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House Speaker Remains Strong Political Force, Some Observers Say

Even with a federal corruption investigation under way and a race too close to call, some political observers say House Speaker Jim Black is likely to remain House speaker.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A grand jury investigation still plagues House Speaker Jim Black, and he faces a disputed election in which critics and some supporters have counted him out.

But some political observers say that as long as the Democrat from Mecklenburg County is not charged in a state and federal corruption investigation, he remains a political force.

"He truly is a survivor," political consultant Brad Crone said.

Barring a new election in the House District 100 race, Black will likely keep his legislative seat. When the State Board of Elections meets Nov. 28, it will either decide the race or call for a new election.

Black may well retain his position as speaker, too.

"Short of an indictment by either the state or federal government, Jim Black is likely to be re-elected speaker," said political consultant Joe Sinsheimer, who has been one of Black's most outspoken critics over the past year. "I think there are a lot of House Democrats that are afraid of the speaker."

There are other contenders for the speaker's position, as Democrats will likely take a 68-52 majority into the 2007 state legislative session that opens in January.

Former Speaker Dan Blue, of Raleigh, who was recently named to replace the late Bernard Allen, has indicated he might run. Other potential candidates include Majority Leader Joe Hackney of Orange County, Granville County's Jim Crawford and Davidson County's Hugh Holliman.

"The speaker's race is going to be the most dynamic speaker's race we've had probably in 10 years," Crone said.

So far, no one seems to have a coalition formed for a takeover. That leaves Black as a leading contender.

"The speaker is actively campaigning. He still has a lot of power," Sinsheimer said.

Crone predicts that when Black's political obituary is written, his staying power will be toward the top.

"The worst thing you could do in politics in North Carolina during this era is underestimate Jim Black," Crone said

Investigators continue to question people and review documents linked to Black. The grand jury convenes again in December. Black maintains he did nothing illegal.


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