North Carolina’s Senate District 21 was drawn by the General Assembly as a safe Democratic district. In short, it was packed with Democratic voters (especially African Americans) in an attempt to water down their influence in Cumberland County and make neighboring Senate District 19 safe for a Republican. In the 2016 general election, incumbent Ben Clark won District 21 with 71.74% of the vote.
District 21 remains highly Democratic despite changes brought about by federal court rulings alleviating some of the racial gerrymandering, and thereby altering Districts 19 and 21. The Democrat that emerges from the primary in District 21 will likely win in November.
In light of the high stakes, the primary in District 21 has turned ugly. Incumbent Ben Clark is facing a second challenge from Naveed Aziz. Clark barely beat Aziz in 2016, winning by only 1,304 votes.
Ben Clark’s Residence
A Spring Lake Alderman (with the apparent support of Aziz) has filed a complaint with the elections board, claiming that Clark doesn’t live in District 21. Aziz has echoed the charge and Clark has disputed it. Clark claims that he lives with his parents and not in a new house he built in Vander, outside of the district. A March 15 post from Aziz’s campaign Facebook page states:
“The NCAA Tournament isn’t the only one seeing upsets this month.
Ben Clark is extremely upset. Upset at being caught changing the districts so he can run for N.C. Senate, upset that his credibility is challenged. Upset that being in the pocket of Republicans still isn’t landing him the job – upset that no matter how many times he tries to spread lies, the gerrymander charges don’t go away.”
Naveed Aziz’s Medical Clinic
Clark has recently fired back with some vicious accusations of his own. In his own Facebook posts, he’s claims that Aziz has been “bought and paid for by Republican Donors” and includes screenshots of campaign finance reports.
In a subsequent post that Clark later deleted, he attacks Aziz’s medical practice and claims that it it going to be investigated by State and Federal authorities. A source grabbed a screenshot of the post before it was removed:
This type of in-fighting isn’t common in a primary battle, and we’re still over a month out from the election. Compare this with the “Clarence” Donaldson/Kirk deViere primary battle for District 19, where the two candidates have hardly acknowledged each other’s existence.
From the outside looking in, this is not a good look for Clark. As an incumbent Senator, he’s held to a higher standard. He should be able to rise above the fray, validate his address, and move on. He doesn’t need to be attacking Aziz’s medical clinic with unsubstantiated threats, and he especially doesn’t need to be doing it in deleted Facebook and cryptic Twitter posts.
Cherry-picking Aziz’s donor list is also a cheap move. If anything, the fact that she can get Republican donors in a heavily Democratic district shows an ability to cross party lines, a trait needed desperately in Raleigh.
Aziz’s challenge to Senator Clark’s residency is fair game, especially considering Clark made the exact same charge against Aziz in 2016 (what goes around…), and it shouldn’t be difficult to get to the truth, quickly. Yet, here we are, with an unresolved residency issue, weeks before voters go to the polls.
These attacks are likely to increase in frequency and severity as the primary date approaches. The damage caused cannot be undone. The victor will carry it into November and beyond.