For three weeks, the Black Political Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg has hosted candidate forums across the city for races up and down the ballot, as part of selection process that culminated with their endorsement meeting Sunday evening at the Double Oaks Pre-K Center.
For nearly 50 years the Caucus the has been a fixture of Charlotte's political scene, formed to unite, educate and maximize the political clout of the black community.
In addition to hosting forums and organizing precincts, the organization gives members the opportunity to meet each election year to endorse candidates. "People look for our ballots every year," chairwoman Gloria Rembert said, referring to flyers listing the endorsements that are handed out at the polls by volunteers.
About 50 members dressed in Sunday's best gathered Sunday evening to begin their endorsement process. Candidates who showed up were given the opportunity to make one final pitch to the audience. The evening ended with a closed voting session, where members chose who to formally endorse. The full list was released early Tuesday morning.
On hand were state Senate candidate Joel Ford, Mecklenburg County Commissioner Pat Cotham, and District Court judges Ty Hands, Donnie Hoover and Jena Culler, who lined up to briefly address the audience. Congressman Mel Watt, a voting member of the Caucus, slipped in the door late wearing an untucked white golf shirt and slacks.
Also on hand was Ron Allen, the western North Carolina political director for the Obama campaign, who spoke as a surrogate for the president. "We've had a lot of progress, but it hasn't happened without the people in this room," Allen said.
Most of the candidates in attendance were African-American politicians who knew most of the faces in the room, so they kept their remarks short.
The soft-spoken Watt used his time to urge the group to vote for a straight Democratic ticket in addition to supporting the incumbent president and reminded them to go down the ballot and vote in the non-partisan judicial races.
The only statewide candidate in attendance was North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge Sam J. Ervin, who is running for state Supreme Court in one of those often forgotten races.
The only real fireworks of the evening came from Republican Wayne Powers, who is running for County Commissioner At-Large. Powers called on the audience not to "bow down to hyper-partisan endorsements," though the Caucus traditionally support Democrats.
"My hand has been outstretched for a quarter century, but my arm is getting tired, and I need you to extend yours," Powers said, asking the members to give him a chance.
County Commissioner Vilma Leake finished as the bookend of the open session speakers and a surrogate for Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton in his gubernatorial bid. "[Pat McCrory] has no idea what education is about, he will not support children," Leake said.
Watt said he backs the Caucus because of its mission to educate and empower voters.
"Politics has become complicated," Watt said," so it has been hard for people to focus on each race, and the Black Political Caucus has been helpful getting the word out and has credibility in both the progressive and black communities."