LUMBERTON — The president of the Robeson County chapter of the Black Caucus is calling for the chairman of the county’s Democratic Party not to seek re-election when the party holds its convention on April 20.
Jimmy Gilchrist, in a letter sent to county Democrats, charges that Chairman John McNeill, as well as other leaders in the party, have “alienated voters,” especially the county’s black voters. McNeill is also the mayor of Red Springs.
“What the party did, it put race against race and fragmented the party,” Gilchrist said.
McNeill says the election results speak for themselves, and that he will seek re-election. A Lumberton councilman has come to his defense.
Gilchrist contends that the way the party chairman distributed money for “get-out the vote” efforts favored certain people and areas of the county. He said that although the Black Caucus for 40 years has been involved in getting voters to the polls, his organization’s request in 2012 for $2,000 for get-out-the vote activities was denied by McNeill and the party leadership.
Gilchrist has spoken out against funding given to three prominent Democrats for their leadership in get-out-the-vote efforts. According to a campaign finance report by the local Democratic Party, checks of $1,789 went to Lumberton City Councilman John Cantey; $27,000 went to the Robeson County Association of Black People, whose treasurer is Robeson County Commissioner Jerry Stephens; and $16,270 went to Greg Bryant, a Pembroke businessman and longtime local political activist.
“The Democratic funds were basically spent in Red Springs and Lumberton. What about the voters in St.Pauls, Rowland, Fairmont and Maxton?” Gilchrist writes in his letter. “It is obvious that the chairman of the Robeson County Democratic Party was paying people in Red Springs to maintain his support for mayor. The record shows that city councilmen in Red Springs and a city councilman in Lumberton, as well as a county commissioner in District 1, were paid heavily. What about the other elected officials and Democratic candidates on the General Election ballot across the county?”
Asked by a reporter to identify the Red Springs councilmen who are supposed to have received Democratic funds, Gilchrist could not supply their names.
“The people are mad,” Gilchrist told The Robesonian. “We want new leaders in county government. We want people who have not been paid off to be elected.”
McNeill said Wednesday that the Democratic Party supported all party candidates. He added that those individuals who had received money for the get-out-the-vote efforts were those who had proven track records of getting voters to the polls.
McNeill said that a look at the results of the last General Election shows that party money was spent wisely. He cited a 9 percent increase in county votes for President Barack Obama, and said that there was a 17 percent increase in straight-ticket voting for Democrats.
“I’m a results-oriented person,” McNeill said. “I do what I think is in the best interest of the Democratic Party … . I think we have moved the Democratic Party in this county to new heights.”
McNeill said that he will seek re-election for a second two-year term as chairman when the Democrats hold their convention.
Cantey, who is black and the current vice chairman of the Democratic Party, said Wednesday that Gilchrist is way off the mark when he makes allegations about McNeill fragmenting the party by race and not using party money to help the campaigns of Democrats throughout the county.
“John deserves his second term,” Cantey said. “He has done an outstanding job and brought our party a long way … . John McNeill doesn’t have a racist bone in his body.”
Cantey said that in late February he attended a meeting of the Black Caucus and addressed concerns the organization had about how Democratic Party money was being spent. He also explained to the members how requests for party funding should be made.
“I addressed all of the issues that Jimmy is raising again,” Cantey said. “I explained that the Democratic leadership had not turned down a request for get-out-the-vote funding. What had been denied was Jimmy’s request for $2,000 to be used for poll observers, something we felt wasn’t needed.”
Cantey said that when he had finished speaking with members of the Black Caucus they “admonished” their president for allegations he had been making against the county party and its chairman.
“When I left the meeting they gave me and the party leadership a thumbs up,” he said.