Some Democrats boycotting local fundraiser

Some Democrats boycotting local fundraiser

September 27th, 2012 by Chris Carroll in Local Regional News

Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Paul Smith speaks during an August news conference.

Photo by Patrick Smith /Times Free Press.


* What: Estes Kefauver Dinner

* When: Oct. 10

* Where: Chattanooga Choo Choo

* Cost: $60; students $35

* For more information: 423-266-4125

Some Democrats are boycotting the Hamilton County Democratic Party's upcoming annual fundraiser in response to Chairman Paul Smith's continued refusal to apologize for a sexist joke.

It's the latest setback for Smith, who's facing louder calls to step down after an attempt at humor on a Democratic Party business document was perceived by numerous women as misogyny.

An email about Smith obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press began circulating among party officials and board members Wednesday. It explored the possibility of an emergency meeting about a no-confidence vote that could prompt his resignation.

Reached by phone Wednesday, Smith declined to discuss his future as chairman or the Oct. 10 Estes Kefauver Dinner, named after the esteemed Chattanooga lawmaker and considered the local party's main mechanism for pre-Election Day money.

"I don't want to get in an argument with that bunch," he said, describing those he offended and others who are boycotting the dinner. "I'm trying to register people and work for the candidates."

Smith, 75, included a lengthy joke about women on a board meeting agenda four days after U.S. Rep. Todd Akin's comments about "legitimate rape." He said he printed it as an attack on Akin, but his explanation baffled and offended high-ranking women in the county party. Smith last week called them "troublemakers" who don't understand his jokes.

Board member and Hamilton County Young Democrats President Colby Knecht, 20, said his group is withdrawing a $1,500 commitment to the dinner.

"The women and men on our executive committee don't have time for the childishness that's going on there," Knecht said. "Paul needs to step down."

Another young board member, Joda Thongnopnua, 19, said he won't be attending.

Both said they would bypass the party and donate their money directly to Democratic candidates.

Several longtime Democratic activists, including former Hamilton County Party Chairman Stuart James and Chattanooga City Council candidate Chris Anderson, are boycotting the dinner and encouraging others to do the same. Anderson said he hasn't missed a Kefauver dinner since 2001.

"It will not be an event reflective of the people who are speaking, attending or working on behalf of the Democratic Party," he said in a statement. "I simply cannot financially support the activities and goals of local party chairman Paul Smith."

Chantelle Roberson, a Democratic Party state executive committee member who found the joke "distasteful," said she's making up her mind about attending the Kefauver Dinner, which features U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, as keynote speaker.

"The dinner is bigger than Paul," she said.

But Rita Fehring, president of the Greater Chattanooga Democratic Women's Club, said Smith embarrassed the party and needs to pay. She especially took umbrage at Smith's defending himself as a women's rights supporter and his comment to the Chattanooga Times Free Press that "women ought to have the right to run for office."

"Where did that come from?" she asked. "How condescending can this get?"