By Cash Michaels
Special to the NNPA from The Carolinian
RALEIGH, N.C. – The fallout from the badly mishandled nomination of Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. last week to the post of executive director of the North Carolina Democratic Party (NCDP), is still unknown. But the behind-the-scenes movement among Democratic rank-and-file members to ensure that Chavis, a veteran civil rights leader and member of the Wilmington Ten, was stopped, is something that may give African-American voters in North Carolina pause during this fall’s mid-term elections, especially with U.S. Senator Kay Hagan’s re-election on the line.
As in 2010, when the Republicans dominated the congressional and state legislative races to claim a solid hold on both the U.S. House and the North Carolina General Assembly, Democrats in the state have their work cut out for them this fall convincing Black voters that they deserve to return to power. With a lack of fundraising and little energy on their side, state Democrats are almost wholly dependent on outside nonpartisan movements such as the state NAACP’s “Moral Monday” and “Historic Thousands on Jones Street” demonstrations.
The Chavis episode is not likely to help those efforts.
It all started when NCDP Executive Director Robert Dempsey, who had joined the state party last spring, was summarily fired Feb. 9 by North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Randolph Voller.
An offer for Chavis to take the position, given that the civil rights leader had been planning to return to his home state after years away, was tendered by Voller, and after much thought, accepted by Chavis. Voller became acquainted with Chavis during the 2012 NNPA-led campaign to gain pardons of innocence for the Wilmington Ten.
Over that weekend Chavis tweeted that he was coming back to North Carolina to help the Democrats in 2014, without saying how, or in what capacity. It was not the first time Chavis has mentioned being involved in North Carolina politics. Several years ago, he considered and then decided against making a run for a state House seat from his native Granville County.
Voller retweeted Chavis’ message, and once word of Dempsey’s dismissal went public, the frenzy among local media and North Carolina rank-and-file Democrats began. It didn’t take long for adversaries of Chairman Voller in the party, of which there are many since the liberal leader edged out moderate competition in 2013, to begin express discontent with the possibility of Chavis assuming a major party role.
Local media began reporting negative stories about Chavis’ past membership in the Nation of Islam in the mid-1990s, fueling immediate allegations of anti-Semitism; and rehashing old stories of sexual harassment allegations against Chavis when he served as executive director of the NAACP.
In virtually every local media report on Feb. 10 and 11, there was no mention that in court papers, Chavis has never admitted any guilt in the NAACP sexual harassment case, even though he tried to settle it quietly for fear that it would hurt the civil rights organization. Nor was there any reporting that Chavis had left the Nation of Islam in the late 2000s, and has been an ordained Christian minister, and member of Oak Level United Church of Christ in Manson, N.C. for many years.
And there was certainly no reporting about what Chavis’ productive activities since 1994-95 have been, which include:
– serving as president of the Education Online Services Corporation, an online provider of higher education materials for HBCUs.
– President/CEO and cofounder of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Summit
– Cofounder of the Diamond Empowerment Fund which supports scholarships in Africa.
– Syndicated columnist for the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA, read by 20 million readers
Nothing was reported about his ministerial doctorates or other degrees from
schools such as Duke, UNC-Charlotte and Howard University, and the question was never even raised publicly if Chavis had the requisite experience to even function well in the position of NCDP executive director.
Instead, as Republican officials watched in glee, and the media focused primarily on any negative allegations they could dig up. Democrats took to social media to quickly stir up opposition among the moderate base.
Gary Pearce, who served as press secretary to Gov. Jim Hunt in 1978 when Hunt denied pardons to Chavis and the rest of the Wilmington Ten, took to his “Talking About Politics” online blog and, strongly referring to Chavis without ever using his name, chided Chairman Voller for wanting to appoint “…the most divisive, controversial figure he can find.”
Pearce, who is a loyalist of the so-called moderate “Hunt faction” of the Democratic Party which has reportedly vehemently opposed Voller’s administration, later did make direct reference to Chavis by name, writing, “And maybe Republicans will get so fixated on making Chavis and William Barber (the leader of the NCNAACP’s Moral Monday movement) the faces of the Democratic Party that they’ll forget about education.”
By email, Democratic moderates were sending out patently negative narratives about Chavis.
“What are your gut feelings re: Dempsey’s dismissal w/o just cause and about Voller’s plan to announce tomorrow that he’s hiring Ben (formerly Chavis) Muhammad as expected despite Ben’s NAACP termination/lawsuit?” later asking, “WTH is going on in Raleigh.”
When the person who confirmed sending the email was asked why was Chavis’ former Muslim surname used since he hasn’t gone by it in many years, the person replied that they meant no disrespect. When pressed further, the person claimed to feel “threatened” being questioned about needless reason to refer to Chavis in her emails by a name he no longer uses.
On the liberal “Blue NC” blogsite, reader comments after a story where Chairman Voller denied media reports that he and Chavis were old friends, and dismissed charges that past allegations and associations were primarily material to Chavis’ qualifications for the post, were negative.
“What really got under my skin were Chavis’ attitudes toward my fellow Jews,” posted Mike Radionchecnko under the title, “An Anti-Semite Running the NCDP.” “When he was fired by the NAACP, he claimed that a Jewish conspiracy brought him down . Chavis’ speech at the University of Oklahoma was laced with anti-Semitic dog-whistles and innuendo . He served as the right-hand-man to the Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan, who has a prolific record of anti-Semitic and homophobic rhetoric, but Chavis’ words speak for themselves.”