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Wake Dems endorse two candidates in same race, irking District D residents

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The Wake County Democratic Party's confusing decision to endorse not one, but two candidates for Raleigh City Council District D has angered some residents of the district.

Last week, the party endorsed popular incumbent Councilman Thomas Crowder and newcomer Jim Kemp Sherron. Yet, unlike at-large contests, which can have two open seats, only one seat is available in District D for the fall election. By supporting both candidates, residents argue, the party's endorsement is meaningless.

Early voting begins Sept. 19.

"The fact that you would endorse another candidate for District D, other than Thomas Crowder alone, is unconscionable and undermines the credibility of the Wake County Democratic Party," wrote Jimmy Creech, a minister and author who lives in Boylan Heights, in a letter to Dan Blue III, president of the Wake County Democratic Party, and David Bland, an endorsement committee member. "How can the Party justify undermining a 10-year incumbent Democrat who has provided excellent and visionary leadership for the City of Raleigh?"

Creech posted the letter on a District D neighborhood listserv, requesting an immediate reply. District D residents quickly chimed in, posting that they, too, shared Creech's dismay regarding the endorsement decision.

Blue replied in an email that the party's own policies prevent it from taking sides in a Democratic primary. "There are a series of rules, both written and unwritten, that effectively prevent the Party from taking sides when two or more Democrats are running against each other," wrote Blue in an email reply to Creech and other residents.

Creech said this is confusing. "Endorsement is a serious matter. There should be a responsible vetting process, of a candidate's character, public policy and philosophy. You decide you want to put your support and credibility behind the candidate, and when you endorse with no distinction, you say candidates are equally qualified, with no discerning difference."

Efforts to reach Crowder and Sherron this week were unsuccessful.

Blue told the INDY the rule that governs the Wake County Democratic Party's endorsement process, whereby the party endorses all Democrats in all races, is a longstanding tradition. For example, in 2009, the party endorsed both Crowder—who has been District D's City Councilman since 2003—and his challenger, Democrat Ted Van Dyk.

"If you break the custom," Blue said, "you have to have a very good reason, because someone will cry foul and you will have to defend why you bucked tradition."

But the party has made exceptions, even in this year's contests. In District B, the party endorsed Brian Fitzsimmons over Sam Smith, "because Smith has only voted in three elections and each time as a Republican," Blue said. "Generally, you break glass when there's something there that's not evident to everyone when pointing out who the Democrats are."

In 2006, the party endorsed incumbent Democrat Ty Harrell over Chris Mintz, also running as a Democrat, in a primary for the District 41 N.C. House seat. A former investment advisor, Mintz— who is now serving time for embezzling $1 million from elderly clients—had been the chairman of the Wake County Republican Men's Club, according to Blue, before switching political affiliation in 2005. Harrell resigned from the General Assembly in 2009 amid investigations into campaign expenditures.

Given the party's rules and inconsistencies, it's worth arguing if it should endorse at all.

"We have tried to do that before," Blue said, "but people ask why, and they view it more as a comment on the entire slate, or they think something odd is going on. And the candidates don't like that because, when we've done it in the past, they see it as suggesting that you don't support them if you don't endorse them. So we'll only not endorse when there are two Republicans running, for example."

Blue said there are practical reasons for the party's support of all Democrats in all races. "We are saying it's ultimately up to you," Blue continued. "There are a lot of people who simply want to know who the Democrats are. I think it works for us to say there are two Democrats running for one position, you should find out more yourself and see which candidate best represents your district. Because ultimately, you are voting."

Nonetheless double endorsement won't suffice, Creech wrote in a follow-up to Blue. "Your rules make the bar for endorsements so low that you trivialize and make them meaningless."

This article appeared in print with the headline "Double vision."

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