There's a certain irony inherent in the fact that the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People has the reputation of being the least transparent of Durham's three major political action committees (PACs) -- yet draws the most scrutiny over its leadership and elections.
(See yesterday's articles in The Durham News and the Independent Weekly for an example, or Carl Kenney's work at his REV-elution blog, which has broken most of the news on this one. And check out the comments at Carl's place most particularly.)
To supporters of decade-long leader Dr. Lavonia Allison, that scrutiny might be a sign of institutional racism towards an organization that's for decades challenged the status quo on race and equity.
But to those who've long wondered about the group's operation, it's more a reflection on the insular nature of the Committee, particularly in recent years under Allison's leadership.
That leadership gets a big test tonight.
Participation in Committee activities and meetings used to be fuller, to hear tell the tales.
After Thomas Stith stacked endorsement meetings with supporters mid-decade to try to win endorsement support, the Committee tightened the screws on attendance and voting requirements to prevent such occurrences, but in the process ended up enfranchising mostly Allison's close inner circle.
The result in October was a pitched endorsement fight that saw Cora Cole-McFadden passed over for political newcomer Donald Hughes, along with -- in what we expect will turn out to be the nail in the political coffin if Allison loses a leadership challenge by the Rev. Mel Whitley and possibly others -- the near-snubbing of Mayor Bill Bell for long-shot candidate Steven Williams.
Public officials who've longed demurred on taking on Allison began to talk about the need for change in the Committee's leadership.
Darius Little, the third-place Ward 2 primary finisher and a year-long Committee volunteer intern, turned the parliamentary tables on Allison, requesting a copy of the organization's bylaws and constitutions; after receiving them from tertiary sources, Little has been circulating evidence that he says shows the election is open to any black Durham resident, as opposed to the cloistered insiders that emerged in recent years.
And local media and blogs -- and most importantly, email exchanges among Durham's black political and business elites -- have buzzed with talk of change in leadership, and with an exhortation to turn-out.
Tonight at 7pm at White Rock Baptist Church, my guess is we'll see one of two outcomes.
We may see Allison or other Committee insiders try to find some parliamentary approach to maintaining close voting control in the election.
Or, we may see the open election Little and others have said is permitted by the organizations' own rules.
The former route is the only one I can see as likely to preserve Allison's control over the organization, assuming the turnout from the winds of change is as strong as it seems likely to be.
But it would also likely be such a de-legitimizing event as to witness the political impotency for now of the Committee, or perhaps, the creation of an alternative organization to pick up the Committee's historical mantle.
One way or another, we should know something tonight.