Some Black Indianapolis-area elected officials on Tuesday called on Marion County Democratic Party Chair Kate Sweeney Bell to resign, accusing her of running discriminatory selection processes for precinct committee people and slating, and alleging numerous conflicts of interest.
“It is time that our Marion County Democrat Party take a hard look at how we treat and support minority candidates,” said Indiana Black Legislative Caucus Chair Rep. Robin Shackleford at a news conference. “We state we’re a party of diversity, equality and inclusion, but we currently practice something totally different.”
Shackleford said she is asking for Sweeney Bell’s resignation. “We are asking her to choose between either being a county officer or being the Marion County Democrat Party chair,” Shackleford said.
Sweeney Bell is currently county recorder, is running for county clerk, and currently employs a candidate for recorder. She gave no indication she would consider resigning and defended what she described as a diverse slating process.
Shackleford said she and about a dozen Black candidates won’t be participating in this year’s slating—when precinct committee members pre-choose a candidate for each office up for election, and support the slate’s primary bids. Shackleford also hinted at an attempt to ditch slating altogether.
Pike Township trustee Annette Johnson is also among the officials not pariticipating.
“It wouldn’t be very beneficial for me to go through a slating process when I’m not going to get the votes,” Johnson said. “… We have a primary convention—that’s what that’s for, in May—and that decides who goes on to November [elections], not [slating] where the party picks one person and then shoves out the other person.”
Sweeney Bell she respected those who have aired their concerns.
“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,” Sweeney Bell said in a statement Tuesday.
She said she is “proud that this weekend, the Democratic Party will endorse a [slate] featuring 50 percent candidates of color—one of the most talented, diverse tickets in county history.”
She said the pre-primary convention will be overseen by Vice Chair David Bride. “I have the utmost faith in both he and our executive committee to run a successful event under the Indiana Democratic Party’s rules,” she added.
While Shackleford’s legislative caucus, the Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis and the Baptist Minister Alliance said the goal was Sweeney Bell’s resignation, Marion County Black Elected Officials President Monroe Gray said the letter and inter-party conversation was an effort to clarify the rules.
“This is not really trying to get rid of the county chair as we are trying to get clarification so that we can make sure that the county chair stays within her responsibility, and stays within her policy, in order to make this thing run smoothly,” said Gray, who has also long been on the City-County Council.
The group of Black Democrats sent a letter to party leadership. Gray said he’d spoken with Indiana Democratic Party Chair Mike Schmuhl, “and he said he had received the letter and … that we would talk later.”