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Al Pelham

By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.news

The national NAACP is taking over the Montclair NAACP’s first contested election in nearly a decade, after a series of back-and-forth disputes about when petitions should be collected and who should be eligible to run. 

Renee Baskerville

Most notably, former councilwoman and mayoral candidate Renee Baskerville is running against Al Pelham, president since 2012. The national group also opened the door for other candidates, who were expected to file petitions this week.

On Dec. 14, the national NAACP announced its intention to take over the local election to make sure that democracy played out in the local election.

“Due to ongoing concerns regarding your branch election process, the national office will intervene in the upcoming Montclair branch election and institute corrective action,” Quincy Bates, director of governance and engagement, wrote to the Montclair branch on Dec. 14.

Bates cited bylaws that give the national office authority to intervene at any time during the three-month period leading up to a branch election to “suspend the process and institute corrective action to ensure that the rights of all members are protected.”

Pelham said he was “embarrassed” that the national organization was stepping in over a “simple election.”

“With all that is going on with COVID and the unrest in Washington, this is disgraceful,” he said.

Elections typically take place every two years, in November, with nominations in October. With the pandemic, the national NAACP allowed local chapters to postpone elections through January in order for candidates to get their petitions in. The petitions need to be signed by three members who are in good standing for at least 30 days prior to the election. Candidates must have been members since April 2020. 

Since members have been meeting virtually, garnering even three signatures was challenging, according to executive committee member Cary Chevat.

Although Montclair moved its elections to January, the nominating committee presented nominations on Oct. 22, with all candidates having submitted petitions by that date except Pelham and secretary Shakira Pelham. At a meeting on that date, the nominating committee chair announced the committee was nominating Baskerville for president, Phaedra Ruddock-Dunn for first vice president, James Harris as second vice president, Judith Mills as third vice president, June Raegner as secretary and Lois Donegan as treasurer.

Al Pelham presented his petition that night, and the election committee voted to extend the deadline for another 24 hours to allow Shakira Pelham to get her petition in, according to meeting minutes. Shakira Pelham is Al Pelham’s niece.

Baskerville, who lost her mayoral bid last May, said she grew up in the NAACP and was honored to be nominated. She accepted, contending that the organization could use some fresh ideas. She commended the current board for its work in education and housing, but said now more than ever the organization’s efforts needed to expand from a “political social club” to address COVID-19 disparity among minorities, as well as police relations.  

The current officers are Pelham, president; Harris, first vice president; Beverly A. Bussey, second vice president; Shakira Pelham, secretary; Raegner, assistant secretary, and Donegan, treasurer.

Al Pelham said the 2021 election would be the first time since 2012 that the branch’s approximately 300 members would see a contested race on the ballot.

However, on Nov. 18, Obdulia Miranda-Woodley, Ruddock-Dunn, Baskerville, Harris, Raegner and William Scott wrote to the national office requesting that both Pelhams’ petitions be rejected and that the election be uncontested.

“Please read the following issue and let us know if the Montclair branch of the NAACP election should proceed as an uncontested election, as the current president and secretary did not properly present their petitions as required in the bylaws. We disagree with how the president and [secretary], the election committee chair, interpret the bylaws,” they wrote, referring to the 24-hour grace period given to get the petitions in.

Baskerville however said she never sought to have the election uncontested and the only question the group raised was over the 24 hour extension granted to Shakira Pelham. She also contends she was not aware of the email sent to national.

On Nov 20, the national organization responded that Al Pelham’s petition for candidacy would be accepted, but rejected Shakira Pelham’s later-arriving petition.

Baskerville and other members also claimed that local NAACP officials denied her access to the membership list, which all candidates can view, according to the bylaws, thereby giving Al Pelham an advantage in campaigning. Baskerville said on Sunday that she had been offered an opportunity to view the roster.

On Dec. 14, the national NAACP announced its intention to take over the election. 

At a meeting held on Dec. 30 between the local chapter and Bates of the national NAACP he said national would be handling the election and reaching out to members directly with ballots through emails, and therefore there was no need for candidates to have access to the roster. In addition, national will also allow for members who were in good standing 30 days before the election to vote, and expanded the time period for potential candidates to get petitions in to Jan. 12. 

On Saturday, Chevat said four more candidates were in the process of submitting their petitions: Roger Terry for first vice president, Kevin Pierre for second vice president, Rosita Dotson for third vice president and Chevat for secretary.

Chevat told Montclair Local that Shakira Pelham has decided not to run.

Raegner told Bates that “everything set to safeguard the elections has been torn apart,” from the regulations regarding petition submission, to the required access to the member list, to the reorganization of dates.

“This is anti-everything this civil rights organization stands for,” she said.

Bates said that when the national NAACP takes over elections for a local branch, it makes decisions on procedures on a case-by-case basis.

Baskerville said that whatever the outcome, “the group’s missions should be to come together in a collaborative nature for common causes.”

ELECTION INFORMATION

  • All active members as of Dec. 15, 2020, can vote. 
  • The election will be held Jan. 15, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., using the Election Buddy System.  
  • Active members will be notified via email with voting instructions. 
  • To confirm membership status please contact Quincy Bates at qbates@naacpnet.org.