Thomas Crowder died this afternoon. I believe the funeral will be Saturday at Western Boulevard Presbyterian Church. There's also talk of a public memorial service on Friday, but I don't think it's set yet.
I shared the news with some friends just now. Here's what I wrote:
I'm very sorry to report this. Thomas Crowder, our longtime District D City Councilman and a man who loved his hometown of Raleigh, NC, died this afternoon. A close friend who's been acting as family spokesperson these last few difficult weeks just called with the news. She said some District D residents have a plan to keep their porch lights on all night as a sign of respect for Thomas. I think that's a great idea.
I've seen Thomas and Kay several times over the past few weeks, and they were blessed to have many, many friends come by, share old stories, have some laughs and shed tears together. Rachel and Garrett, his daughter and son, were with him, his mother Mary was with him, and Venia, his sister, and Chris and David, his brothers, were with him just about every day.
Thomas was on oxygen, but he was in good spirits, almost his old self except that he knew the tumors were growing in his lungs and the time was coming when he wouldn't be able to breath even with the help of oxygen tanks. That time came today. But I can tell you that he died knowing that his friends loved him, his family loved him and that he'd done himself proud.
Thomas resigned from the Council recently and Kay was appointed to serve out his term, through next year.
Because the Supreme Court declined to review it, the Fourth Circuit ruling striking down Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage will also become law in North Carolina.
I wrote about the Fourth Circuit decision a few weeks ago. The Supreme Court just opened its term and acted quickly on all the same-sex marriage rulings from circuit courts, declining to hear any of them.
Challenges to Amendment One are pending in a federal district court in Winston-Salem. The judge hearing those cases — who put them on hold waiting to see what the Supreme Court would do — must now apply the Fourth Circuit ruling and will probably do so very quickly.
Conservatives who want Attorney General Roy Cooper to keep fighting this don't seem to get it that it's over and Amendment One cannot be defended in a federal district court — a higher federal court has already decided the issue and the Supreme Court has, in effect, gone along.
Today, Monday, is Labor Day, an excellent day to consider the work of the Forward Together, a.k.a. Moral Monday movement. Because as State AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer MaryBe McMillan said this morning, "If ever a Monday needed a moral makeover, it's Labor Day."
McMillan spoke at a rally in Nash Square, in front of Raleigh City Hall, before getting on a bus with union members and leaders of the state NAACP, including the Rev. William Barber, the state president, and the Rev. Portia Rochelle, Raleigh-Apex branch president. They were headed for Labor Day events in Greensboro and Charlotte.
It should be clear, but isn't, that an economic crisis is unfolding in the United States and around the world. Corporate profits are soaring, executive pay and shareholder returns are beyond defensible and getting more ridiculous by the day. Yet work — the ordinary work which sustains corporations and which is supposed to sustain the rest of humanity — pays less and less.
Worse, there's less and less work to go around. Temp jobs, part-time jobs and high unemployment all serve to keep wages down even as workers' productivity rises and corporations cash in.
All this, McMillan said, is no accident. It is the result of business decisions and government policies which protect investors' profits at the expense of labor and what we used to think of as the social compact.
Nor is the solution "rocket science," she added. Rather, it's to pay workers a living wage—enough money that a full-time worker can support herself or himself.
Raising workers' pay will add to the economy, not hurt it, and more jobs will be created as a result — though billionaires may have to do with somewhat less.
The divergence of corporate and political policies from human needs is perhaps our world's greatest moral challenge. Or perhaps our greatest challenge is climate change, which threatens human survival. But the source of the two is the same: It's a systemic failure to share resources — natural, environmental, technological and human — in a way that sustains the planet and the people living on it.
The Rev. Spencer Bradford, head of Durham Congregations in Action, put it this way: "God has given us enough for everyone to have enough."
It really is that simple. Whether you believe in a god or gods or simply survival, if we allow corporations to exploit the earth to the point that it cannot or does not sustain all of us, people will die. They're dying now.
Corporations operate on the profit motive and the wealthy rake in the wealth in a capitalist system until checked by human beings organized as workers and as citizens. Such organization can take the form of labor unions. It can take the form of a labor, environmental and social-justice movement. In most advanced societies, though not in the United States, it takes the form of a political party — a Labor Party.
