LUMBERTON — The hope is that when precincts are organized on Saturday, Robeson County’s Democratic Party will be on the road to recovery.
“We have to start somewhere,” said Brooke Clark, acting party chairman. “We need to get organized so we can elect a chairman at the convention later this month. We need to elect a chairman who is a strong leader and can get the party moving in the right direction.”
A re-do of precinct organizational meetings and the holding another county convention were ordered in early July by the North Carolina Democratic Party after it was determined that local Democrats did not follow party procedure when they elected their chairman and executive committee members during the April 8 county convention.
Precincts that currently are not organized must do so in accordance with the N.C. Democratic Party’s Plan of Organization on Saturday between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., Clark said. Precincts will be allowed to send voting delegates to the county convention only if they are organized by Saturday’s deadline.
Clark said early Thursday that three precincts would be organized Thursday night. Eight precincts as of Thursday morning had indicated they would be meeting on Saturday.
Only 13 of the county’s 39 precincts were organized when the April 8 county convention was held. Although anyone can attend a party convention, only delegates from organized precincts are eligible to vote for party leaders.
While the local party still exists, no business can be conducted until officers are elected at the county convention. The county convention is scheduled for 10 a.m. Aug. 26 in Room 2A of the Robeson County Courthouse, located at 500 N. Elm St. in Lumberton. Registration will take place at 9 a.m.
People are still needed to help organize the precincts, Clark said. Some of the local Democrats she personally called to ask for help were “enthusiastic” while others were not, she said.
Clark admitted when asked by The Robesonian that there is a lack of interest in the party among local Democrats.
“I hope this will change when there’s a new convention and a new chair elected,” she said. “People feel they have been left out. A priority of the new chair should be to keep people informed on party issues and candidates, and unify the party.”
Clark, who has been a precinct chairman and county vice chair, said she has no interest in serving as the county party chairman except in the interim.
“I was asked to serve as the acting county chair and I accepted,” she said. “I want to see the party get on the right track and progress.”
The state party’s 13-member Review Committee ruled on July 1 that a new convention must be held after holding a hearing in response to a petition filed by several county Democrats charging that the process used to elect local party officers at the April 8 county convention violated the state party’s Plan of Organization.
After several hours of testimony, the 11 members of the Review Committee present at the hearing in Raleigh voted 10-1 to uphold the charge that rules were violated when Robeson County Democrats other than elected convention delegates were permitted to vote for party leaders. Approximately 50 Democrats at the April 8 convention voted for party leaders, rather than only delegates from the 10 of 39 precincts that were organized when the convention was held.
The result was Ed Henderson, a Red Springs town commissioner who is black, was not re-elected to another two-year term as chairman. He was defeated by Pearlean Revels, an American Indian.
The county Democratic Party for the past 46 years has operated under a “gentleman’s agreement” that the party chairmanship would rotate by race to guarantee equal representation among the county’s white, black and American Indian communities. The agreement stipulates that a member from each race can serve a two-year term as chairman and another two-year term as chairman if they choose to seek re-election.
At the April convention, Henderson, who had just finished his first two-year term and sought another term, was voted out of office.
The petition challenging the convention results was filed by several black elected officials from Red Springs, Maxton and Fairmont.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.