Lavora Barnes made history Saturday as she became the first African-American woman to lead the Michigan Democratic Party.
“It’s a huge deal,” she said. “I’m trying not to cry, because this is a big deal for me and my mother — the fact Michigan, of all places, has never had a black woman [MDP] chair. We are the backbone of this party. We do the work. We knock the doors. We make the phone calls. And the fact that we have someone finally who looks like us and leading this party is huge for me.”
Barnes replaces Chair Brandon Dillon, who opted not to run for re-election.
Almost 3,000 credentialed delegates attended the party’s biennial convention, which was held at Cobo Center in Detroit. Barnes, who lives in Ann Arbor, earned more than 70 percent of the delegate vote in a three-way contest.
Barnes, who has been the MDP’s chief operating officer since 2013, also is the first woman to lead the state party since Olivia Maynard, who held the post from 1979 to 1983. That comes as Michigan is the only state in the country to have four top female executives: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Michigan Supreme Court Justice Bridget McCormack.
And Barnes becomes the first African-American MDP chair since Melvin “Butch” Hollowell, who was co-chair with Mark Brewer from 2003 to 2004.
The other two nominated chair candidates were Greg Bowens, a precinct delegate and 14th Congressional District executive committee member, and Lisa DiRado, a member of both Northville Indivisible and the 11th District Democrats.
Two other candidates had been running, MD Alam, chair of Muslims for [Bernie] Sanders and Patrick Biange, a former gubernatorial and congressional candidate.
And as the Advance first reported, all nine members of Michigan’s Democratic congressional delegation backed Barnes, which hasn’t happened in a contested race since 2013 when Lon Johnson ousted Brewer.
Barnes did communications for former President Bill Clinton and ran former President Barack Obama’s 2012 Michigan presidential campaign. In her victory speech Saturday, she sought to emphasize party unity.
“The vast majority of us made the decision long before today that we are going to strengthen, improve, and add even more voices, voters, innovation, and ideas to the movement we are building together. Movements go forward, not backward, and this Michigan Democratic Party is only going in one direction: full-steam ahead.”
Democrats are looking to turn the state blue in the 2020 presidential election after President Donald Trump’s surprise 2016 win in Michigan.
They also elected other leadership posts, including officers for party caucuses and congressional districts. Mark LaChey was elected MDP first vice chair and Fay Beydoun is second vice chair.
“I will be the first LGBT member on the Democratic National Committee from Michigan,” said LaChey who has served as MDP’s second vice chair and chair of its LGBT & Allies Caucus. “Firsts matter and I want to be a strong advocate for Michigan on the Democratic National Committee and let people know that without Michigan Democrats are not going to win the White House in 2020.”
Beydoun, who also serves as executive director of American Arab Chamber of Commerce, said she’s “looking forward to 2020 and getting more Democrats elected.”