VOL. 131 | NO. 111 | Friday, June 3, 2016
Pope New Democratic Chairman as Party Pursues Complaint Against Carson
By Bill Dries
The interim chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party became the new chairman of the party Thursday, June 2. And the local party’s leadership voted to file a criminal complaint with the District Attorney General’s office against former chairman Bryan Carson over party finances.
The resolution uses the term “embezzlement.”
Michael Pope was elected party chairman by the local party’s executive committee Thursday evening following the resignations of party chairwoman Randa Spears and first vice chair Deidre Malone in April.
Executive committee member Virgie Banks was elected the new first vice chair.
The resignations are symptoms of a divided executive committee and party leadership split into factions that amount to differences over how to enforce party loyalty among politicos in a county that is majority Democratic given the large base of Democratic voters in Memphis.
Despite the Democratic majority, local Republicans hold all but two countywide offices with candidates who have crossover appeal in general elections where the turnout is higher than in county primaries.
The differences were complicated last year with the sudden resignation of Carson in February 2015 over party finances.
A party committee met privately with Carson about problems with party finances and Carson resigned during the session.
The party and Carson have differed over the amount of party money involved and whether it was money spent on party business without adequate records kept or something to be pursued in court.
The executive committee voted Thursday to pursue the complaint after committee member Del Gill made the proposal.
Gill’s proposal cites a dollar amount of “at least $25,000.”
Party members involved in the private negotiations with Carson have said efforts to reach a settlement with Carson for a lesser amount failed.
Gill called the amount of money involved “the elephant in the room” for the local party.
Gill challenged Pope for the chairmanship and nominated himself for the vice chair’s position, losing to Banks as well.
“I want to lead this party in a different direction,” Pope, a lieutenant with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, said in his pitch to the executive committee before the vote on the chairmanship.
“This organization reaks of lack of experience,” said Gill, who has served on the executive committee since 1982.
Gill second guessed Pope and party leaders throughout the Thursday meeting starting with the roll call of those present.
Gill also sought to vote down the party’s contribution of in-kind services to the annual pre-Fourth of July political picnic hosted by former party chairman and Shelby County Commissioner Sidney Chism.
Gill cited Chism’s support of Republican Sheriff Bill Oldham over Democratic challenger Bennie Cobb in the 2014 county elections and a resolution the party’s executive committee approved last year censuring Chism for that support.
The censures of Chism and other Democrats is an essential element in the local party’s division over tactics as well as the perennial Democratic nominees for countywide office who have lost repeatedly in the county general elections and who support the sanctions.
The executive committee voted down Gill’s proposal to deny any support to Chism’s picnic.