Local Dem leadership changes, goals still same

Chris Berendt Staff Writer

September 22, 2013

The Sampson County Democratic Party, even as it undergoes a leadership transition, is continuing its commitment to unifying and strengthening the party, while promoting issue awareness and involvement by its members.

Marcus Bass, who has served as chairman for the county’s Democratic Party for the past year, is stepping down and Tomeka Blue has taken his place. While the goal is to have a chairman elected for a two-year term at county party conventions, the party’s executive committee discussed the transition and decided to appoint Blue earlier this month.

Bass, who has taught at Sampson Middle School for the past three years, had an opportunity to relocate to Charlotte for another professional venture.

“It was something that was kind of spur of the moment for us,” said Bass, “but with Tomeka at the helm, she has been an active part of the Democratic Party for a number of years and even served as our vice … so she was there to step right up.”

“It has been a seamless transition because we have been working in tandem ever since he was elected chair of the party,” Blue added. “Everything he has done as far as initiatives for our party, I’ve been there to help him, and vice-versa. We’ve been making sure we’ve been keeping each other abreast of what’s going on.”

Blue has served for more than 10 years within the Sampson County Democratic Party at various levels, as well as being the third-vice of the 7th Congressional District. During the past election, Blue served as interim chairwoman while Bass was at the state level.

“We’re going to continue the initiatives that Marcus has set forth,” Blue said. “At this point, our Democratic Women’s group is very strong, we’ve just chartered the Young Democrats of Sampson County and we’re going to continue to stretch out and bring individuals from all parts of the county who are Democratic members … and just carry forth the mission of the Democratic Party on the Sampson County level.”

In the past year, Bass said various events, such as the recent Democratic Day in the Park held at Royal Lane, have been held to “build back the brand” of the party in Sampson.

“Coming into this last year, we really looked at restructuring the party — working with our precincts, trying to reorganize our base, bring back leadership and really get the younger folks in the county engaged in the party,” Bass said. “Now we’re at a point where the Democratic Party footprint is a little bit larger, we’re a little more visible in the county and Tomeka is coming in with her organizational skills, her network of resources and she’s really going to take it to the next level as far as bringing in others in the county who haven’t been active to do more. I’m really excited to see it happen.”

Blue said the role of the party chair is to create a clear, consistent message and garner support from the party as a whole.

A former English as a Second Language teacher for Sampson County Schools, Blue currently works as a bilingual training specialist for Murphy Family Ventures in Wallace. Bass and Blue both said their educational backgrounds have served them well in the party chair seat.

“It makes you sensitive to everybody’s needs,” Blue said. “Everyone is different. They bring their own story and their own issues to the table. Being neutral and being able to listen and understand, and make decisions that will help them improve personally, professionally and even in the political arena, I think it’s a key skill that we, as educators, have and something good to provide to the county.”

Establishing a common goal, and building support for it, is a key goal of the party head.

“With this being such a diverse area, we have to really work together to make sure that everybody’s issues are being met … and one consistent message is being sent out,” said Bass. “I think Tomeka has done a great job in that so far. I think that the groundwork is being laid now for some great things in the future.”

Blue sang his praises, and said Bass will continue to be involved in the Sampson Democratic Party, offering a new perspective from the outside looking in.

“He’s been a wonderful supporter and a leader, so we didn’t want to lose that experience and the relationship we have created with him,” she said.

Many of the same ideas, notably community outreach, will still be carried out.

Blue pointed to a 50-state strategy of the Democratic Party, which has at its core to build at the grassroots level. That can be done by reaching every Democratic member in Sampson, making sure precincts are organized and strong and that the support is there for local initiatives. Likewise, it is vital that anyone who is running on the Democratic ticket have that party support, and the right candidate is chosen, she said.

“It’s not always going to be pretty or fun, but it will be good for us in the long run to create strong leadership on the local, state and national levels,” said Blue. “For the short-term, our goal is to continue to build our party, to build the interest, our membership and our strength within the county.”

Bass said public awareness is another key goal for the party, which is expected to continue to highlight important issues throughout the community and via their newsletter. That ranges from communicating the impact of the statewide Voter ID bill, and its effects on the older population and other segments of the community, to the local contractual issues that have impacted service delivery in the county.

“We’re going to start letting the citizens know some of the deeper issues that are really affecting economics, education and civic issues in the county,” said Bass.

A unified message is key, Blue reiterated.

“We want to offer a clear, consistent message that shows we are solidified in our thought process in how we’re going to support the different issues that are taking place in our county,” Blue said. “I think it’s important they hear from us and know what our stance is from a party perspective, and then we can begin to work together to deal with all these smaller issues.”

To that end, Blue said various liaison positions will be created and appointed in the near future to help with public awareness and education and dissemination of that message.

“We have enjoyed wonderful leadership from many members of our party who have been working with the party for many years,” said Blue. She and Bass noted Johnny Kaleel, Larry Barnes and others who have paved the way. “They have laid a wonderful foundation, but the way our political future is moving, it is going to take a collective effort from the experienced members and new members to tackle these issues.”

For his part, Bass shared his gratitude to the county, from Clinton City Schools to the Democratic Party,for extending him the opportunities to serve his community, one he has cherished.

“A lot of folks don’t think that young people can come back and be involved in the fabric of this county, but in every avenue I’ve been met with optimism,” Bass said, “and I appreciate the county for that.”

Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at