VOL. 131 | NO. 112 | Monday, June 6, 2016
Local Democrats’ Differences Remain
By Bill Dries
Local Democratic Party leaders who backed pursuing a criminal complaint against former party chairman Bryan Carson said last week they hope to put the controversy over party finances behind them.
Michael Pope, center, is the new chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party, after having served as interim chairman for about two months. Pope vowed to take the splintered party leadership in a “different direction” as he defeated challenger Del Gill, behind Pope, last week to win the chairmanship. (Daily News/Bill Dries)
But the controversy is just one of several rifts within the Shelby County Democratic Party that appear to be a long way from healing.
The interim chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party, Michael Pope, became the new chairman on Thursday, June 2. Party leaders also voted to file a criminal complaint with the District Attorney General’s Office against Carson, which involves “at least $25,000” and uses the term “embezzlement.”
Pope becomes chairman following the resignations of party chairwoman Randa Spears and first vice chairwoman 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 leadership split into factions over differences in how to enforce party loyalty among politicos in a county that has a majority of Democratic voters in Memphis.
Despite the Democratic majority, local Republicans hold all but two countywide offices, with Republican candidates having crossover appeal in general elections when the turnout is higher than in county primaries.
The differences were complicated in February 2015 when a party committee met privately with Carson about problems with finances and Carson resigned during the session.
The party and Carson have differed over the amount of money involved and whether it was spent on party business without keeping adequate records, or involved 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 for a lesser amount failed.
Gill, who called the amount of money involved “the elephant in the room,” challenged Pope for the chairmanship and then nominated himself for the vice chairman’s position, losing that post 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.
“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.
“We don’t have time for this showboating,” Pope said at one point.
Gill also said Pope should give up the chair during the voting since he was a candidate. Pope asked him if he would site where it says in the party’s rules that the chairman has to do that.
“No I won’t,” Gill said. “Every person in the world knows you don’t conduct your own election.”
Pope turned the meeting over to vice chairwoman Lexie Carter during the election process saying no rules required him to.
Gill argued with Pope over which of them would speak to the group first in the race for chairman. He 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 party’s division over tactics, as well as the perennial Democratic nominees for countywide office who have lost repeatedly in county general elections and who support the sanctions.
The executive committee voted down Gill’s proposal to deny any support to Chism’s picnic.