NAACP leader may join NC Dems leadership

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 11, 2014

RALEIGH (AP) — The North Carolina Democratic Party chairman said Monday he’ll name a new interim executive director later this week, and it appears former national NAACP leader Benjamin Chavis is his choice.
Chairman Randy Voller told fellow Democrats in an email he’ll announce a replacement Wednesday for Robert Dempsey, whom Voller confirmed in an interview was fired Sunday.
Patsy Keever, the party’s first vice chairwoman, said in an interview Monday she disagreed with Dempsey’s firing and believed he was doing a good job. Keever said Voller told her Sunday night that Chavis was his choice to succeed Dempsey.
Voller told me “that in fact was his plan” to hire Chavis, Keever said.
When asked earlier Monday if Chavis was his pick, Voller responded he had “no comment at this point.” But he said in his email to Democrats that the choice would mark “the return of a North Carolina native and national leader.”
“Our intent is to have a Democratic revival in the state of North Carolina,” Voller said in the interview.
Chavis said in an email statement to The Associated Press that “as a native of North Carolina, I strongly support and share the leadership vision of Chairman Randy Voller and the N.C. Democratic Party.” He did not respond specifically to a question as to whether he would become the next executive director.
Voller said any replacement would be an interim choice and need the approval of the party’s 40-member executive council to become permanent.
Chavis is an Oxford native largely out of North Carolina politics and social action until recently. He was a member of a group wrongly convicted of firebombing a Wilmington grocery store in 1971. He served about five years in jail and prison before his release. Then-Gov. Beverly Perdue pardoned Chavis and other members of the “Wilmington 10” in late 2012.
In 1993 Chavis, then a minister in the United Church of Christ, was named executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He was fired in 1994 after admitting that he used NAACP funds to settle a sexual discrimination case against him without consulting the board. He converted to Islam and helped organize the Million Man March in 1995.
Voller touted Chavis’ endorsement when he ran for party chairman last year. Voller narrowly defeated his rival in the party’s election. A vocal bloc of activists has criticized Voller’s leadership and tried unsuccessfully to remove him from the job. Voller also has faced questions about some business-related tax debt and a party fundraising trip.
Voller wouldn’t give further details about the circumstances for terminating Dempsey, whom Voller helped pick while leading a search committee last spring, saying it was a personnel matter. Dempsey wasn’t talking Monday. Late Monday, party spokesman Micah Beasley resigned “in light of recent events,” according to his one-sentence letter to Voller.
Dempsey’s dismissal is the latest in a string of public troubles for the state Democratic Party going back before Voller’s arrival in early 2013. The party is trying to rebound after losing the General Assembly to Republicans in 2010 and the governor’s office in 2012 to GOP Gov. Pat McCrory.
Voller tried to calm the party faithful in Monday’s email, saying that on Monday morning the doors of the party headquarters “opened as usual for the business of electing Democrats to serve the people of North Carolina.”

The state party underwent internal turmoil in 2012 stemming from accusations against party executive director Jay Parmley by a male employee. Parmley resigned from his job but denied any sexual harassment. Top Democratic elected officials called on then-Chairman David Parker to resign. He offered his resignation in May, but a majority of party regulars declined to accept it.