Last week, I received a press release about the 2011 endorsements by the Anderson-Thorpe-Chapman Breakfast Club (quoted in its entirety at the end of this post). Unfortunately, the statement raised more questions than it answered. I spoke by phone with my friend Nate Davis, corresponded with NAACP representative Rob Stephens, and also e-mailed Fred Battle and Al McSurely, but was not able to get any answers to my questions. If candidates and the media are going to tout these endorsements, I think we should know a little more about where they came from.
When were these endorsements made? On October 20, the candidate profiles for Braxton Foushee and Annetta Streater in the Carrboro Citizen voter guide touted their Breakfast Club endorsements; however, other candidates in the same races had yet to be contacted by the club. The press release I received was dated October 27. Did the Breakfast Club talk to the other candidates? In fact Dan Coleman and Lydia Lavelle were never contacted by them. If they only interviewed some of the candidates, then...
What were the endorsements based on? When candidate Michelle Johnson was first interviewed by the Breakfast Club, she was treated with hostility and asked questions about things like the race of her husband and whether she attends a black church, and insinuating that she spent too much time at Weaver Street Market. Not only are these questions irrelevant to her ability to serve as a Carrboro alderman, they are simply inappropriate. (When I attended the Breakfast Club's interview with Donna Bell 2 years ago, she was treated with similar hostility, but at least the questions were about issues and not personal.) In fact, the interview went so badly that Johnson asked to return for a second meeting to express her concern and discuss actual issues. But this second meeting was also attended unexpectedly by her opponent in the race, Braxton Foushee. Is Foushee a member of the group making the endorsements? Which makes me ask...
Who made these endorsements? Back in the days when I was an active member, the Breakfast Club mainly consisted of Fred Battle, Nate Davis, Al McSurely, Eugene Farrar, Bill Thorpe, Yonni Chapman, and sometimes other leaders such as Michelle Cotton. From what I understand, Battle and Davis are still the driving force behind the Breakfast Club. But both of them are also serving as Foushee's campaign co-chairs, with Nate Davis in the formal role of treasurer. Surely they are not also involved in the endorsement process that selected Foushee? The press release below included not a single Breakfast Club member's name, but listed the phone number of Al McSurely's law office.
It should not surprise any observer of these events that Michelle Johnson did not receive the Breakfast Club endorsement. Though I personally don't share their opinion of her candidacy, I'm not complaining about that decision - it's theirs to make. Ten years ago I was an active member of the Breakfast Club and helped to organize events with the local NAACP. Today I have concerns about their ethics and their effectiveness, which is a real shame for anyone concerned with fighting the very real and pressing economic and racial injustices that exist in Orange County.
HANK ANDERSON-BILL THORPE-
YONNI CHAPMAN BREAKFAST CLUB
P.O. BOX 1290
Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514
October 24, 2011
Dear News Editor:
The Hank Anderson- Bill Thorpe-Yonni Chapman Breakfast Club was founded in 1976 by the late Hank Anderson, the first African American Department Head for the Town of Chapel Hill. Hank began hosting a Saturday morning breakfast meeting at Dip’s Restaurant with African American and social justice community leaders. They discussed problems and political strategies to help disenfranchised people.
In the early 1990’s The Breakfast Club reconstituted the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP Branch and Town Councilmember Bill Thorpe began the tradition of Breakfast Club Endorsements to aid voters who wanted to vote for candidates who would consistently advocate for social justice. The Breakfast Club presents its 2011 Endorsements for your consideration:
TOWN OF CARRBORO
Mayor: Mark Chilton
Alderman: Braxton Foushee
Alderman: Dan Coleman
Alderman: Lydia Lavelle
TOWN OF CHAPEL HILL
Mayor: Mark Kleinschmidt
Councilperson: Donna Bell
Councilperson: Jim Ward
Councilperson: Jason Baker
Councilperson: Lee Storrow
CHAPEL HILL-CARRBORO SCHOOL BOARD
This has been a very difficult post for me to write and publish. Not only are the leaders of the local NAACP/Breakfast Club wonderful activists who have done great service to this community for decades, many of them are also my personal friends. I may be risking these relationships in writing about this publicly, but I believe in fairness above almost every other value, and I have learned (most distinctly from the Bill Strom debacle) that it does not pay to look the other way when my allies do things I don't agree with. Let's hope this prompts a dialogue about the NAACP's critical work for civil rights and social justice, what their role is in the community today, and maybe an interest in adding some transparency and clarity to their political activities.