Friday, February 14, 2014

By Cash Michaels
An analysis
                           DR. BENJAMIN F. CHAVIS, JR

            The fallout from the badly mishandled nomination of the Rev. Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. to the post of executive director of the North Carolina Democratic Party this week, is still unknown.

             But the behind-the-scenes movement among Democratic rank-and-file members to ensure that Dr. Chavis, a veteran civil rights leader and member of the Wilmington Ten, was stopped, is something that may give African-American voters pause come the critical 2014 mid-term elections.

As in 2010, when the Republicans dominated the congressional and state legislative races to claim a solid hold on both the US House and the NC General Assembly, NC Democrats have their work cut out for them in November convincing black voters that they deserve to return to power. With a lack of fundraising and little energy on their side, state Democrats are almost wholly dependent on outside nonpartisan movements like the NCNAACP’s “Moral Monday” and “Historic Thousands on Jones Street” demonstrations.

The Chavis episode, as it played out this week, will not help those efforts.

It all started when NCDP Executive Director Robert Dempsey, who had joined the state party last spring, was summarily fired last weekend by NCDP Chairman Randolph Voller. Sources say Voller had become disappointed in Dempsey, and felt it was time for a change.

An offer to Dr. Chavis to take the position, given that the civil rights leader had been planning to return to his home state after years away, was tendered by Voller, and after much thought, accepted by Chavis. Voller, the former mayor of Pittsboro, became acquainted with Chavis during the 2012 Black Press-led campaign to gain pardons of innocence for the Wilmington Ten.

Over the weekend Chavis tweeted that he was coming back to North Carolina to help the Democrats in 2014, without saying how, or in what capacity. It was not the first time Dr. Chavis has mentioned intentions of being involved in North Carolina politics, having contemplated, just a few years ago, a run for a state House seat from his native Granville County.

Voller retweeted Chavis’ message, and once word of Dempsey’s dismissal went public, the frenzy among local media and NC rank-and-file Democrats began. It didn’t take long for adversaries of Chairman Voller in the party, of which there are many since the liberal leader edged out moderate competition in 2013, to begin drumbeats of discontent about Dr. Chavis.

Local media began reporting negative stories about Chavis’ past membership in the Nation of Islam from 1995 – fueling immediate allegations of anti-Semitism; and rehashing old stories of sexual harassment allegations against Chavis in 1994 when he helmed the NAACP as executive director.

In virtually every false local media report on Monday and Tuesday, there was no mention that in court papers, Chavis has never admitted any guilt in the NAACP sexual harassment case, even though he tried to settle it quietly for fear that it would hurt the civil rights organization.

Nor was there any reporting that Chavis left the Nation of Islam in the late 2000’s, and has been an ordained Christian minister, and member of Oak Level United Church of Christ in Manson, NC for many years.

And there was certainly no reporting about what Dr. Chavis’ productive activities since 1994-95 have been, among which are:
-                    Serving as president of the Education Online Services Corporation, an online provider of higher education materials for HBCUs;
-                    President/CEO and cofounder of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Summit;
-                    Cofounder of the Diamond Empowerment Fund which supports scholarships in Africa;
-                    Syndicated columnist for the National Newspaper Publishers Association, read by 20 million readers.

Nothing was reported about his ministerial doctorates or other degrees from schools like Duke, UNC- Charlotte and Howard University, and the question was never even raised publicly if Dr. Chavis had the requisite experience to even function well in the position of NCDP executive director.

Instead, as Republican officials watched in glee, and the media focused primarily on any negative allegations they could dig up, Democrats took to social media to quickly stir up opposition among the moderate base.

Gary Pearce, who served as press secretary to Gov. Jim Hunt in 1978 when Hunt denied pardons to Chavis and the rest of the Wilmington Ten, took to his “Talking About Politics” online blog and, strongly referring to Dr. Chavis without ever using his name, chided Chairman Voller for wanting to appoint “…the most divisive, controversial figure he can find.”

