By refusing to endorse the congressman and threatening to support a write-in candidacy, the 8th District Black Leadership Caucus PAC turned up the heat on Democratic Rep. Larry Kissell in a sweltering Hamlet meeting room this week.
Kissell, who said in a recent interview that he would not endorse President Barack Obama’s bid for re-election, now finds himself the target of criticism from black Democrats who say they are “fed up with his Blue Dog ways.” Redistricting has made Kissell the representative for most of Robeson County, which had been represented exclusively by District 7 Rep. Mike McIntyre, a Lumberton native.
Nearly 50 PAC supporters and members of the political establishments in each of the counties in Kissell’s district attended the press conference on Thursday, and many took a turn at slamming the congressman. They were also upset that Kissell had not supported the Affordable Health Care Act.
June Mabry, chairman of the 8th District Democratic Party, urged patience at the meeting, suggesting that some subtleties of Kissell’s comments to the media have not been reflected in recent reporting. Mabry said that she was told by Leanne Powell, Kissell’s chief of staff, that the representative actually said that he “doesn’t endorse anyone, but that he will be voting for President Obama.”
Mabry encouraged those in attendance to withhold judgment until Kissell gets a chance to explain.
“But there’s only one person that can tell you that, and it’s not me,” said Mabry, who said she “is working with (Kissell’s) scheduler” to set a meeting with the representative.
“I called again today and they did not get a schedule to me, and I will continue calling him every day because quite frankly he made the statement to the press and he needs to answer you about what that statement was,” Mabry said.
Mabry said that the district’s Democratic Party will release a statement once its Executive Committee has had a chance to meet with Kissell and discuss the matter.
More than a dozen PAC members from the district took turns bashing Kissell, with some saying that the representative may be a “plant from the Republican Party.”
“We’ve worked with him and tolerated (Kissell) for four years and now we need to decide if we want to draft somebody (for a write-in candidacy),” said Walter Rogers, North Carolina Black Leadership Caucus chairman and District 8 PAC press representative.
Rogers said that a final decision on whether the caucus and PAC would support a write-in candidacy has not been made.
“It is seriously being considered,” said Rogers, who said he hosted a conference call with representatives of nine counties in Kissell’s district earlier in the week.
The result of that call was a consensus to release a statement criticizing Kissell’s comments and officially withdrawing support of the congressman’s candidacy.
John Alford, a Scotland County commissioner, offered a pointed criticism of Kissell during the press conference, noting that he has “met with and had meals with Kissell several times.”
“I won’t be in his presence again,” said Alford, adding that Kissell was only elected after “riding on Obama’s coattails in the last election.”
“Kissell cannot be trusted as a Democrat, and he has shown his true colors now,” Alford said.
At one point PAC Chairman P.E. Bazemore said he has received scores of phone calls from people both in and out of the district regarding Kissell’s comments.
“I haven’t been able to sit down and eat breakfast yet,” Bazemore said. “My phone has been ringing continuously.”
Bazemore said he hopes that the PAC’s refusal to support Kissell “will let him know that we will not be misrepresented this way.”
Bazemore was also displeased with the timing of Kissell’s announcement that he will not support President Obama, saying that “in the ninth hour he has come out and not supported us.”
The rebuke of Kissell’s comments and voting record should go beyond press releases, according to Antonio Blue, chairman of the Richmond County Democratic Party.
“There should be consequences for what your actions, and now we should figure out what the consequences and repercussions will be for his actions,” said Blue. “Kissell has crossed the line on so many issues.”
Kissell will face the winner of a runoff later this month in the Republican primary between Scott Keadle and Richard Hudson.
Calls to Kissell’s office Thursday afternoon were not returned.