News: CJ Exclusives

Black Foe Explains Web Site

Joe Sinsheimer says he'd take site down if speaker were to resign

Joe Sinsheimer, a former Democratic political consultant who a few weeks ago started a website calling for the resignation of N.C. House Speaker Jim Black, says he did so because his disgust with continuous revelations of unethical conduct reached a boiling point.

Sinsheimer, who has twice retired from politics and now runs a venture capital fund that backs a few small North Carolina technology companies, decided it was his duty to speak out about what he believes is overwhelming evidence that Black abused his power by doling out money, jobs, and favors in exchange for political support.

“My outrage just kept going up and up,” said Sinsheimer, who has steadily followed news reports from The News & Observer of Raleigh and The Charlotte Observer. “I sort of said to myself, ‘Am I going to be a complainer or am I going to be a doer?”

The stories motivated Sinsheimer to launch www.jimblackmustgo.com , which links the news reports; explains why he wants Black to resign; chronicles the events involving the speaker’s relationship with lobbyist and political aide Meredith Norris and other political supporters; and posts messages from people who have visited the website. Sinsheimer said he’s only had to invest about $160 of his own money in the project so far, and support has been running favorable by a 30-1 ratio. Of those who have identified themselves as Democrats, he said support runs about 20-1.

“Clearly, I’ve hit a nerve,” he said. “It was like setting off a bomb inside the Raleigh political establishment.”

Sinsheimer said that establishment — represented by Democrats he said are linked or dependent on the political and fund-raising machine led by Black, Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight, and Gov. Mike Easley — has almost completely rejected or ignored him, failing to return telephone messages or e-mails. The Democratic support he has received, he said, has come from those outside that system, what he says are the “grassroots” party members.

Sinsheimer said he instantly got media attention with the website. He has already accomplished much of what he wants to accomplish: starting a dialogue within his party about the ethics of its elected leadership.

“I firmly believe that if [Black] doesn’t resign, that this will be the campaign issue in 2006 and the Democrats will get slaughtered over it,” Sinsheimer said.

He said he hopes the ethics cloud hanging over the party can be set aside before next year’s campaigns are in full swing, so that Democrats can spend their time focusing on important issues rather than defending themselves against allegations of corruption.

“I’m trying to shake my party’s lapels and say we’ve got to fix this problem,” Sinsheimer said. “We have to deal with it now.

“I don’t believe ultimately voters care about scandal if it’s dealt with. But if it’s not dealt with, and it’s an outstanding issue in the 2006 elections and every Democratic House member’s got to basically defend themselves, and say, ‘How much money you’ve taken from Black, are you going to vote for Black for speaker?’…that’s a recipe for disaster for Democrats.”

Sinsheimer believes a resignation by Black as speaker — not from his elected office — could go a long way toward alleviating the turmoil surrounding state Democrats. He said that if Black did resign the speakership, Sinsheimer would take down his website. He disagrees with others in the party, such as state President Jerry Meek, who have said that Black has served the party honorably and that no wrongdoing has been proven. He also believes it’s wrong to wait and see whether the U.S. attorney returns indictments against Black.

“I just don’t believe that’s the right standard,” Sinsheimer said, adding that it could take the U.S. attorney another six months to finish his investigation. “How many more jobs is Jim Black going to give out during that time?”

Still, Sinsheimer said he recognizes that all his fellow Democrats find it difficult to take a public position on the allegations, and he understands why they have been mostly silent. Still, he said he is somewhat disappointed that he seems to be the only one publicly calling for significant changes.

“I know I’m in the minority on this at this point,” he said. “There are a lot of people who don’t want to step out and take a leadership position, and I think it’s unfortunate.

“I would have hoped somebody else would have stepped up. But if they want to do the ‘circle-the-wagons’ thing, then that’s their decision,” he said.

Paul Chesser is associate editor of Carolina Journal. Contact him at [email protected]. Executive editor Don Carrington contributed reporting for this article.