Pearce, who is a loyalist of the so-called moderate “Hunt faction” of the Democratic Party which has reportedly vehemently opposed Voller’s administration, later did make direct reference to Chavis by name, writing, “And maybe Republicans will get so fixated on making Chavis and William Barber the faces of the Democratic Party that they’ll forget about education.”

By email, Democratic moderates were sending out patently negative narratives about Chavis.

“What are your gut feelings re: Dempsey's dismissal w/o just cause and about Voller's plan to announce tomorrow that he's hiring Ben (formerly Chavis) Muhammad as Ex. Dir. despite Ben's NAACP termination/lawsuit?” later asking, “WTH is going on in Raleigh.”

When the person who confirmed sending the email was asked why was Chavis’ former Muslim surname used since he hasn’t gone by it in many years, the person replied that they meant no disrespect. When pressed further, the person claimed to feel “threatened” being questioned about the needless reason to refer to Dr. Chavis in her emails by a name he no longer uses.

Emails were also sent out by members of the Democratic Women of NC.

They were not supportive.

“If you have not seen any of the articles, I suggest you Google Ben Chavis,” one DWNC member, who admittedly got her information from biased local media reports, wrote Tuesday evening prior to the NCDP Executive Council voting on Chavis’ nomination.

“I will be honest with you,” she continued,  “ I am not inclined to support Ben Chavis for ED for two reasons:  (a) lack of ED experience and (b) his history of sexual (sic) harrassment.  That said, if a majority of you feel otherwise, that is the way I will vote.”  

On the liberal “Blue NC” blogsite, reader comments after a story where Chairman Voller denied media reports that he and Chavis were old friends, and dismissed charges that past allegations and associations were primarily material to Chavis’ qualifications for the post, were negative.

What really got under my skin were Chavis' attitudes toward my fellow Jews,” posted Mike Radionchecnko under the title, “An Anti-Semite Running the NCDP.”  “When he was fired by the NAACP, he claimed that a Jewish conspiracy brought him down [1]. Chavis' speech at the University of Oklahoma was laced with anti-Semitic dog-whistles and innuendo [2]. He served as the right-hand-man to the Nation of Islam's Louis Farrakhan, who has a prolific record of anti-Semitic and homophobic rhetoric, but Chavis' words speak for themselves.”

Two posts down, under the title “This Would Be Wrong for the Party,” someone identified as “chambers1” wrote, “If Chavis is no longer a member of NOI, this would be the first time that has ever been stated in the media. Frankly, I want to hear him say it. The NOI has done a lot of good work for the black community but nothing can excuse the fact that the NOI is a virulently anti-Semitic organization whose rhetoric about Jews is almost indecipherable from hate groups like the KKK and the Aryan Nation, etc. Having an Executive Director of the NCDP that was still a member of the NOI would be hugely problematic.”

On Facebook, other self-described Jewish Democrats actively compounded the anti-Semitic charges against Chavis, ignoring documented stories by the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun from the mid-1990s of then NAACP Executive Director Ben Chavis joining with other black leaders denouncing fiery anti-Semitic remarks by Nation of Islam spokesman Khalid Muhammad.

And when Chavis was forced to leave the NAACP in 1994, it is documented that it was under pressure from several Jewish donors to the civil rights organization who were concerned about charges of alleged financial mismanagement amid the sexual harassment scandal.

And even in a 1997 edition of The Jewish Week, the then Min. Benjamin Chavis Muhammad, under the leadership of NOI leader Min. Louis Farrakhan, told the paper that one of his missions was to improve relations with the Jewish community, given previous tensions between them and Farrakhan because of fiery remarks made by the Muslim leader.

For his part, Dr. Chavis, who arrived in Raleigh Tuesday in preparation for an announced press conference Wednesday, was certainly aware of internal opposition to his nomination, which had to be accepted by the NCDP Executive Council.

