Where does the trickery end where it concerns state Sen. Trudy Wade’s bill to redraw electoral districts and overhaul the governance structure of Greensboro?
Among a recent number of strange developments was a resolution of support from the Greensboro NAACP just in time for a committee vote on the legislation. But as the News & Record reported, an official of the state NAACP told the committee that the local chapter had violated the organization’s internal rules by not vetting the resolution with the state conference. Then it turns out that the resolution came about from a closely split vote of the executive committee, with Skip Alston, Earl Jones and Hurley Derrickson pushing support for the redistricting proposal. Strangely, among the Triad’s bounty of reporting outlets, only the conservative weekly Rhino Times received the press release announcing the local chapter’s support. By Sunday, the News & Record’s Amanda Lehmert reported, the membership of the Greensboro NAACP had revolted and voted to vacate the executive committee’s decision.
The Wade redistricting plan is unpopular with the black community in Greensboro and unpopular with the white community in Greensboro. It’s unpopular with the citizens of Greensboro. It’s unpopular with everyone except self-interested business players and political cronies.
Around the same time that Wade was playing the flimsy NAACP card, local developer Roy Carroll sent an email to News & Record Editorial Editor Allen Johnson indicating that he no longer supports the proposal (don’t believe it for a minute).
The plan is unpopular with the black community in particular because while it would increase black representation on city council, it would also wipe out the progressive-centrist leadership with which the black community has formed an effective coalition to advance its interests. Who doesn’t remember that it was future mayor Nancy Vaughan — then an at-large council member — who reversed plans to open the White Street Landfill in northeast Greensboro when she obtained a ruling freeing her from a conflict of interest so that she could vote? Trudy Wade, then a council member in the temporary conservative rump majority, certainly does.
Ask the black community if their interests were advanced when a Republican-imposed redistricting plan cut out the base of support for Kirk Perkins, a white moderate Democrat who often voted with the three black members on the Guilford County Commission. Skip Alston remembers; he was part of the Democratic majority that was wiped out by the redistricting plan.
The Wade plan for Greensboro mirrors at the local level the manner in which Republicans redrew districts for the General Assembly and the state’s congressional delegation in 2011. They targeted white moderate and progressive lawmakers by double-bunking them or drawing them into Republican-friendly districts, while increasing the number of seats held by black Democratic lawmakers. It’s not as magnanimous a gesture as you might think: What does it matter how many black lawmakers are in Raleigh if they don’t have progressive allies to join forces and advance legislation that benefits their constituents?
The state Senate seat for urban Winston-Salem is a case in point. Linda Garrou, a white moderate Democrat, was one of the most powerful lawmakers in the chamber as chair of Appropriations before her party lost control of the legislature in 2010. The next year, the Republicans drew her out of her district, openly arguing that the district should have black representation. While her predecessor allocated dollars for teacher salaries and early-childhood education, Earline Parmon, the black Democrat who won the seat in 2012, found her voice as a protest leader with the Moral Monday movement. So diminished is the prestige of the seat, stripped of the power of the majority to enact legislation, that Parmon resigned to join the staff of US Rep. Alma Adams.
What Alston shares with many of the others in the strange coalition behind Wade, including Earl Jones and former Greensboro mayor Robbie Perkins, is that they’ve experienced recent political defeats and their prospects for getting back in the game could only benefit from a shakeup.
When Alston tried to unseat state Sen. Gladys Robinson in last year’s Democratic primary, he touted his ability to work with Wade, a longtime ally, while slamming his opponent as “ineffective.” For all his bluster about defending the interests of the black community, Alston is a dealmaker and an accommodationist. The voters of state Sen. District 28 resoundingly rejected Alston and re-elected Robinson, an uncompromising foe of the Republican agenda.
The white conservatives can deny that the Wade redistricting proposal is part of a scheme to reopen the White Street Landfill. Opportunists like Alston can deny that their backing of Wade is a political chit they hope to exchange for state funding of the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, of which Alston and Jones are the cofounders. Let’s wait and see.
No one said it better than Joyce Johnson, a black leader in Greensboro since the late ’60s.
“We are forgiving spirits, but you need to take ownership for the role you have and continue to play and have the very dangerous possibility to play a more dangerous role in the future,” Johnson told Alston, according to an account in the News & Record. “You are my brother. You are my younger brother…. You have some wonderful gifts, but they have got to be used for the community and not for yourself.”