Here, because of our winner-take-all elections (no proportional representation as in parliamentary systems), we have two political parties only. One, the Republican Party, no longer pays any attention to worker or environmental interests. Sorry, but it doesn't. The other, the Democratic Party, pays some attention, but not enough. Not nearly enough. And for the foreseeable future, the Republicans' iron grip on the U.S. House of Representatives as well as a majority of state legislatures, including North Carolina's, means that even the meekest efforts by the Democrats to lift up labor and protect the planet are stymied.
The challenge, in the long run, is to breathe life into one or the other of the two parties, presumably the Democratic Party. It's a challenge made harder by the weakness of labor unions in this country and especially in North Carolina, the least unionized state in the nation.
Fortunately, we have a starting point here with the Forward Together-Moral Monday movement. It is that second form of organization I mentioned, not a union and not a political party, but a force that may be strong enough to revitalize labor and restore the Democrats.
(Although the movement is officially nonpartisan, and the Rev. Barber is emphatic that the Republican Party's roots are in progressive policies, as much as modern-day Republicans have forsaken them.)
And it's more than a starting point. Moral Mondays burst on the scene last year in North Carolina in response to corporatist legislation from the General Assembly, but the groundwork for a labor-environmental movement with a moral foundation was laid starting in 2005—as Barber emphasized this morning — when the NAACP and the AFL-CIO joined forces and began to build alliances with churches, conservation groups and social-justice organizations around the state.
The movement's agenda, Barber noted, the 14-point People's Assembly platform, leads with a call for paying livable wages and for good, desegregated public schools.
Organizing labor unions is made more difficult by the ability of corporations to close an operation here and move it there — to another state or another country — in order to avoid paying workers more. Getting the Democrats to represent labor's interests or the planet's is made difficult by the power of money in politics, money which corporate interests are all too happy to supply and Democrats too happy to take.
But all the money in the world can't out-vote a workers' and citizens' movement that demands that its elected representatives protect humanity first. The Moral Monday movement is growing, spreading to other states, and with it campaigns are springing up to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour immediately — a position supported by almost every Democratic official in the country — and thereafter to livable-wage levels.
Here in North Carolina, the major political battle is for the seat in the U.S. Senate held now by Democrat Kay Hagan, who is challenged by Republican Thom Tillis, speaker of the N.C. House.
Hagan, who proudly proclaims that she is the most moderate senator in Washington, nonetheless is for the $10.10 minimum wage. Tillis has declared the very idea of a minimum wage, no matter how low, "dangerous."
For the movement, the immediate fight is to re-elect Hagan and force the Tillis brand of Republicans to reevaluate their disdain for workers.
Doing so will help to foster, as McMillan said, "a new labor movement not limited by the walls of a workplace" or the ability of a corporation to pick up and move to a different location.
In a new labor movement, founded on moral principles, we can tackle climate change before it's too late. We can lift wages so that everyone who wants to work can earn enough for a decent life. We can honor work and its ability to sustain us, in other words, and stop worshipping money for money's sake.
I believe that's the moral makeover McMillan called for this Labor Day.
Breaking news 2: Attorney General Roy Cooper just finished a press conference. He said he's dropping his defense of Amendment One in the four N.C. cases brought by LGBT advocates. The 4th Circuit ruling is binding on N.C. judges, he says. So it's his obligation, if and when any of these cases moves forward — three are stayed currently, and the fourth has yet to be heard — to inform the judge as to what the law is now. And the law now, Cooper said, is that Amendment One is unconstitutional according to the binding Circuit Court decision.
"Our lawyers have vigorously defended North Carolina's marriage law, which is their job," Cooper said. Now, he added, "It's time to stop making arguments we will lose."
(I've copied his full statement below.)
The ultimately resolution on same-sex marriage rights will likely come from the United States Supreme Court, Cooper added, either by deciding the issue itself or by refusing to review the 4th Circuit and other federal court rulings that support a 14th Amendment right to equal marriage rights for LGBT persons.
It's likely that no same-sex marriages will be allowed in North Carolina, however, before the Supreme Court acts … or declines to act, Cooper added.
Breaking news: The three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals split 2-1. The decision to strike down Virginia's ban on same-sex unions isn't effective immediately. When it does take effect — in a matter of days — it would seem to apply as well to North Carolina, which is within the 4th Circuit's appeals jurisdiction. The Virginia attorney general has already said he will not defend the state's ban and will instead side, in any further appeals by other parties, with the plaintiffs who challenged the ban.
