Barnes elected MDP’s first Black female chair

MDP Chair Lavora Barnes celebrates victory, Feb. 2, 2019 | Ken Coleman

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.”

Brandon Dillon at the MDP Convention, Feb. 2, 2019 | Ken Coleman

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.

She is now the third Black woman to helm a state party in the country, joining Louisiana state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson and Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who was just elected in Maryland.

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.

Lavora Barnes at the MDP Convention, Feb. 2, 2019 | Ken Coleman

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.

Barnes was considered the heavy frontrunner, having earned endorsements from, Dillon, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, Attorney General Dana Nessel, the UAW and the AFL-CIO.

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.

Voting at the MDP Convention, Feb. 2, 2019 | Ken Coleman

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.

Lavora Barnes, Mark LaChey and Fay Beydoun at the MDP Convention, Feb. 2, 2019 | Ken Coleman

“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.”

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman reports on Southeast Michigan, education, civil rights and voting rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.
Susan J. Demas is a 17-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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