The embattled state Democratic Party promoted one of its top officials to the executive director post Sunday, ending a monthlong leadership vacuum that put the party in turmoil.
The executive council picked Casey Mann, 40, a Democratic operative, as the day-to-day manager of the party. She is a close ally of state party Chairman Randy Voller, having managed his campaign for the job. Voller hired her as state director soon after he became chairman in 2013.
“I felt at this point the party needed someone who understands the mechanics of the party,” said Voller, who nominated her for the job.
Voller abrupty fired Executive Director Robert Dempsey in Feburary, a move that opened a fissure in the already fractured state party.
The internal uproar recently led two top Democratic officials to distance themselves from the state party. State Auditor Beth Wood asked for a refund of her $500 contribution, saying she had lost confidence in the party’s fiscal management, and U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan’s campaign partnered with the Wake County Democratic Party for its get-out-the-vote operation, citing the unease with the state party.
Voller pushed back against the Hagan move, saying in an interview, “it’s not a done deal.” In a nearly three-hour closed-door session in Greensboro, the party’s executive council approved a series of directives aimed at aligning its strategy with the Hagan campaign. Voller put them forward but declined to go into details.
At the heart of the tempest is a battle for the direction of the Democratic Party, after it lost the governor’s mansion and legislature for the first time in more than a century in the 2012 election. Pushing back against the moderation that governed years past, the activist arm of the party took control with Voller’s selection in 2013 and pushed for a more liberal stance.
By hiring from within, the party avoided further debate about former civil rights leader Benjamin Chavis taking the top job.
A month ago, Voller put forward Chavis as a potential executive director, but later reversed course after questions emerged about controversies from Chavis’ ouster as NAACP president decades ago and his tenure as a deputy under Louis Farrakhan at the Nation of Islam.
Chavis was invited to attend the meeting but did not show. Voller said a total of three executive director candidates were discussed but Chavis was not among them.
One pressing issue for Mann is money. Voller told the executive council that the party had $60,000 in its operating account and warned that the financial situation could lead to furloughs or discussions about moving headquarters.
“That’s not a great position to be in,” he said. “We’ve got to bring in more money.”
Voller, who owes $230,000 in back taxes, pledged at the meeting to donate $5,000 to the party. Another executive council member pledged to do the same.
Former state Rep. Patsy Keever, a party vice-chairwoman, said she had fundraisers for the party planned when the turmoil began.
“It’s been very hard to call and ask anyone to raise money,” Keever said.