Here's a link to the ruling: http://www.ca4.uscourts.gov/Opinions/Published/141167.P.pdf
And there's an excellent summary here, from Equality NC: http://equalitync.org/marriage/
Plus: Lyle Denniston, Another circuit rules for same-sex marriage, SCOTUSblog (Jul. 28, 2014, 3:03 PM), http://www.scotusblog.com/2014/07/another-circuit-court-rules-for-same-sex-marriage/
Equality North Carolina will be holding #DecisionDay at their #DecisionDay Hub at Motorco in Durham, NC, to get engaged with the important work of learning and sharing the Bostic results and impact, next steps, and how you can help build the movement for marriage here at home. 6:30pm, y'all!
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has thus far defended Amendment One, our state's ban, though he has said he personally opposes it. He has a decision to make whether to appeal the 4th Circuit's ruling on behalf of the state. Whether he does or he doesn't, Amendment One's Republican sponsors almost certainly will appeal and seek to have the ruling stayed, at least as far as its effect on North Carolina.
That's my quick take.
(Updating this: Someone wrote to question whether Cooper could appeal a case involving a Virginia law. I should've said that he has a decision to make whether to join an appeal if there is one coming from Virginia, as there almost certainly will be. Even if there isn't any appeal, Cooper is defending the North Carolina law (Amendment One and an anti-LGBT marriage statute) in separate cases to which this Circuit Court ruling would apply. A question is whether Cooper will now say that Amendment one is indefensible in light of the 4th Circuit's ruling or, alternatively, continue to defend it if the ruling is appealed and/or stayed. I've sent an email to Cooper's office asking for his reaction to the decision. I'll share any response that comes.)
This is a statement from Freedom to Marry, a pro-LGBT rights group:
4th Circuit Court of Appeals Strikes Down Virginia Marriage Ban
New York — Today the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled in favor of same-sex couples’ freedom to marry, upholding a lower court’s February decision that found Virginia’s marriage ban unconstitutional.
Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, released the following statement:
"It was in a case out of Virginia that the Supreme Court ended race discrimination in marriage. And today, in another Virginia marriage case, a federal circuit court ruled against discrimination in marriage, affirming the freedom to marry for loving and committed gay couples. The Fourth Circuit’s ruling echoes what over 25 other federal and state courts have held: same-sex couples deserve the dignity of marriage, and anti-marriage laws are indefensible. Every day of denial is a day of injustice and tangible harms. It’s time for the Supreme Court to bring the country to national resolution and secure the freedom to marry for all.”
Same-sex couples can marry in 19 states and the District of Columbia, meaning 44% of Americans live in states where gay couples share in the freedom to marry. Recent polling by the Washington Post/ABC News shows 59% of Americans support marriage, including a majority of young evangelicals and Republicans under 45 in other polls.
In total, 29 federal and state rulings in recent months have struck down state bans on marriage for same-sex couples.
Here's the text of Cooper's opening statement, sent by his office:
Today the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals told us that Virginia’s marriage law is unconstitutional. The 4th Circuit has jurisdiction over the federal courts in North Carolina.
Currently, there are 4 cases in North Carolina challenging our state’s marriage law, which is similar to Virginia’s.
Our attorneys have vigorously defended North Carolina marriage law, which is their job. But today we know our law almost surely will be overturned as well. Simply put, it is time to stop making arguments we will lose and instead move forward, knowing that the ultimate resolution will likely come from the US Supreme Court.
This ruling today doesn’t mean marriages in North Carolina can start right away because no judge has ruled on North Carolina’s law. However, it does predict our law will be struck down.
So here is what we expect will happen next:
• Plaintiffs challenging the North Carolina marriage law in one or more of these 4 pending cases probably will ask federal judges to start proceedings, 3 of which are currently stayed.
• If any of the judges agree to begin proceedings, we believe those judges will be bound by today’s 4th Circuit opinion, and we believe they will be bound to find North Carolina’s marriage law unconstitutional.
• Those rulings themselves will likely not be given immediate affect because of the likelihood that the 4th Circuit’s decision will be stayed and because the judges in North Carolina will likely stay them as well.
• Finally, it is likely that no valid same-sex marriages can occur in North Carolina until the US Supreme Court either turns down the case on appeal or ultimately decides the issue.
Here’s how we got here. Last year the United States Supreme Court in US v. Windsor held that the federal part of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional at the federal level. They left the question of state marriage laws unanswered but they did give some guidance.
