A group that may be mounting a challenge to the leadership of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People met Thursday evening at White Rock Baptist Church.
That much is certain. But members of the group declined to state what was discussed.
“Everybody’s upset,” said Victoria Peterson, a community activist who helped organized Thursday’s meeting, said after it ended.
But she had little more than that to say. “A lot of things were decided,” Peterson noted, without elaborating.
Other participants in the meeting stated immediately and emphatically that no one who was present would be speaking to reporters.
When asked why that was, a woman who declined to give her name answered, “Because I said so.”
The meeting had been billed, according to an e-mail missive sent to publications including BCR and summed up well in coverage by the Indy's Samiha Khanna, as a bona fide meeting of the DCABP. Its purpose? To elect new leadership following allegations by Peterson, former City Council contender Darius Little and others that the organization hadn’t made its financial records accessible as promised and had not seen effective leadership.
For the record, the committee’s longtime head didn’t seem too concerned with the talks at White Rock. When contacted by phone after the gathering, longtime head of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People Lavonia Allison noted firmly that the conclave was not an official group meeting.
“We have not in fact installed our officers yet,” Allison said. “We haven’t even started for the year. We were late getting started on everything. We have not installed any officers yet.”
When asked when the group would launch its 2011 activities, Allison replied that the debut meeting would be announced in the newspaper, per committee tradition.
She said she has focused her attention of late on developments in the newly Republican-controlled General Assembly. “The legislature is in fact in session, and at this point, all the energies we need to deal with ... all these things that are impacting negatively on the African-American community,” Allison said.
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Some political observers — not all — feel that the committee has a lot of say-so in who gets elected in Durham, and on the agenda-setting for local leaders through their lobbying. That fact makes Thursday’s meeting so interesting, even though it may not shed any light on the meeting’s outcome.
Anyone who controls the Durham Committee has historically had an opportunity to wield considerable political influence — at least in theory. Seventy-six percent of the votes cast for president in Durham County in 2008 went to Barack Obama, a key factor in pushing the Tar Heel State into the Democratic column for the nation’s top office for the first time since 1976.
The Bull City was rewarded for that effort six months later when the Durham Convention Center hosted the state’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. That marked just the second time in the event’s history that it took place outside of the state capital.
While Democrats around the state and nationally were trounced in the 2010 midterms, next year’s balloting could end very differently. In North Carolina, Perdue and many of her cabinet members will be standing for what is bound to be a hotly contested election. In Durham — which returned all of its Democratic incumbents to office last year — the occupants of all five county commission spots will decided at the polls.
And the Democratic ticket will be led once again by Obama, a candidate whose appeal to Durham Democrats in general and Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People constituents in particular is likely to remain extremely strong.
In other words, the committee’s 2012 leadership will have the opportunity to turn out a lot of Democratic votes. And that typically generates a lot of gratitude among elected Democratic officials.
Of course, at the state level, Democrats haven’t been holding the number of offices or wielding the power they once did.
And with the change in leadership, the now Republican-led Assembly has been working on a number of bills to which political activists on the left side of the spectrum have objected.
They include Senate 8, which would lift the cap on the number of publicly funded charter schools. The proposal has drawn fire from educators and from Gov. Beverly Perdue and is one of those Allison mentioned.
But the GOP has solid majorities: 67 to 51 in the House (where one Democrat just resigned to take a job working for the governor and another representative is unaffiliated) and 31-19 in the Senate. That makes lobbying a difficult task for traditionally Democratic constituencies such as African-Americans and education groups.
On the other hand, those constituencies and their allies may be taking the long view; there's some suggestion that members of the Durham delegation and local governmental groups that have long counted on their support on issues may be hoping Republicans will overreach in the next two years, leading to a reversal of electoral fortunes come 2012.
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The folks who gathered Thursday at White Rock Baptist Church had little to say, as previously noted, although one can speculate that they’d like to see some changes made before that 2012 election.
Certainly Peterson has signaled her intent to try to push Allison out of her post.
In a Feb. 18 e-mail she sent to an official with the Committee on the Affairs of Black People and that was obtained by the Independent Weekly, Peterson complained vociferously about Allison’s alleged lack of transparency.
Although the scathing missive never names Allison directly, there’s no question who Peterson was targeting with sentences such as this: “The Chairperson’s credibility is at an extremely low level and it is time that we diligently consider new leadership.”
In case you need more convincing, you can check out the Indy article about the potential uprising.
“What’s going on in the Middle East needs to happen here,” Peterson memorably told Khanna. “Dr. Allison has been in office too long and she has abused her power.”
As Khanna’s story noted, this isn’t the first time Allison’s committee leadership has been challenged. Can Peterson — whose persistence is not to be underestimated — and her peers mount a credible threat this time?
So far, at least, no one is talking. But it’s safe to say that local political buffs will be watching the situation closely.
(For more information, see Khanna's coverage on the Indy's web site today.)