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‘This will continue to linger’: What if Black legislators, clergy don’t get help they’re looking for in local Democratic Party fight?

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A group of local Black legislators and clergy have been vocal about wanting the Marion County Democratic Party chair to resign, but they’re not finding top-level Democrats who are willing to take up their cause.

Groups including the Marion County Black Elected Officials and Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis have led the effort to get Kate Sweeney Bell to resign, saying it’s a conflict of interest for her to be both party chair and hold elected office. Sweeney Bell is currently Marion County recorder and is running for county clerk.

At a press conference April 19, they doubled down on their calls for Sweeney Bell to resign, saying they’d like Rep. Andre Carson, Mayor Joe Hogsett and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to get involved.

So far, that hasn’t happened, prompting questions about what happens next if some of the party’s most powerful players opt to stay away from the rift.

City-county councilor Monroe Gray, president of Marion County Black Elected Officials, said April 22 he hadn’t heard back from Hogsett and doesn’t expect to. He said he’s talked privately with Hogsett about his concerns but the mayor “didn’t seem to be concerned.”

Hogsett did not respond to a request for comment.

Rev. David Greene, president of Concerned Clergy, said the mayor could suffer politically for staying out of the fight.

“We can say he’s dismissing what African Americans are saying is a problem,” he said.

The groups have also appealed to Rep. Carson, but Gray said the congressman doesn’t want to get involved. Carson refuted that in a statement.

“At no point have I told Councillor Monroe Gray or anyone else that I want to stay out of Marion County Democratic Party politics,” he said.

After the press conference April 19, Carson said in a statement he considers the legislators and ministers “my friends and family.”

He added: “For too long, large segments of our communities — especially people of color, women, and many others — have struggled to elevate their voices amidst institutional barriers and racism. That is unacceptable. This is why I am dedicated to working together and bringing about results that benefit the people.”

Greene said Carson gets credit for responding and acknowledging institutional barriers and racism but called the answer “incomplete.”

“This will continue to linger until it gets addressed,” Greene said. “I don’t think it’s going anywhere. And it could have all been avoided. Nobody’s doing this because they want the Democratic Party in the news.”

At the press conference, state Rep. Cherrish Pryor said they will send a letter to the DNC with possible “resolutions” for the national party to take, including having Sweeney Bell resign and giving directives to the state party for how it should handle these issues in the future.

As of April 25, Pryor said they haven’t sent the letter yet. It isn’t clear if the DNC would want to get involved in a local quarrel.

Legislators and ministers are going to the DNC now because when they asked the state party in February for a clarification on rules about whether it’s a conflict of interest to be party chair and run for elected office, they weren’t happy with the response.

Indiana Democratic Party spokesperson Drew Anderson said the party won’t comment on the local back-and-forth but said in a statement: “The state party regularly hears from groups or individuals seeking guidance on party rules. Correspondence on this issue was provided in February, and any group or individual should not hesitate to contact the state party if clarification or discussion on party rules is needed.”

Gray acknowledged the groups are running out of avenues, having started closer to home before going to the DNC. Each step of the way, they’ve been left disappointed.

What if that continues?

“Then you have to take it to the people in the streets,” Gray said.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853 or email at tylerf@indyrecorder.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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