RALEIGH — The chairman of the N.C. Democratic Party on Wednesday defied calls from the state’s governor and other top Democratic officeholders to resign amid an election-year flap over alleged harassment by the group’s former executive director.
Instead, state party Chairman David Parker announced a June 17 meeting of the party’s 750-member State Executive Committee to decide his fate in a referendum on his performance.
In an email to committee members obtained by The Associated Press, Parker said there will be an election that day if other candidates seek to challenge him for the chairman’s post. Although Gov. Bev Perdue, six other Council of State members and Democratic legislative leaders have called on him to step aside immediately, Parker said other party officials are satisfied with his handling of harassment allegations against former Executive Director Jay Parmley.
“The concerns of the elected officials, while unfounded, challenge us to discern the leadership direction of this party,” Parker wrote in the email.
Perdue and two gubernatorial candidates, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and N.C. Rep. Bill Faison, kept up the pressure Wednesday night, saying Parker needs to step down for the good of the party.
“I am reiterating my call for the chairman of the party to resign,” Perdue said in a prepared statement. “The process laid out by the chairman in his email late today to Executive Committee members is totally unacceptable. The chairman needs to go.”
Faison, who finished second to Parker in the party chairman’s election last year, said Parker is “continuing to make this about him and to be a distraction when it would be far better for the people of the state for him to step up and take responsibility for the decisions he’s made and the actions that he’s taken.”
Parker, a Statesville attorney, became the focus of resignation calls after Parmley resigned on Sunday. Parmley referred in his resignation letter to “a supposed incident of harassment at the NCDP” but denied he had ever harassed any employee at the state party or at any other job. Parmley previously held a party post in South Carolina.
There was some kind of settlement reached, according to Marc Farinella, a spokesman for Perdue on political matters. The governor had no involvement in the personnel matter beyond making sure it was being resolved, Farinella said.
Still, leading Democrats said they were unhappy that they were unaware of what had happened and with Parker’s handling of the issue, which has caused turmoil among party activists and elected officials alike.
Five Council of State members, all Democrats, issued a statement Tuesday saying Parker should resign because he “can no longer be as effective as he needs to be under the circumstances.”
The state’s top elective offices are on the ballot this fall, and the Democratic National Convention will be held in Charlotte this summer.
But Parker wrote that the party’s 41-member Executive Council has given “their strong support for my continued chairmanship.”
Executive Council members “have consulted with our party attorney and are clearly as satisfied as am I that there was no cover up and that the personnel matter was professionally and appropriately handled by the party’s attorney using the highest ethical standards,” Parker said.
The chorus of leading Democratic elected officials seeking Parker’s resignation grew Tuesday, first with the five Council of State members, followed by Dalton and Democratic legislative leaders worried that the chairman’s leadership was becoming a distraction in a big election year. Two other candidates for governor — Faison and former U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge — followed suit Tuesday night after Perdue did too.
The state Democratic Party has a mechanism for removing a chairman upon the filing of a petition and a two-thirds vote of a 17-member party panel that hears disputes.
The party is dealing with these problems during a season of setbacks for state Democrats. Two years ago, Republicans captured a majority in both the House and Senate for the first time since 1870. Perdue decided in January not to seek re-election, leaving the party scrambling to choose a rival to presumptive GOP nominee Pat McCrory.