Since the Windsor case, 14 federal district court judges in addition to the 10th Circuit and now the 4th Circuit Courts of Appeal have answered that question. They all decided that marriage is a fundamental constitutional right and that state laws banning it are unconstitutional. The 10 state high courts that have considered this question have also all found their own state’s marriage laws unconstitutional.
Today’s 4th Circuit decision is similar.
After reviewing the 4th Circuit decision and consulting with attorneys here, I have concluded that the State of North Carolina will not oppose the cases moving forward. In addition, the State of North Carolina will acknowledge the 4th Circuit opinion that marriage is a fundamental right and that our office believes that the judges are bound by this 4th Circuit decision.
In all these cases challenging state marriage laws, our office along with other attorneys general and state attorneys across the country have made about every legal argument imaginable. Since the US Supreme Court ruled in the Windsor case, all the federal courts have rejected these arguments each and every time. So it’s time for the State of North Carolina to stop making them.
It's July — still — and no time to be thinking about elections, which aren't until —
Bzzzt. My mailbox is overflowing with reminders that just 100 days remain … no, now it's 99 days … until Nov. 4, Election Day. Y'ouch.
Remember the House? Hasn't done anything in years except try to repeal Obamacare and, now, get ready to sue President Obama. Is this where the term "clown car" came from?
In recent days, Congresswoman Ellmers made some news when she told a Republican audience that her mostly male political colleagues, when discussing policy questions, should "bring it down to a woman's level" if they want to be understood.
Somewhere in there was a point, I think. Although Ellmers delivered it with what I'm afraid is her all-too-common incoherence. More on this below.
Aiken is putting together three of my favorite things in Raleigh Wednesday night at a fundraiser. One, it's at Southland Ballroom, which has replaced the Berkeley Cafe on my list of best music halls in Raleigh following the latter's decimation. Two, it features the Red Clay Ramblers, who will perform. I definitely :) them. Three, it's Clay Aiken, and as I've already explained, I lost all objectivity re: Clay when he was on "American Idol."
I also think he's acquitted himself well as a candidate thus far.
On the fundraising front, Ellmers has raised more than $1.3 million since her last election campaign and, as of the latest report on June 30, retained $412,000 in cash on hand. She spent some money fending off a primary challenge this year.
Aiken, who entered the campaign just six months ago, has raised $686,000 and, as of June 30, had $209,000 cash on hand. The Aiken campaign has made much of the fact that he outraised Ellmers in the April-June period and that most of his money has come from individual contributors as opposed to her reliance on money from special interest and political committees. As The News & Observer reported it:
Aiken, who lives in Cary, has received almost $687,000 since he jumped into the race near the beginning of the year. Ellmers, of Dunn, has another year of fundraising to her advantage and reports receiving $1.3 million between January 2013 and June 2014.
Almost $1 million of Ellmers’ money comes from political committees and $300,000 from individuals during that year-and-a-half span. Aiken has brought in almost $590,000 from individuals — many from other states — this year, and just $21,000 from committees.
As for Ellmers' ill-chosen remarks about women voters, I think what she was trying to say is that politicians too often talk about issues only in terms of numbers in a budget or bars on a graph, and they fail to relate what they're saying to the impact of a political decision on actual people. I think, further, Ellmers was trying to say that male politicians are more guilty of this than female politicians, and that women voters — because they're more likely to be "on the ground" running family budgets and raising children — are especially interested in whether what the politicians intend will address their needs.
I'd say that's not only true, it's an important message for Republicans, who are fixated on the size of the federal debt as if "ooh, $17 trillion" has some intrinsic (scary) importance — instead of being, as it is, a figure that may or may not be too large, or is perhaps not large enough, given the size of the national economy (also about $17 trillion) and our collective need for investments in education, health, infrastructure, etc.
Also true is that campaign advertising is a cesspool of lies and half-truths. If candidates — now I'm talking about Democrats — used their ads to explain issues and the need for such investments, and made the case to voters that money spent on public programs will boost the economy, create jobs and improve lives …
In a mid-term election, half or more of eligible adults will not vote. Given what they hear from candidates, why should they?
If that's what Ellmers meant to say, I'm with her.
But actually, it sounds more like what Aiken is saying.
Here's a thought: Aiken is challenging Ellmers to debate him.
That's an excellent idea — if they debate, she can explain for herself what she means, and so can he.
