Last night I ran into a lifelong Democrat I've known for years, a Yellow Dog if there ever was. She said she and her husband are thinking about taking a drastic step: changing their registration to independent. The reason is last week's election by Mecklenburg Democrats of Nick Mackey as the new sheriff.
Mackey is the candidate who beat acting Sheriff Chipp Bailey, who was hand-picked by former Sheriff Jim Pendergraph. With the help of a voting system weighted under party rules, Mackey won overwhelmingly.
But just as overwhelming has been the criticism, both of him and the process. Like my acquaintance, a lot of Democrats are among those turned off by Mackey's record. He left the police department a few years ago after being suspended without pay after what sources described as a probe that found he put in for hours he didn't work. He later filed for bankruptcy. Letters to the editor and online message boards are full of criticism.
Before the election took place, Democratic county commissioner Parks Helms proposed a plan that would have stripped the new sheriff -- whoever it was -- of responsibility for jail administration. The idea was roundly shot down. Now Democrats are even less likely to embrace it.
John Minter, a former Observer and Charlotte Post reporter who advised Beverly Earle's mayoral campaign, sent this to commissioners this week:
"Changing the rules in the middle of the game will only reinforce the assumption by many African Americans that 2007 is not much different from 1907, when poll taxes and other ruses often were used to stifle black political influence. Most of you owe your very positions to loyal black support at the polls. The attempt to pull an end run around black voters now will break bonds that have put Democrats in control of local Mecklenburg County and Charlotte City governments. What will be the reward for black voter loyalty?"
Republicans have no base among African American voters. Their candidates for county commissioner in 2008 could run on what would amount to an anti-Mackey platform, pledging to hire a professional jail administrator and strip the sheriff of those duties. That would leave Democrats in what many would consider the uncomfortable position of defending a sheriff whose debut, at least, has been rocky.
Republicans would only need two of three at-large seats to retake the county board.
What do you think?