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Black political leaders call for Marion County Democratic Party chair’s resignation

The following report from Indianapolis Recorder writer Breanna Cooper was first published in the Recorder.

Citing conflicts of interest and discrimination against minority candidates, Monroe Gray, president of the Marion County Black Elected Officials (MCBEO), and members of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus (IBLC) (above) called for the resignation of Marion County Democratic Party Chair Kate Sweeney-Bell during a press conference Feb. 1.

In a letter to the Indiana Democratic Party sent Jan. 28, MCBEO representatives outlined their concerns about Sweeney-Bell’s candidacy for Marion County Clerk because of the power she has as the sitting chair of the county party. The IBLC and MCBEO members claim Sweeney-Bell has gained an inordinate level of power as chair by selecting precinct committee people — or PCs — who essentially work as a middleman between voters and candidates and are responsible for things such as canvassing.

According to the IBLC and MCBEO, Sweeney-Bell has “abused her power” to deny support for minority applicants by appointing PCs who will support her and the candidates of her choice.

This weekend, the Marion County Democratic Party will have its convention, where candidates will attempt to get support from the county party. Rep. Robin Shackleford, leader of IBLC, said many Democratic candidates will not be seeking support from the county party.

“It is time that our Marion County Democratic Party take a hard look at how we treat and support minority candidates,”

Shackleford said. “We state we are a party of diversity, equality and inclusion, but we currently practice something totally different. The upcoming pre-primary convention is not advantageous for minority candidates, who are not incumbents, which is why most of the Marion County State legislators will not be participating this year.”

However, Shackleford wants people to continue to support the Democratic Party as a whole, and said voters can do that by supporting the legislators taking a stand by not seeking support from the party.

“What we’re asking for people to do is still come out and support the Democrat Party,” Shackleford said. “We’re still here fighting for the least of thee, fighting for housing, access to health care, and fighting to make sure that you’re able to live and support your family and have a good education. We want you to come out to the polls. We need your vote to continue that fight. … We ask that you continue to support the Democrat Party by supporting us.”

Following the press conference, Sweeney-Bell released a statement, touting the diversity of the county’s candidates.

“I have great admiration for the public service of those who expressed concerns today, and I respect their decision to not seek the Marion County Democratic Party’s support at our pre-primary convention,” the statement reads. “I am also proud that this weekend, the Democratic Party will endorse a group featuring 50% candidates of color — one of the most talented, diverse tickets in county history. This is the continuation of a multi-year strategy to make our organization more reflective of the Democratic Party and our constituents in Marion County, which included the recent election of an executive committee with representatives from the Black, Latino and LGBT communities.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848 or email at BreannaC@indyrecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.