In the "Yes, We Did See That Coming" category, Sen. Thom Goolsby, a Wilmington Republican, got whacked today by the N.C. Secretary of State's office for misleading investors. Goolsby and his investment advisory firm in Wilmington were put out of business.
For the rest of the year, Goolsby remains in the Senate, though he is not running for re-election in November. He did, however, threaten — er, say — that he'd be seeking "other opportunities to serve in the future." His fellow Republican, Senate President Phil Berger, called Goolsby the epitome of a public servant, which has the unfortunate ring of truth these days for the all-powerful GOP. A lawyer, Goolsby had his eye on being state attorney general, I've heard.
Goolsby is remembered in these parts for his denunciation of Moral Monday participants. He called them "Moron Mondays." He perhaps thought his clients in Wilmington were morons, too, because he lured them in with a classic "can't go wrong" investment strategy worthy of P.T. Barnum.
As described by the Secretary of State:
The order was issued after Secretary of State Division of Securities investigators found that the company and the two investment advisers marketed an investment strategy they termed the “10-20-50 Plan.” This plan supposedly invested clients’ money in a way where investments losing more than 10 percent would be sold to prevent further loss, investments earning more than 20 percent would be sold to capture the gains, and no more than 50 percent of the clients’ accounts would be invested in securities at any one time.
Investigators determined that this plan frequently was not followed, resulting in greater client losses than if failing investments had been sold once they suffered a 10 percent loss. Investigators also found clients were not told their money was being invested in a way that was different than being advertised.
Here's the complete press release from the Secretary of State's office:
Singing "One Step Closer Now, Love Won't Be Denied," same-sex couples who were married in other states marched with supporters to the Wake County Register of Deeds office this morning to have their marital status recorded, if not yet legally recognized by the state of North Carolina.
Nine couples paid the $26 fee, and courteous clerks in the Register of Deeds office duly accepted their marriage licenses to be put on file in Wake. The clerks listened attentively, but without responding, as applicants thanked them and expressed the hope that, before too long, North Carolina will issue, as well as record, licenses for same-sex partners to be married.
The ceremonial filings came on the two-year anniversary date of Amendment One, the anti-LGBT amendment which was approved by the voters of North Carolina on May 8, 2012.
Which, frankly, seems like ancient history to me, given all that's occurred to move LGBT equality forward in this country in the last two years.
But I know it doesn't feel ancient history to LGBT folks who continue to be discriminated against in North Carolina despite the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Windsor case and the progress in many other states before and since Windsor.
Amendment One, an add-on to the state constitution, bars same-sex couples from being legally married in North Carolina and, if they were married in another state or DC, having their marriages recognized in North Carolina.
The anniversary date reminds us that the Republican sponsors of Amendment One put it to public referendum during a primary election in 2012, not a general election — and it was a primary election dominated by a concurrent Republican presidential primary that day. So, we lost, those of us who support equality for LGBT folks. But you know what, we've been winning every day since.
State bans on same-sex marriage are being struck down by federal courts all over the country, though not North Carolina's as yet. (Here's a summary of the ACLU-NC court case.) These rulings are no doubt heading for a final resolution in the Supreme Court.
Thus, Wake's Register of Deeds Laura Riddick was correct to say, when same-sex couples appeared at her door today, that state law tells her what to do: "Registers of Deeds can record out-of-state marriage licenses on request, as North Carolina law requires," Riddick said in a statement. "We also reject applications for same-sex marriage licenses, as North Carolina law also requires."
As the Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara pointed out today, there's no county residency requirement in North Carolina. Couples living anywhere in the state can apply for a marriage license from Orange County — or any county.
Beach-Ferrara is executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, which organized today's event. "This is how things are changing," she told the marchers today, "because we keep showing up at the counters again and again."
Whoa, the Democratic primary in U.S. House District 2 was a squeaker, mainly because Fayetteville's Toni Morris captured almost 20 percent of the votes — very unexpected. That left Clay Aiken and Keith Crisco with little margin for error as they 1) tried to reach the 40 percent threshold for victory, and 2) tried to beat each other.
With all the precincts in, Aiken finished with 40.8 percent to Crisco's 39.5, making Aiken the outright, if narrow, victor. (Crisco can call for a recount, of course.)
Aiken, if he holds onto his lead, will face Republican Congresswoman Renee Ellmers, who defeated tea-party challenger Frank Roche. Ellmers will be a heavy favorite barring a Democratic tidal wave, but Aiken has come from behind before — in his run for "American Idol" against the heavily favored Ruben Studdard. (Who, in case you missed it, backed Aiken for Congress.)
