Upcoming Democratic committee elections questioned by critics

A crowd of Bernie Sanders supporters attended a meeting of the Richmond County Democratic Party last year. Some are skeptical they will not be allowed to participate in county committee elections next month. File/Staff

The Richmond County Democratic Committee is “redoing” 2016 committee elections amid a complaint filed with the state party, while a struggle between the local party’s old guard and some newer supporters has gone on more than a year.

 

The discord is unlikely to turn heavily Democratic Augusta-Richmond County red, but could distract from the “blue wave” Democrats hope will help them reclaim Republican-held seats in the Trump era.

Mtesa Cottemond Wright, who succeeded longtime local party chairman Lowell Greenbaum a year ago, said Wednesday that upcoming Jan. 20 committee elections are actually a do-over of 2016 elections that were “done, but not as prescribed by law.”

Wright, an attorney, said the elections – for committee members representing each of the eight regular commission and school board districts – follow the local party “working with the state” to address local party issues.

The state party is “asking us to redo 2016, which is what we’re doing,” she said.

But the newer supporters whose complaint likely pushed the changes doubted the do-over will effect change, starting with the party’s use of the word “vacancies” in a legal advertisement’s statement of what seats the elections will fill.

“Just some seats, and not theirs,” said Joe Traina, who led a group of mostly Bernie Sanders-supporting millennials in an effort to win local party leadership posts, including Wright’s, last year.

“We’ve caused a lot of this, but now they’re trying to be more clever about not giving us what we asked them for,” Traina said.

Local party bylaws call for 15 members per district who receive “a majority of votes within the district.”

Wright said the elections will cover “2016 post-holders and vacancies” in “all districts.”

The elections will follow a year of behind-the-scenes wrangling by Traina, Augusta nurse Jim McBrayer and others with the local party over its operations.

In a grievance filed with the state party, McBrayer said the local party had violated local bylaws, including by not holding elections at all.

An August letter from Sarah Todd, vice chair of county affairs for the state party, acknowledged the election issues.

“Elections have not been held in accordance with the bylaws for much longer than can be controlled by the current leadership,” the letter said.

The letter to Wright, obtained by The Chronicle, also noted “considerable disruption at your meetings” including “reports of physical damage” to attendees’ property, as well as “harassing emails” sent to the state party.

McBrayer denied the vandalism allegation. “The RCDP officers are running the local party like it’s a private club, rather than following the bylaws which exist for a reason; namely, to maintain power at the grassroots membership level,” he said.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Local Democratic committee elections

WHEN: Registration to vote starts at 11 a.m. Jan. 20

WHERE: IBEW Building, 1250 Reynolds St.

TO RUN: Required applications to run will be available from 1 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 10-12 at Democratic Party Headquarters, 1101 Greene St.

 

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