Monday, April 9, 2012

Political endorsements reflect an opportunity missed

Another opportunity has been flushed down the toilet. Most people missed it when it happened. Even more could care less.

It’s one of those things lost among the litter that keeps Durham fragmented by this thing called race. It was an opportunity missed. It was a chance to prove that changes within the Durham Committee on Affairs of Black People leadership would alter the level of communication and collaboration with the People’s Alliance. It turns out there is more to this story than problems with Lavonia Allison.

For years, members of the People’s Alliance have belittled the DCABP for failing to form a pact to assure the advancement of a progressive political agenda. The recent cycle of endorsements demonstrates bad blood that removes Allison from the conversation about why these two groups can’t get along. The arrogance and lack of compromise from the folks within the People’s Alliance sends a message that demands attention.

The best word to describe what happened is War. The beef began when members of the People’s Alliance refused to play nice. Members of the DCABP leadership team approached the People’s Alliance to build a bridge. It didn’t happen.

The rift between the PAC’s is over the 751 development project. The People’s Alliance has called for a full blitz in removing anyone in support of the plan. They regard the project a major threat to the ecosystem and are prepared to take no prisoners. Members of the DCABP claim the project will create new jobs in a troubled economy. It’s the same skirmish that divided the groups when Wal-Mart wanted to build on 15-501 and Southpoint was proposed for Fayetteville Road.

The People’s Alliance refused to negotiate with members of the DCABP. Their conclusion is simple - oust the three liable for pushing the development forward. Get rid of Joe Bowser, Michael Page and Brenda Howerton. All three are black, and members of the DCABP are concerned over maintaining a racial balance on the Board of County Commissioners. No deal. Let the door hit your back side.

To add further insult, the People’s Alliance endorsed James Dornfried over Orlando F. Hudson, Jr. for Superior Court Judge. Hudson has been on the bench since 1989, and Dornfried has never served as a judge. Many argue that Dornfried lacks the experience to become Court judge, and should spend some time as a District Court Judge before tackling the rigors of the Superior Court. That endorsement has many wondering about the motive behind the attack on Hudson. Is this about his handling of Tracy Cline or is there a bad smell in the room? The bad blood thickens.

Next up, the DCABP’s endorsements. Those endorsed for the Board of County Commissioners is significant, but even more telling were the reason behind their selection. Phil Cousins, the chairman of the DCABP, mentioned the 751 project as key in the selection process. Despite the mishandling in the firing of Gerri Robinson, the former director at DSS, the audit that concedes laws broken in that process and a lawsuit coming from that fiasco, the DCABP endorsed Joe Bowser.

Bowser and Michael Page have been entangled like two gemsboks clashing horns. Despite the controversy regarding their relationship on the board, both were endorsed by the Durham Committee. Brenda Howerton, the other black incumbent, also got the nod from the DCABP. They threw in Fred Foster, who received the endorsement from the People’s Alliance, to round out an all black slate.

The sentiment before the endorsements was that the DCABP would endorse Wendy Jacobs as a compromise for the People’s Alliance endorsing Michael Page. The more telling moves in this endorsement cycle may be about the strategies of both groups. Why did the People’s Alliance endorse Will Wilson, and why did the Durham Committee endorse Fred Foster, who was endorsed by the People’s Alliance?

Both are intriguing for different reasons. If the DCABP selected based on candidates positions on 751, and the People’s Alliance did the same, why would both groups endorse him? Is his position cloudy, or is he strong enough to overcome people’s concerns regarding that position? Could it be that Foster serves as a compromise candidate, or is he the People’s Alliance’s way out of being tagged for failing to consider any of the other black candidates on the slate?

Then there’s the Will Wilson issue. What was it that led to him getting the nod with the People’s Alliance? The obvious answer is his anti 751 position, but will that be enough to get him over the hump? What is it that led the People’s Alliance to go with only four endorsements, a strategy often used by the DCABP, and used again in this endorsement cycle?

The games played by both groups lends to a broader conversation related to what is best for Durham County. Has the war minimized the integrity of a process aimed at presenting voters the best candidates for office? These are questions commonly asked of the DCABP. The public has held contempt due to the DCABP failing to engage in dialogue aimed at solving the riddle of the best among those running for office.

Once again, it came down to the matter of race. This time it’s not the DCABP responsible for the war of race. The People’s Alliance failed to smoke the peace pipe.

And now we’re back to politics as usual in Durham.

An opportunity missed.


  1. Carl, I assume you have not read the DSS Audit, which identifies several problem areas involving Ms. Robinson. Highlights from the audit are listed below:

    1.On page 9, gift cards totaling $7,075 was used to finance meetings, which is a bad practice according to the audit. On page 10, the audit states evidence was found that meetings and other activities were held, but expenditures for them cannot be substantiated. It further states that controls did not exist, which made risks of fraud, theft, and misappropriation of funds high.

    2.Also, on page 10, the audit states Ms. Robinson had a catered party at her home in 2010, which was initially financed with gift cards. She was instructed by the County’s Finance Director that such expenses were inappropriate. Although she reimbursed the cost of the caterer, no reimbursement has been made for gift cards given by her to attendees at the party. These gift cards were purchased with the intent to be used for Social Service Programs.

    3.On page 15, the audit states temporary employee hiring procedures were problematic. Please read pages 15-19 to get a full understanding of Ms. Robinson’s hiring of Ms. Simmons and Ms. Simmons’ exuberant salary. Furthermore, see the auditor’s note, which begins on page 17. This particularly finding is the most egregious and certainly identifies reasons Ms. Robinson is no longer employed at DSS.

    I am hopeful after reading the DSS Audit, you will post its findings and conclusions.

    Furhtermore, based upon the DSS Audit, Ms. Robinson does not have a leg to stand on; more than likely her case will be thrown out of court.

    Kudos to Mr. Bowser for his stance! The other commissioners need to stop protecting corrupt management.

    Lois Murphy

  2. Carl, I appreciate your response about the PA endorsements and I agree that PA missed an opportunity. However, as a long-time PA member I want to point out that neither PA, nor the DCABP, are monolithic organizations. We are both made up of a variety of people who have a variety of viewpoints and make choices for a wide variety of reasons. As a result, the reasons that the endorsement decisions were made varied from person to person and vote to vote. They are more complicated than indicated in your blog. ... Personally, I hope that PA and the DCABP can work together in the future.
    Dabney Hopkins

  3. Carl,

    I think you need to consider that the priorities of the Durham Committee are more similar to those of the Friends of Durham than to those of the PA. Compare our endorsements. We both want economic development to provide jobs and expand the tax base. The PA claims the same, but look at their candidates and what they support. The Friends are fiscally conservative, but not social conservative. We have been and are still willing to work with the Black Community on any issues that are important to it.

    David Smith, Chairman
    Friends of Durham

  4. This is an interesting take, but I think quite biased against the PA. I wonder how you feel now that the primary elections are over, with all the Shenanigans of the 751 proponents and their poll workers.

    But I have more serious concerns as well. It is my understanding that the Committee basically kicked Wendy Jacobs out of the room when she was present to speak to them at their endorsement meeting...apparently it was a divided and heated discussion, but the conclusion was that Wendy is white and, therefore, not to be considered or even welcomed.

    In addition, a significant number of Committee poll workers were crossing out Fred's name and replacing it with Padget's...I saw it with my own two eyes. Unless it investigates this and prevents it from happening again, the Committee cannot help but lose integrity.