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State officials demand that NC Democratic Party chairman resign

Posted April 17, 2012 2:17 p.m. EDT
Updated April 18, 2012 8:26 a.m. EDT

— Gov. Beverly Perdue joined six Democratic state officials Tuesday in calling for the chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party to resign in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal that has already forced out the party's executive director.

Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, State Treasurer Janet Cowell, Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson, State Auditor Beth Wood and Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin said David Parker needs to step aside in the best interests of the Democratic Party during an election year.

"We believe Mr. Parker can no longer be as effective a leader as he needs to be under the circumstances. Given the importance of this election to our state and our country a change needs to be made as we prepare for the general election in November," the five officials said in a joint statement.

Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton later issued his own statement calling on Parker to resign, as did House Minority Leader Joe Hackney and Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt.

"It has become evident that Chairman Parker’s effectiveness as leader of the party is greatly hindered," Dalton said. "This is a crucial election year for the future of North Carolina, and we cannot allow this issue to distract from our efforts to create good jobs, expand access to education and help people through tough times."

Gubernatorial candidate and former U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge echoed the call for Parker's resignation Tuesday night.

"I call on David Parker to do the right thing and step aside," he wrote in a statement.

Earlier, Perdue refused to weigh in on the issue, calling it an "internal personnel matter" for the party.

"Get over it," Perdue told reporters Tuesday morning when they repeatedly questioned her. "None of us, none of us ever condone or put up with or tolerate sexual harassment. It's unacceptable, illegal and intolerable.

"The party is working on it and has been working on it," she said.

Late Tuesday, she issued a statement saying that she had talked with Parker several times during the day and thought it was in the best interest of the party for him to step down.

"I told him that the party had to get back to focusing on our core values: strengthening schools, creating jobs and expanding opportunities for all North Carolinians," she said.

Marshall said she and other officials personally asked Parker on Monday to resign and gave him a day to do so before releasing their public statement.

"We just didn’t feel that David Parker could be the effective leader we needed him to be,” she said.

Atkinson praised Parker for his leadership but said the scandal could wind up hurting the party.

"The circumstances surrounding this issue will linger, and we don’t need to have that lingering issue as we go into general election," she said.

Wood said "there's got to be transparency, there's got to be honesty" for effective leadership, and Parker didn't display those qualities in this instance.

"I just really hope he does what's right. If he really loves the party as much as he says he does, he'll do the right thing and step down," she said.

Reports began circulating last week that a junior staffer quit working for the party last fall after being sexually harassed by a senior party official. Several party officials said they were told the party settled with the young man and that he signed a non-disclosure agreement. No financial settlement appears on the party's finance reports.

Jay Parmley resigned Sunday as the party's executive director amid allegations that a sex harassment complaint involving a senior party official had been covered up. He has denied harassing any party worker.

Perdue acknowledged in her statement that she had known about the alleged harassment since last last year and relayed the information to Parker and the party's lawyers, who were already aware of it.

Some party activists have been pushing for Parker to step down, saying the non-disclosure agreement that he approved goes against the party's values of openness and transparency.

In accepting Parmley's resignation, Parker said he had no intention of stepping down himself.

He reiterated that stance Tuesday in the face of mounting pressure: "I have no plans to resign, and I am moving forward with the work of the Democratic Party," he said in a statement.

The Democratic Party bylaws allow for the removal of a chairman. It's a fairly complex process, but it can start with a single formal complaint.

Leaders within the party said they plan to investigate the events that led up to Parmley's resignation, including Parker's role in them.

Parker said in a memo to party officials that he is putting together a search committee to find Parmley's successor. He also recommended that the party change its personnel policies so that staffers in the future can discuss with the chairman or an attorney any problems they might have with the party executive director.