In U.S. House District 13, Brenda Cleary won the Democratic nomination easily against Viginia Conlon and Ron Sanyal. Cleary is given little chance of unseating Republican Congressman George Holding.
If you're counting at home, that's two-for-two for Indy-endorsed Democrats in districts containing part of Raleigh. For both Aiken and Cleary, however, the fact that these districts are drawn to be Republican strongholds leaves each with a mountain to climb.
Imagine a great Republican candidate to go against U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan this fall. H/she is a business owner. Or a doctor. Self-made, anyway. A diplomat would be great — whatever happened to Jim Cain?
The point is, you want a Republican candidate who personifies national issues — the economy, jobs, trade, the cost of health care — and can tell you what's wrong with Wall Street. Best case, your candidate's been to Libya and visited Benghazi. (I'm joking about Libya — I think.)
At any rate, h/she's conservative, but in a non-threatening way that says "sensible," not a nut or an ass. And with no voting record, please.
Now consider Thom Tillis. The N.C. House speaker defeated seven opponents — well, two, plus five other candidates who got almost no votes among them — to win the Republican Senate nomination outright with 46 percent of the vote.
Nothing about Tillis says national. Or business. No, he's a state-level pol whose record is all about cuts to public school funding, the UNC system and teachers' pay. It's about tax cuts for corporations whether they create jobs in North Carolina or not. And about cutting off unemployment benefits for people who've lost their jobs through no fault of their own, and keeping Medicaid away from the working poor.
In short, it's about the General Assembly's crazy record of refusing to do at the state level the very things that Republicans oppose at the federal level because they're supposed to be state prerogatives.
American Bridge detailed the negatives against Tillis tonight in a mere 6,464 words. Read 'em and, if you're a Republican, remind yourself why Tillis is your guy?
Sen. Hagan might've been challenged by a Republican questioning her support of Obama initiatives in Washington. Instead, she'll face a Republican who'll be forced to defend his legislature's record of undermining, and underfunding, the state's economy and institutions.
Instead of being on defense, in other words, Hagan can go on offense against the General Assembly's extremely unpopular record.
Sure, she'd rather have run against a right-wing whacker like Greg Brannon, who finished a not very close second to Tillis. But running against Tillis is almost as good for her, given what the GOP might've served up instead — but didn't.
Updated at 5pm Thursday, April 24:
Updated X 2 at 12 noon, April 26 — with the text of a Zellinger campaign email sent Thursday night. It's copied at the end of the original post. Also, Dana Cope of SEANC called, objecting to my statement that SEANC's attacks on Freeman are in retaliation for her criticism of his organization's connection to Purchasing Power. "That's not why we're in this race at all!" Cope said, adding that Purchasing Power is "wildly popular" with his members. Cope insisted SEANC's interest in the Wake DA's race is because the Wake DA has jurisdiction over political corruption cases originating in state government. Cope also denied that SEANC's attacks implied that Freeman is corrupt. I'll consider this subject again when I write my column for the print edition of Indyweek, which comes out Wednesday. — BG
The original post follows —
I've been watching this story unfold for a week. Things are breaking now — here's an outline:
1) The State Employees Association of North Carolina (SEANC), through its political action committee, endorsed Boz Zellinger in the Democratic primary for Wake County District Attorney. Zellinger is an assistant Wake DA.
2) SEANC has mailed two thoroughly scurrilous flyers to its members attacking Zellinger's opponent, Lorrin Freeman. The flyers stop just short of saying that Freeman, the sitting Clerk of Superior Court for Wake County, is corrupt. In fact, the corruption to which the flyers refer came to light because Freeman did the right thing.
3) Numerous Democrats have called on Zellinger to disown these attacks. He has declined to do so — for a week — saying that he had nothing to do with them. [See the update below: Zellinger just told me he dislikes SEANC's "tactics."]
Today, former Wake DA Colon Willoughby joined those calls, denouncing the SEANC attacks as "deceptive and dishonest" and, later, "scurrilous."
I tried to reach Zellinger today. He hasn't returned my call nor, to my knowledge, issued any statement. if he does, I'll update.
[Update, 5 p.m. Zellinger called just after I posted this. He said he dislikes SEANC's tactics, and "I strongly disagree with any assertion that [Freeman} is responsible for these felonies." He did "question whether there should've been procedural safeguards" to prevent such crimes — Willoughby said the real weakness is a systemic one of outdated technology in the courts for which Freeman isn't responsible.