Facing difficult, challenging odds was part of Chavis' trademark, and he had prayed about Voller’s offer, and accepted it, deciding to leave its fate in God’s hands.

But the level to which the opposition had risen, accompanied by a seemingly united front between the media and a committed Democratic opposition to Chairman Voller, soon became concerning to even Chavis, sources say.

Among the major local media in Raleigh, only one, WNCN-TV, conducted an interview with Dr. Chavis, giving him something no one else would even offer – a chance to answer his critics.

In that interview he denied guilt per the sexual harassment allegations, and made clear that he had left the Nation of Islam years earlier. He said he was eager to come back home to North Carolina to use his skills as a charismatic civil rights leader to help Democrats win in the fall of 2014.

But before that singular interview ever aired, it was too late.

Tuesday evening, during a reportedly raucous, contentious NCDP Executive Council teleconference to decide on Dr. Chavis’ hiring, the nomination was pulled by Chairman Voller, at the request of Chavis, because of the growing firestorm among moderates.

 An interim E.D. was designated for the next 30 days.

Whether the Chavis nomination will ever be reintroduced is doubtful, given the high level of vitriol that remains in the party for its chairman.

The next day, triumphant members of a state party which had its own alleged sexual harassment scandal two years ago; handed the Republican Party control of state government for at least the next six years, and until recently, annually gathered for a dinner named after two white supremacist Democratic governors, slapped themselves on the back.

They admitted, as much, that Ben Chavis deserved at least due process to defend himself against allegations. But they vehemently opposed him, they say, to protect themselves from further Republican attacks.

They called what they did to Dr. Chavis, “political street smarts.”


  1. As of this date, this is the only fair, balanced, objective account of the media savagery that struck Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. this past week. Bravo!

  2. My reaction, and I believe the initial reaction of many people, had nothing to do with Dr. Chavis at all, and everything to do with NCDP Chairman Randy Voller himself. Voller has fired many hard working people dating back from when he first became chairman. Many of the people fired were very experienced and knowledgeable and well respected. After the Moral March last weekend, a friend who is very active in the Democratic Party was telling me how Dempsey seems to have been doing a great job, fundraising had picked up again, things had settled down. Next think I hear, the day after the march, in fact, Dempsey had been fired. And fired on a Sunday. For me, that was just the last straw. Didn't matter to me who would replace Dempsey - it is Voller's disregard for people's lives and reputations that upsets me so much.

  3. Dear Not Elise. According to the budget presented by Mr. Dempsey himself, the total amount that he raised over his entire tenure here is about $14,000. However, the total expenses are over $250,000. So what was that about his doing a good job? Were you aware of the myriad complaints filed against him? Were you aware of his lack of responsiveness to the minority groups and failure to pay vendors on time leading to so much discontent that vendors were beginning to refuse to provide services to the NCDP? Were you aware of the many lies he told about different people, how he manipulated information from one person to another? Were you aware of the dissention and divisiveness he caused singlehandedly? Only Robert Dempsey was fired. And he was no "experienced, knowledgeable" person. Micah quit because of his connection with Dempsey, and Tiffany quit too for her own personal reasons. what I can tell you is that Tiffany was supposed to be a fundraiser - every event she worked on lost money. Except Sanford Hunt Frye - which is good. However I have to give bunches of credit to Mecklenburg DP for their efforts. Quite honestly I am tired of people blaming other people for not doing their jobs. As a professional I would find ways to do my job and not find excuses otherwise. I like Dempsey and Tiffany personally. Micah I am disappointed in. I thought so much of him - but his oppositional research on Chavis (which is fine) and then his complicity in turning this research over to the press and fanning the flames of a feeding frenzy just does not serve us well. Not Elise - you are certainly not aware of everything that happened before the final firing so I would exercise just a modicum of caution before leaping to conclusions. There are reasons - and the word "confidentiality" has a lot to do with it - legally.