Raleigh, N.C. — Democrats will meet in Greensboro Saturday to elect new party leaders following a scandal that broke out weeks before the primary. But the new boss might be same as the old boss if some of the party faithful get their way.
In April, Jay Parmley resigned as executive director of the party after allegations that he sexually harassed a male staffer became public. Calls soon followed for Chairman David Parker's resignation due to his handling of the affair, in which the junior staffer was fired but Parmley was allowed to continue working. Parmley denied any wrongdoing by way of a written statement. In a rambling news conference, Parker claimed he handled the allegations appropriately.
But Parker did relent and agreed that he would resign as soon as a successor could be named.
The party chairman is responsible for raising money and helping to organize the statewide network of volunteers who in turn help Democratic candidates get elected. Typically, who runs the party is an "inside baseball" matter and the public takes little notice. But the Parmley-Parker episode garnered national headlines, more so because Parker resisted calls to step aside from Gov. Bev Perdue and national officials for the better part of a week.
So Saturday's State Executive Committee vote in Greensboro will be closely watched, if for no other reason because it will pick the person responsible for rallying a Democratic Party that recently spent an uncomfortable amount of time as a punch line for late night comedians.
But e-mails obtained by WRAL and interviews conducted Friday indicate there's a chance Democrats won't replace Parker.
There are 742 members of the State Executive Committee, or SEC. It's unclear how many will make it to Greensboro Saturday or send proxies with others attending the meeting. Because Parker has not officially resigned yet, the group's first order of business will be to hold a vote on accepting his resignation.
Some SEC members say they will vote not to accept Parker's resignation.
"I don't think it's fair, regardless of the political atmosphere, to ask someone to resign if they didn't break the law," said June Mabry, an SEC members and chairman of the party's eighth congressional district committee. "In my opinion, Mr. Parker didn't violate any of the rules in our bylaws. He didn't violate any of our personnel policies. He didn't violate any laws."
Asked how many people felt the same way as she did, Mabry said she didn't know. What's more, she said it was unclear how many Parker supporters would make the trip to Greensboro on a weekend packed with graduation and Mother's Day celebrations.
In an e-mail that was widely circulated among political reporters in Raleigh, William Franklin, an SEC member from Burlington, argues that calls for Parker to resign was part of an effort to consolidate power among the party's elected leaders, away from the grass roots.
"The people need to control the Party, not the Governor, not the Council of State and certainly not the legislators and lobbyists/contractors. We had that show for years and finally broke out of it. It is not likely most want to return to that mess.... There is some sentiment that David must be guilty if all these fine politicians want to kill him off. They don't care about the real case, President Obama is coming and this might stain the carpet he walks on," Franklin wrote.
On background, sources familiar with the SEC said it was Parker himself who made sure people knew about the requirement that the group accept his resignation. Parker did not answer calls placed to his mobile phone and office Friday afternoon and no voice mail answered either phone after more than a dozen rings. However, the same sources said they now expected Parker to ask that members of the SEC accept his resignation.
If so, members would then have to pick a new chairman. Although it's possible for someone else to run, three Democrats have made their intentions to seek the office known:
- Don Vaughan, a state senator from Greensboro who is not running for re-election, was the first person to publicly declare his intent to run for the post. Since then, many liberal voices questioned Vaughan's connections to ALEC, a pro-business group seen as deeply connected to the Republican Party. Vaughan has since resigned his ALEC membership.
- Mary Ann Baldwin, a Raleigh City Council member, is rumored to be the favorite of some inside the Raleigh belt line due to her fundraising prowess.
- Frank Eaton, a film maker known for his work on campaign commercial and advocacy films, was a late entry into the race.
Laura Leslie will be in Greensboro to cover the vote Saturday.