Democrats hope to make significant gains in legislative elections next year and beyond – but first, they might have some uniting to do.
The N.C. Democratic Party’s African-American Caucus is angry about prominent Democrats supporting unaffiliated Raleigh mayor Nancy McFarlane over her challenger, Democrat Charles Francis.
A state legislator says the black community feels slighted and she’s worried about how it might affect turnout in future elections.
The Wake County Democratic Party endorsed Francis, who is black, and the N.C. Democratic Party provided resources and assistance to Francis as well as to black Democrats across the state.
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Still, McFarlane received endorsements from former Gov. Jim Hunt, Attorney General Josh Stein and Rep. Darren Jackson, the House minority leader. Stein contributed money to McFarlane’s campaign. Hunt called McFarlane “a true leader” and said her work on the Dix Park project had been “masterful.” McFarlane helped negotiate a deal to buy the roughly 300-acre site near downtown from the state.
McFarlane won a fourth term last week with 58 percent of the vote to Francis’ 42 percent in an election that split the city along geographic, economic and racial lines.
Now the state Democratic Party’s African-American Caucus wants the party to take Hunt’s name off of its annual “Sanford-Hunt-Frye” fundraiser. The caucus is circulating a petition to remove Hunt’s name.
The event honors Hunt, who served four terms as governor, as well as former Gov. Terry Sanford and Henry Frye, the first African-American chief justice of the state Supreme Court.
Hunt’s endorsement of McFarlane was “a slap in the face to Democratic voters and very divisive,” said Linda Wilkins-Daniels, chair of the state party’s African-American Caucus.
State Rep. Yvonne Holley, who represents east Raleigh, says her constituents aren’t sure the party actually cares about them.
“They’re telling me ‘I will no longer blindly give a vote to a Democrat anymore.’ And that hurts us a lot,” Holley said.
Gov. Roy Cooper is a Democrat but the state House and state Senate are controlled by Republicans, meaning they have the votes to pass their agenda and override Cooper if he vetoes legislation. Democrats need four House seats or six Senate seats to break the Republican supermajorities. Legislative districts are still under court scrutiny and could be redrawn before next November.
Raleigh’s mayoral race between a Democrat and an independent who the Wake Democratic Party previously endorsed divided many of the city’s liberals. The African-American Caucus’s request to remove Hunt’s name from the annual dinner and Holley’s comments about voter enthusiasm are the first signs that Raleigh’s clashes are echoing at the state level.
Jackson declined to comment for this story and Hunt couldn’t be reached.
Wayne Goodwin, chairman of the N.C. Democratic Party, said he’s aware of the African-American Caucus’ petition to remove Hunt’s name but hasn’t received any formal request. Goodwin said the African-American community is an important part of the party and that Democratic leaders understand the frustrations.
“We understand and hear the frustration around certain decisions by some to personally support other candidates,” Goodwin said in a statement.
“Our party is committed to directly supporting the African-American community by electing African-American Democratic candidates across the state,” he said. “We are proud of our work supporting Vi Lyles’ historic win as the first African-American woman elected as mayor of Charlotte and Mitch Colvin’s defeat of a Republican incumbent in Fayetteville.”
Danny Coleman is an unaffiliated Francis supporter who lives in southeast Raleigh. He says he’s “knee deep” in complaints about elected Democrats – particularly former Gov. Hunt – supporting McFarlane over Francis.
“It was like dropping an atomic bomb over the situation,” Coleman said of Hunt’s endorsement.
Coleman says he reminds neighbors that party leaders Goodwin and Rebecca Llewellyn, chair of the Wake Democratic Party, supported Francis and are trustworthy. He thinks it’s on Hunt to lead the way in repairing the party’s relationship with local black voters.
“He created that pile of manure and he needs to clean it up,” Coleman said. “If he’s not willing to do that, I wouldn’t try to stop (the caucus) from doing what they’re trying to do.”
Whether frustrations of black Democrats are limited to Raleigh and Wake County or are broader, recent elections show low turnout could affect statewide races. Raleigh has about 85,000 registered black voters. Cooper last year beat former Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, by only 11,000 votes.
State Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat, said he’s aware of the tensions created by the Raleigh race but doesn’t think it will affect the statewide push to break the supermajorities in the legislature. The party helped elect black Democrats to the mayor’s office in Charlotte and Fayetteville, he noted.
McKissick thinks party members in Wake should and will reconcile in the coming weeks.
The division “is important to Wake County and it needs to be dealt with,” McKissick said. “We need a cohesive unified effort among Democrats to (break the supermajorities).”