Last week the community activist and political watch dog group People for Change announced that a group of their members had met in secret to interview the candidates running to replace fmr. County Councilwoman Leslie Johnson in a special election later this fall. The announcement noted that from those interviews they had selected the top three who would be invited to the debate. People for Change who had blasted this type of backroom dealing from other political groups and leaders opened the door charges of cronyism and corruption, things they are more use to throwing at their opponents than receiving.
The Endorsement and Charges of Vote tampering with the Straw Poll Results
Later today People for Change is scheduled to announce their endorsement in the race to replace Leslie Johnson who resigned last month after pleading guilty to charges of corruption. There are 15 candidates in the race to succeed her on the County Council from District 6. According to a press release sent out by the group leader Sandy Pruitt, the endorsement will follow the results of a straw poll taken at last weeks debate, but some residents in the district who attended the debate are challenging the results. “If on election day election officials took the ballots and held them for days out of the view of the public and then just announced a winner would People for Change say it was a fair vote? They’d be out on the court-house steps demanding the resignation of somebody. I mean where have the ballots been for these last few days? How do we know everybody who wanted to vote and voted got their vote counted? Are we supposed to just believe it because they say so?,” said a senior member of one of the campaigns who did participate in the debate.
Challengers Open Fire on People for Change
When we contacted the campaigns of those excluded from the debate they held back little of their fire on the organization that touts itself as being of the people.
Lynwood Leach called his exclusion a travesty and claimed that People for Change in fliers about the event had billed it as a farewell to Leslie Johnson who Sandy Pruitt said should not had been forced to step down before she is sentenced in October.
Christine Osei who did attend the debate and despite not being invited by People for Change sat in a seat and required them to allow her to participate blasted the group for “being out to destroy Derrick Davis” and create their own political machine. In another blog about the event it was noted that upon entering the room guests found an unflattering flier on their chairs attacking Derrick Leon Davis for taking union and pac money to fund his campaign. The blog PGC Blog also noted that the moderator and leader Sandy Pruitt read the flier and attacked Derrick Leon Davis from the podium after she noted he had informed her he would not be attending the forum because of a previous engagement. “I mean how dare she attack him for not attending the event after she didn’t even invite all the candidates,” an attendee of the event noted.
Wanda McKnight said while she understood that with so many candidates in the race it might be hard to present a forum with all of them, she felt that organizations could hold an event that had one group of candidates one day and another group another day. She pointed out that this decision was made from the start as she had never received any communication from People for Change to either interview or attend the forum.
Sherine Taylor called it a missed opportunity and stressed that she hoped the voters would join her and the other candidates in one of the other more inclusive forums being organized.
Does People for Change engage in the crime they Charge Others For?
In our research for this article we discovered that a lot of elected officials and community leaders had opened their minds to People for Change for a variety of reasons but became turned off after the group showed it was not about representative democracy but creating the type of political structure they often attack. One member of the county council said the group often appears to bash it for backroom dealing but no one can explain how their leadership is decided or who gets to vote on the People for Change leaders. His comment was echoed by a member of the House of Delegates who said she personally was aware of “members” of People for Change who point out that the issues they support or oppose aren’t decided by the “members” but by the “leaders” who no one is aware of but Sandy Pruitt. “I mean is that the type of democratic process we want”?
As People for Change gears up to enter the special election with their endorsed candidate one challenger pointed out to us that in 2010 none of the endorsed candidates the group supported who were not incumbents even came close to winning. As they noted “this is a group that is more about smoke than they are about fire.” Rumors are already leaking out that the leadership had decided as far back as three weeks ago to back Arthur Turner for the vacant seat which could be why Derrick Leon Davis skipped the event. Turner who formerly served as Vice-Chair of the Democratic Central Committee has had his share of run-ins with People for Change so this would be a very surprising development.