Some Black leaders are seeking an explanation from Indiana Democratic Party brass after ZeNai Brooks says she was abruptly fired from her role as the state party’s executive director.
News of her departure, which was first reported by political commentator Abdul Hakim-Shabazz in his “Cheat Sheet” newsletter, came as a surprise to her supporters.
“I would like a lot more answers on this,” Lindsay Brown, state president of the Indiana Democrat African American Caucus, told IBJ. “I’m not happy with it. I think she was a great asset to the party, especially in building diversity and inclusion and working with minority groups like mine.”
A spokesperson for the Indiana Democratic Party said the organization does not comment on personnel issues. In a memo to members of the party’s State Central Committee, Democratic Party Chair Mike Schmuhl thanked Brooks for her service to the party, according to a party official.
Brooks, who is Black and ran for state auditor in 2022, sent an email on Nov. 20 to members of the State Central Committee, explaining that she did not resign but was terminated.
“I am writing to express my disappointment with my sudden termination from IDP this morning,” Brooks wrote, according to a copy of the email obtained by IBJ.
“As you know I pride myself on transparency, operational excellence and my professional reputation, so I want to be clear that I did not walk away from my IDP responsibilities as it has been implied or shared,” she added.
Brooks, a certified public accountant, was working full-time at Cummins Inc. when she was tapped to the executive director role in April. She said in her email that after leaving Cummins she told Indiana Democratic Party Chair Mike Schmuhl that she would be looking for another full-time job before the end of the year to keep her CPA license, while continuing to serve as the party’s executive director.
In November, she accepted a job as chief financial officer at Martin University, and it was a few weeks later she was let go, the email stated.
“I am shocked and hurt by this, especially given the toll it’s taken on me personally and professionally,” Brooks wrote. “I am disappointed at party leadership and that we were not able to have a conversation on how I could balance the roles. I am frustrated by the hypocrisy playing out, as most folks in politics juggle multiple roles, paid and unpaid, including our Chairman and Vice-chair. My heart hurts for the impact this will have on communities I represent going forward.”
The Rev. Antonio Alexander, an assistant pastor at Purpose of Life Ministries and a member of the Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis, said Brooks was an energetic figure who could have moved the party forward.
He could only speculate on the reason for a firing.
“Just holding another position itself, I would say that’s a lame excuse because so many people in the party have multiple streams of income, and it really hasn’t been frowned upon unless maybe it creates some conflict of interest,” Alexander told IBJ. “It has not been identified that there was a conflict of interest, and so it begs the question: Was her termination really due to the fact that she took on another job, or is there something deeper? Could it be that it was Martin University, or could it be something else?”
Brooks’ exit comes as Hoosier Democrats hope to make a dent in the Republican supermajority in the state Legislature and shore up more support for Jennifer McCormick in her 2024 gubernatorial bid.
On Tuesday, the party announced that Dayna Colbert, chair of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, would replace Brooks as executive director.
“We are excited for Dayna to help lead our party as we enter a critical election year for Indiana,” said Schmuhl, the state party chair.