RALEIGH — David Parker, the embattled chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party, refused to resign during a Thursday afternoon press conference convened to address salacious allegations of sexual harassment at the party.
With students released for recess at the next-door Catholic day school screaming in the background, Parker said that he would not stand for re-election to the chairmanship and, instead, would request that an election for a replacement be rescheduled from June 17 to May 12.
Notwithstanding Parker’s early departure, the chairman will remain the titular head of the party as Democrats welcome President Obama to North Carolina for an official visit Wednesday and as voters head to the polls in the May 8 primary.
“Throughout all of this, I’ve played by the rules,” Parker said. “I’ve followed my lawyer’s advice. This is an unfortunate incident. It does not change the need to support Democrats in the fall, however.”
NCDP executive director Jay Parmley resigned from his post Sunday after news of the sexual harassment allegations and a settlement surfaced. Parmley allegedly sexually harassed a subordinate, Adriadn Ortega, who later was terminated.
Parmley never did anything wrong and is just a “close talker” and a friendly man, Parker said at the press conference.
“There was no creation of a hostile environment, nor was there sexual discrimination sufficient to warrant termination for cause of Mr. Parmley,” he said.
Parker also distanced himself from direct involvement in the situation, saying that he doesn’t supervise personnel and that he isn’t a full-time worker at the party.
“I am the chair of the Democratic Party just like folks chair their United Way or their board of trustees at their church,” he said. “I have no supervisory role, unless something like this comes up, in which case it has to be brought to me.”
Parker convened the press conference amid a growing chorus of calls from those in his own party to resign, including from Gov. Bev Perdue. Even so, Parker said that he was still a Democrat and would support all of the candidates who asked him to resign.
“I will support this Democratic ticket from top to bottom,” Parker said. “Every single one of the people who called for my resignation, I will vote for each and every one of them, and I will vote for them proudly, if they are our nominees.”
Asked by a reporter if it was “a slap in the face” to Perdue for him to ignore her calls to resign, Parker said, “I don’t think so.”
During the press conference, Parker referenced a letter, dated Dec. 8, 2011, from Ortega to Parmley outlining a series of alleged offenses by Parmley. These included “unwanted shoulder rubs,” detailed discussion of his sexual past, and showing a picture of male genitalia, according to The Daily Caller. Some of the allegations also were made in a complaint filed at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Jan. 31.
Parker said it was telling that the more salacious allegations were not repeated in the EEOC complaint, which, unlike the letter to Parmley, was submitted “under oath.”
On the question of shoulder rubs, Parker compared the behavior to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s conduct toward fellow Republican and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
“It’s like I saw pictures last night of Mitt Romney in a debate with Rick Perry, and during the debate he reaches over, grabs Rick Perry by the shoulder, pats him on the shoulder, and squeezes … that’s just who Mitt Romney is,” Parker said. “Does that make anything wrong with him? No, it doesn’t. It’s not sexual. It’s not an advance.”
Parker said that Parmley couldn’t be terminated for cause in his opinion, or in the opinion of the party’s lawyer. Parker said that “most” of his fellow Democrats were asking him not to resign, though none have done so publicly.
He also said that the press manufactured the situation, at least in part. “This is, to some extent, a tempest created by the press in a teapot. However, it is important and needs to be talked about,” Parker said.
Minutes after the press conference ended, national Republicans issued a press release putting a political spin on the scandal.
“Obama Superdelegate and NCDP Chairman David Parker’s press conference today has further exposed what a grave threat this sexual harassment scandal is to President Obama’s already bleak chances at winning North Carolina in November,” said National Republican Committee spokesman Matt Connelly. “President Obama will be forced to address this continuing scandal when he arrives in Raleigh on Tuesday, and North Carolinians are eagerly awaiting his response.”
Perdue also released a statement. “I am pleased that Mr. Parker has announced that he will step aside as party chairman,” she said. “The party must move quickly to select a new chair and a new executive director. It’s time to resume our focus on the core mission of the Democratic Party: strengthening our schools, creating jobs, and ensuring more opportunity for all North Carolinians.”
David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.