The Charlotte NAACP’s forum to meet candidates for Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board Wednesday took a bizarre turn when Larry Bumgarner walked out after clashing with audience members and the moderator.
During a question-and-answer exchange about how to engage parents who don’t have legal documentation, Bumgarner and moderator Marty Puckett, vice president of the NAACP branch, exchanged words. Bumgarner then asked for a show of hands on whether he should leave, and when one person raised a hand he gathered his papers and walked out.
“Just got home from the NAACP event. They asked me to leave,” he posted on his campaign website later that evening. “I guess not agreeing with folks creates the laughing in the audience, the faces, the jumping up to video only the person they disagree with and not sitting down when they demanded you do so, even if you were still answering the question they posed.”
Bumgarner, who is white, accompanied the post with a quote from Booker T. Washington about “a class of colored people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, the hardships of the Negro race before the public.”
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Wednesday morning, he tweeted under his CMSBoard account that “they ran off Larry Bumgarner.”
NAACP Branch President Corine Mack said Thursday she hadn’t seen any of Bumgarner’s posts, but said Bumgarner was not asked to leave. Saying that he was “does not show him as a good leader,” she said. “We’re all supposed to be mature adults.”
Six of the nine school board candidates attended the forum, held at Rameses Temple on Beatties Ford Road. They were seated behind a table, but every time Bumgarner got the microphone he stood in front of the table to speak.
During his first remarks, he stopped to call out audience members he said were laughing. After Bumgarner fielded a question about environmental issues, someone in the audience said he hadn’t addressed the question. Bumgarner walked toward him, leaned forward and demanded that the man repeat what he had said. After Puckett started to step between them, Bumgarner returned to his seat.
Bumgarner, who is making his fourth attempt to win a seat on the school board, said afterward that every time he spoke he could see people laughing, making faces, grimacing and standing up to shoot video. (Sitting in the audience, I wasn’t aware of any disruption or ridicule but didn’t see what the candidates saw from the stage.)
The final exchange came during a question about background screening for volunteers and how CMS could make it easier for parents to engage with their children’s schools when they don’t have Social Security numbers. Bumgarner said he didn’t think that was the district’s job and didn’t accept the premise of the question: “I’m not going to engage them.”
Puckett told Bumgarner to take his seat, and Bumgarner refused. “I’m not your child, so sit down,” Puckett insisted.
“I look forward to the rest of the thing,” Bumgarner said as he returned to his seat. “If y’all want me to leave I can leave.” He then called for a vote and announced he was going to leave after seeing a hand raised.
He said later he didn’t think the audience was willing to listen respectfully to views they disagreed with.
“If this is about race, then good. Let’s make it about race,” he said. Asked to explain, he said, “That’s a great quote. Just quote it as it is.”
The NAACP doesn’t plan to endorse candidates, but Mack said afterward Bumgarner probably didn’t win any support. “He was the one who was confrontational,” she said.