Zellinger insisted that he can't control what SEANC says, which is true. He added that SEANC's support "means a lot to me."
Zellinger said he's surprised that I or anyone else would hold him responsible for SEANC's mailings, and he's frustrated to have his integrity questioned because of attacks "I had nothing to do with."
That's essentially what he said at a forum with the Wake Democratic Women the other day. After Freeman called on him to repudiate SEANC's ads, he followed her and responded that he wasn't responsible for what SEANC was doing.]
What does SEANC have to gain by endorsing in a primary for Wake district attorney?
SEANC promotes a for-profit company, Purchasing Power, to its members; the company arranges for members of groups like SEANC to buy products and pay over time — through payroll deduction — at much higher prices than the same products cost when purchased in a store.
SEANC makes a lot of money by its association with Purchasing Power — $288,000 a year, according to a SEANC document I've seen, less the cost of a staffer to manage things. Freeman was publicly critical of SEANC's association with the company last year for taking unfair advantage of people. Some of Freeman's employees in the clerk's office are SEANC members.
SEANC is retaliating against Freeman, plain and simple.
This morning, Freeman issued a statement calling on Zellinger to disown the SEANC attacks and repudiate SEANC's support. Frankly, I don't know why she didn't do so sooner — but now she has.
Also today, former Wake DA Willoughby, who stepped down from the job a few weeks ago, called SEANC's attacks on Freeman "scurrilous." Also, "deceptive and dishonest." He said Zellinger should tell SEANC to stop.
Willoughby told me he's not endorsing in the primary. Both Democratic candidates are good lawyers with good skills and character, he said. Two other assistant DA's are running for the Republican nomination.
Colon Willoughby's reputation for integrity is impeccable. Zellinger should heed his advice.
I called Zellinger at noontime to ask if he plans to respond to Freeman and/or Willoughby. No answer so far.
This week, the Indy, too, endorsed Zellinger, citing his record as a trial attorney under Willoughby. The ability to try cases is important to a DA. So is the DA's judgment. Zellinger's passive stance while SEANC viciously and unfairly attacks Freeman is weak.
I just edited that last sentence a bit and dialed it back a notch. Zellinger and I talked a bit about what his responsibilities ought to be when supporters make deceptive claims. To me, when they're supporting you, you own what they say unless and until you reject it. In other words, you're known by the company you keep.
Here, for the record, is the latest SEANC attack flyer:
[Update x 2— the text of the Zellinger campaign email sent to supporters Thursday night. For the record:
Yesterday I was endorsed by the Independent Weekly. The day before, I was endorsed by the NC Sheriff and Police Alliance. Our campaign is surging, and Wake County is excited about my progressive plan for the DA’s Office.
Recently my opponent attacked me in an effort to change the focus of this election from my plan for our criminal justice system to the tactics of the State Employees Association. As a prosecutor, I work every day with state employees throughout our courthouse, and I care deeply about their lives and keeping our community safe. Instead of discussing Wake County’s burgeoning gang problem, or who law enforcement trusts to keep our community safe, she has attacked not me, but a group that endorsed me. It is unfortunate that she is attempting to turn this election into a game of politics as usual.
The State Employees Association utilized political advertisements that could lead voters to think that Ms. Freeman is involved in the embezzlement scandal in the clerk’s office. This was criminal activity, and Ms. Freeman was not personally involved. I know Ms. Freeman, consider her a friend, and don’t believe she had any role in criminal activity.
It is appropriate, however, to ask whether there were safeguards in place to make sure this conduct didn’t happen in an office that handles large sums of money. It is appropriate to ask why they didn’t exist. It is appropriate to ask whether Ms. Freeman conducted an internal investigation, and what changes were made.
It is a legitimate question voters want answered in determining Ms. Freeman’s ability to lead an office. It is also unrealistic to think that this wouldn’t be a question voters have on their minds. It is inappropriate to demean the character of anyone asking this question.
Tonight I spoke at a Democratic Women event on Human Trafficking, which is an issue I care passionately about. Tonight in our county two thousand homeless school children face uncertainty. Tonight in our county someone will be the victim of violent crime. I am the candidate who has a plan to address these issues. I am the candidate who can keep our community safe. I am the candidate who can, and will, win in November.