RALEIGH — After decades of service to his country, state, county and the Democratic Party, Harold Webb has stepped down from the Wake County Board of Commissioners.
Webb, 85, had served on the board since 2003, but he had a stroke last year that limited his ability to communicate. His resignation could start a domino effect, with the potential to elevate the jobs of other African-American politicians with ties to Webb.
"Although I will certainly miss the day-to-day responsibilities of the office, I will cherish and remember with fondness the friends made during my time on the board and the many accomplishments we were able to implement for the betterment of Wake County," Webb wrote his fellow board members Wednesday.
After decades of advising other Democrats on how to get elected, Webb, whose lifetime roles have ranged from Tuskegee Airman to the state's first African-American personnel director, accepted the 2003 appointment to a seat on the county board vacated by his close friend Vernon Malone, who had become a state senator. Malone died in April 2009.
With a deep grasp of history and a long record of achievement, Webb became the voice of District 5, which includes the largely black and strongly Democratic neighborhoods of Southeast Raleigh.
"He's very quiet about it, but he's a hero sitting on the board," said Jack Nichols, a former Wake commissioner and Democratic Party chairman.
The timing of Webb's decision offers Democrats the chance to appoint a successor to occupy the seat until Webb's term expires in 2012. The seven-member board will keep its Democratic majority, even though it has a Republican chairman, Tony Gurley. Different laws and regulations would have applied had Webb resigned more quickly after his stroke last fall, election officials said.
But because the resignation took effect Wednesday, it gives the county's Democratic leaders the chance to appoint a replacement when they meet Tuesday, said Cherie Poucher, director of the Wake Board of Elections. The commissioners will likely vote on the recommendation at a meeting Sept. 20.
West is likely choice
Raleigh City Councilman James West has emerged as Webb's likely successor, a Democratic Party official said Thursday. West, the councilman for Raleigh's District C in east and south Raleigh since 1999, has served as the council's mayor pro tem since 2003.
West could not be reached for comment.
Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker praised Webb's years of service and his work with the city on projects such as the new convention center. Meeker will be among those voting at next week's Democratic Party meeting, where West is expected to be presented for nomination.
Meeker said he considers West his closest ally on the council. "James West and I have been not only political allies but also friends over the last nine years on the council," Meeker said. "It's not something I would have chosen, but we talked, and it's something he wants to do, and I'll support him."
No GOP obstacles
Claude E. Pope, county Republican Party chairman, said the GOP would raise no obstacles to the process under which a new commissioner is to be appointed. A fight had loomed between the parties over naming a replacement last year because of arcane state statutes.
"The process appears to be pretty locked down given the timing of his resignation," Pope said. "Our commissioners have a tremendous amount of respect for Harold Webb."
A likely replacement for West on the City Council would be former Broughton High School teacher Eugene Weeks, who has been active in Democratic politics and served on city boards. On Thursday, Weeks, a former ROTC instructor, said he would consider taking the job but didn't want to take it for granted.
"Other things have got to fall in place before any of this happens," he said. "West would have to be nominated and selected."
Meeker praises Weeks
Weeks, a former chairman of the city's parks board, has been very active in Southeast Raleigh on parks-related issues, Meeker said.
"He'll be one of the leading candidates," he said. "We just have to wait and see who other candidates are. He's well-known and well-respected."
Webb's roots in education and government run deep: After a stint as the principal of an all-black elementary school in rural Orange County in the 1950s, he was recruited by state education officials to travel the state in the 1960s to help guide local schools' integration.
"His intellect has shaped and fashioned much of the policies and practices that affect every North Carolinian," said Danny Coleman, president of the Raleigh Wake Citizens Association, a civil rights group.
In the 1970s, Webb helped create the still controversial policy of busing Wake County students to schools outside their neighborhoods to achieve a measure of racial balance.
"He definitely is a great man," Weeks said. "He is my mentor."
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