Marion County Democrats are set to decide on Saturday who will succeed Prosecutor Terry Curry, who resigned last month for health reasons, but several Democrats told IBJ they are concerned about who is getting to vote.
Curry revealed last month he has been fighting cancer for several years and is leaving office with three years left in his term.
A caucus of precinct committeemen and women is charged with choosing Curry’s replacement and the race is between Curry’s chief trial deputy prosecutor, Ryan Mears, who is now interim prosecutor, and Tim Moriarty, who is special counsel for Mayor Joe Hogsett and the mayor’s choice.
The internal political battle has so far been intense and has turned controversial. The question is who will (and who won’t) be voting on Saturday morning.
A caucus of precinct committeemen, who are either elected in the midterms or appointed by the county chairwoman, will vote. But fewer than 400 of the county’s 600’s precinct committee positions are currently filled.
Some of those vacancies are recent and came after Marion County Democratic Chairwoman Kate Sweeney Bell removed at least 30 officials from precinct committee positions. Some Democrats told IBJ they have questions about Bell’s motives.
Three Democrats say that Bell removed supporters and friends of Mears from the list of precinct committeemen and women. And two—who have more detailed information—say Bell removed current or former employees of the prosecutor’s office.
Those Democrats think Bell, who was handpicked by Hogsett to lead the party, knew Curry would resign at some point and purposely removed people who supported Mears so Hogsett’s choice—Moriarity—would have an easier shot at winning the caucus election.
Some of the vacancies have been filled. A list of new precinct committeemen and women—which was provided to IBJ by Democrats who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution—shows that several of the new representatives work in Hogsett’s administration or are family members of city employees.
For example, Deputy Mayor of Community Development Jeff Bennett’s wife, Megan, was appointed.
Also, Morarity is a precinct committeeman, meaning he can vote for himself on Saturday. His wife is a precinct committeewoman, as well. Mears is not a precinct committeeman, though, so he will not be able to vote.
Bell denies anything nefarious. She told IBJ the party received updated information on its address list and realized some precinct committeemen and women were not living in their precincts anymore. So, they were removed. A few others recently resigned for different reasons, Bell said.
“We can’t, nor would I, just shove people in to vote a specific way,” Bell said. “That is not what I do.”
But the Democrats who spoke to IBJ say it seems Bell was selective in whom she removed, because there are still precinct committeemen and women who don’t live in the districts they represent.
One precinct committeeman is supposed to represent each precinct in a county. Elected precinct committeemen must live in the precinct they represent, but appointed ones do not have to meet that requirement, which is why people living in the same household can both serve in the role.
Bell said “everything is on the up and up.”
“This wasn’t sneaky, underhanded political dealing,” Bell said.
The caucus meets at 10 a.m. Saturday. The vote is by secret ballot.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect a correction. Deputy Mayor of Community Development Jeff Bennett was elected as a precinct committeeman in 2018. His wife, Megan, was appointed.