jim Hunt and State Treasurer Janet Cowell.
It's unclear how much Mann's election – and Voller's vindication – may matter in the 2014 elections. With Hagan's campaign choosing to align with the Wake County Democratic Party instead of the state party, some say the leadership of the latter has become a '"moot point."
"With Hagan and all of the federal money that follows her going through Wake now, NCDP doesn't have the money to organize a single large municipal race, much less the whole state," one insider said. "It's just Randy [Voller] staking claim to something no one else wants anymore."
Some at the meeting said they believed many Council members were absent, but party spokeswoman Marjorie Fields Harris confirmed 43 of the 46 Executive Council members attended either in person or by proxy.
An Executive Council member who attended Sunday's meeting said Voller told members the party is "broke," with only $60,000 in the bank. According to the member, Voller said he may have to let some staffers go and is even evaluating whether the party can afford to keep the Goodwin House, its historic headquarters near the Capitol in downtown Raleigh.
Harris disagreed, saying that Voller didn't use the word "broke," and said only that the party funding is "below budgeted staffing levels."
Regarding selling the Goodwin House, Harris offered this statement from Voller:
"The Party is always evaluating its options. The Goodwin House is a tremendous asset for the Democratic Party. However, it may not be the optimal building from which to organize and win campaigns. Even the Wake County Dem Party is evaluating options because during an election season, you must have resources such as good parking and work space from which volunteers may operate."
Voller also pledged $5,000 to the party's operating fund, despite having an outstanding federal debt for unpaid back taxes.
"This pledge excited the party, and people stepped up to the challenge," Harris said. "The chairman has paid off his debt to the State of North Carolina and is continuing to pay off his federal tax debt in a prompt manner. All of his other taxes are paid. He takes these matters seriously and intends to pay them off."
The party has been in dire financial straits since Voller's election as chairman. In spring 2013, Jamie Kirk Hahn, a vital fundraiser, was killed, and Voller fired the party's other major fundraiser, Ellen Stankiewicz.
Stankiewicz's replacement, fundraiser Tiffany Reynolds-Richardson, resigned the day after Voller fired Dempsey.