Saunders: Democrats need to be clear about settlement

April 17, 2012 

Ignore what the calendar says, and disregard the 80-degree temperatures: This here is Christmastime – at least for Republicans in North Carolina.

The N.C. Democratic Party, with its monumentally messed-up handling of a sexual harassment complaint by a former staffer, has seemingly gift-wrapped to the GOP a big ol’ club with which to beat the Democrats up side the head in the coming months.

Think you’ve heard a lot about that same-sex marriage amendment before?

Hoo boy. Just wait.

Democratic Party Executive Director Jay Parmley resigned Sunday after word leaked about a financial settlement – a fancy phrase for hush money – paid to a dude who accused Parmley of sexual harassment.

Parmley says ’tain’t so.

“Let me be clear: I have never harassed any employee at any time,” Parmley wrote in his resignation letter to Party Chairman David Parker. Parmley was quitting, he said, to avoid being a distraction.

Far from quelling the outcry, though, his resignation has intensified it and led to calls for Parker to let the door to Democratic HQ hit him on the way out, too. He’s being lambasted not only for unilaterally deciding to pay up, but presumably for not knowing that the quickest way to make embarrassing information public is to require a nondisclosure agreement.

A plot from the opposition?

Only one of those cockeyed conspiracists who sits alone in his basement, nursing a brew and a grudge, could realistically think that this was all a Republican plot from the beginning: infiltrate the Democratic Party, put one of their operatives at the top, and implode the party from within weeks before the state primaries. (Had it occurred three weeks prior to the general election, I might be inclined to agree.)

Yeah, but only someone with his or her head in the sand could deny that Parmley, in office just under a year, was a gift to giddy Republicans and the political equivalent of a lump of coal in the stockings of Democratic candidates and officials across the state.

Antonio Blue, Richmond County’s Democratic Party chairman, doesn’t think the party’s situation is as dire as that. “People can’t label us as a party based on what one person does,” Blue said Monday.

He does think, though, that Parmley’s resignation shouldn’t be the only one.

“Whoever else knew about this should go, too. They kept this thing pretty hush-hush” even among party officials, he said; he only learned of it over the weekend from the media.

A few years ago, I saw Shirley Kay, a lifelong Rockingham resident and former classmate whose sisters and brother have all moved to the Triangle. I asked her how come she didn’t move here also.

“Raleigh is just too fast for me,” she replied with a look that would’ve made you think I’d suggested she take up residence in Sodom and Gomorrah.

Until the Democratic Party tells everything there is to tell about the harassment allegations and the settlement, many others may get the same impression – that Raleigh is a Democratic den of iniquity.

To borrow a phrase from Parmley, let me be clear: What Parker needs to do is tell why he settled with the alleged victim, why he kept quiet about it and how much money the ex-staffer was paid.

As long as the party remains silent, people – voters – won’t know whether the financial settlement was a Happy Meal or a million dollars.

You can guess which amount Republicans – who may take to joyously greeting each other with “Merry Parmley, brothers and sisters” – will think.

barry.saunders@newsobserver.comor 919-836-2811

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