Embattled party chairman Parker will step aside next month

cjarvis@newsobserver.com April 19, 2012 

— Embattled N.C. Democratic Party Chairman David Parker said this afternoon that he would not resign, despite mounting pressure in the wake of revelations that he authorized a financial settlement with a former employee over sex-harassment allegations.

Parker, in a news conference held in party headquarters in Raleigh, said he would not seek re-election to the volunteer, unpaid position of chairman. He said he would recommend party elections be moved up to May from June.

That announcement drew a measured response from the national party, which has been following the matter closely, as North Carolina is a swing state, and President Obama is scheduled to visit here next week. Democratic National Committee Executive Director Patrick Gaspard said, “David Parker made the right decision to resign effective immediately following the next executive committee meeting of the NCDP. This is in the best interest of the Party. The NCDP should convene this meeting as soon as possible.”

The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, had a different take on Parker’s stand.

“Obama Superdelegate and NCDP Chairman David Parker’s press conference today has further exposed what a grave threat this sexual harassment scandal is to President Obama’s already bleak chances at winning North Carolina in November,” spokesman Matt Connelly said. “President Obama will be forced to address this continuing scandal when he arrives in Raleigh on Tuesday and North Carolinians are eagerly awaiting his response.”

Gov. Bev Perdue, who had asked for Parker to resign on Tuesday, said in a statement she was pleased with his decision to step aside.

“The party must move quickly to select a new chair and a new executive director,” she said. “It’s time to resume our focus on the core mission of the Democratic Party: strengthening our schools, creating jobs, and ensuring more opportunity for all North Carolinians.”

Parker steadfastly defended his decisions in the matter, and stressed that he didn’t supervise any of the party’s employees. Yet he said he checked former Executive Director Jay Parmley’s employment in four other states before hiring him. “I vetted him as thoroughly as I could,” he said.

Parker told reporters he didn’t want to settle the case because he didn’t think Parmley, who resigned Sunday, had done anything wrong. A former staffer, Adriadn Ortega, accused Parmley of unwanted sexual advances.

“I got good legal advice but I didn’t get good political advice,” Parker said, acknowledging that once word of the confidential settlement became public it fueled speculation that Parmley was at fault and drew widespread, unwanted controversy.

“In the world I live in, outside of Raleigh and this bubble of rush to judgment, business practices are normal and I follow them, just as I followed them here in this case,” Parker said.

He described the lurid accusations that were in a letter Ortega wrote on Dec. 8, after Ortega had been terminated for an undisclosed reason, as the first he had heard of those details. Parker said the letter “smacked of extortion.”

Parker noted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint Ortega filed in January, under oath, did not include the accusations he made against Parmley in the December letter. Ortega’s letter accused Parmley of showing him a picture of male genitals, caressing his leg and discussing his sexual exploits.

Parker said his investigation showed that Parmley had once “whacked” Ortega’s leg to awaken him while both were in a car with others, and that Parmley had given Ortega “unwanted shoulder rubs.”

“He’s a friendly guy,” Parker said of Parmley. “That’s who he is. … Does that make anything wrong with him? No it does not.”

Parker said Parmley had given him permission to discuss in public the incidents.

He said that Ortega wanted one year’s pay and health benefits to settle his complaints, but that he could not discuss the details of the final agreement, adding that Ortega could disclose them. “We have asked they be released,” Parker said. “We would like you to see that.”

Parker said he didn’t know the source of the money used in the settlement.

Jarvis: 919-829-4576

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