Al Pelham

By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.news

Al Pelham will continue to lead the Montclair branch of the NAACP as its president after would-be challenger Renee Baskerville’s name was pulled from ballots just before a weekend election. 

The election was run by the NAACP’s national organization, but Baskerville’s name was pulled at her request the day before the start of voting. The national organization took over the local election due to infighting over ballot petition requirements and related procedures. 

Members had from Friday, Jan. 15, through Sunday, Jan. 17, to cast their votes virtually.




Pelham, president since 2012, ran uncontested once Baskerville left the race. Lois Donegan ran for treasurer, also uncontested. Of the contested races, Roger Terry got 59% of the votes against Phaedra Ruddock-Dunn for first vice president, James Harris received 56% against Kevin Pierre for second vice president, Rosita Dotson garnered 67% against Judith Mills for third vice president and Cary Chevat received 63 percent against June Raegner for secretary.

In December, the national NAACP announced it would be taking over the Montclair NAACP’s first contested election in nearly a decade after a series of disputes about when petitions should be collected and who should be eligible to run. 

In October, the nominating committee chair nominated Baskerville for president, Ruddock-Dunn for first vice president, Harris as second vice president, Mills as third vice president, Raegner as secretary and Donegan as treasurer.

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

However, on Nov. 18 an email sent to the national office under the names of Obdulia Miranda-Woodley, Ruddock-Dunn, Baskerville, Harris, Raegner and William Scott requested 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,” the email said, referring to the 24-hour grace period given to get the petitions in.

Baskerville, however, said that she never sought to have the election be uncontested, and that 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 the national organization.

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.

The national organization also expanded the time period for potential candidates to file petitions to Jan. 12. 

Four more candidates then submitted their petitions: Terry, Pierre, Dotson and Chevat. Chevat told Montclair Local that Shakira Pelham had decided not to run.

On Dec. 14, Quincy Bates, director of governance and engagement, wrote to the Montclair NAACP that the national organization would take over the local election “and institute corrective action.”

He 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.”

On Jan. 12, Baskerville wrote to national officials asking that her name not be placed on the ballot, pending a response from the national organization’s counsel concerning her request to investigate the election process and the national organization’s takeover of the election.

She also asked that the election be postponed until the national general counsel responded to her request for a legal opinion.

The next day, Bates sent an email to the local branch that the election would go on as planned, with the voting taking place over three days, from Jan. 15 through 17. He also stated that at Baskerville’s request she had been removed from the ballot.

Bates did not answer an email asking whether counsel is investigating the process.

The officers prior to the election were Pelham, president; Harris, first vice president; Beverly A. Bussey, second vice president; Shakira Pelham, secretary; Raegner, assistant secretary, and Donegan, treasurer. 

Elections are held every two years. The local branch has approximately 300 members, with 23 percent voting in this year’s election.