One day after she was indicted on theft and criminal conspiracy charges, Councilor Twanda Carlisle attended an April 12 candidates' forum sponsored by the Black Political Empowerment Project.
Several supporters, and even some rivals, seemed happy to see Carlisle at the B-PEP forum, often hugging Carlisle or shaking her hands. Although Carlisle faces eight challengers, none of them attacked Carlisle during the debate.
"Leadership does not mean standing on our current councilperson's head to get ahead," said Eric Smith, one of Carlisle's challengers.
Another challenger, community activist and real-estate broker Judith K. Ginyard, agreed. "It's no secret that Twanda and I have had our disagreements," said Ginyard after the event. "But I will not be involved in character assassination.
"It's not my job to pass judgment; that's up to the courts."
Carlisle was charged with theft and criminal conspiracy for allegedly diverting more than $43,000 paid to three acquaintances Carlisle hired as consultants: Sheryl Pinson-Smith, Darlene Durham and Lee Otto Johnson. (Charges have also been filed against the recipients of city money.) According to the district attorney's office, on 50 occasions Carlisle made deposits into her own bank account a day after the consultants cashed their city checks.
Carlisle seems to be campaigning aggressively. Perhaps surprisingly, her opening statement at the B-PEP forum urged that councilors be held accountable for their expenditures. "We have to have more accountability in city government," Carlisle told the crowd of more than 100. "We must work to make sure that every dollar that is spent in city council is accounted for."
Still, there are signs of disarray in her campaign.
Days before the indictment, Carlisle hired local activist Michelle Burton Brown to head the campaign. On April 14, Brown sent an e-mail to two City Paper reporters and other individuals saying she supported Carlisle "because she is the underdog. ... I know this is a losing battle but I don't want Twanda to think she is alone."
The following day, however, Brown sent another e-mail indicating that she was resigning as Carlisle's campaign manager:
"I know that many of you have questions and concerns regarding my decision to provide support to Councilwoman Carlisle," the e-mail said. "I believe that my decision was well-intentioned, however I realize that the situation is such that I can not move forward." The e-mail cited Brown's plans to move out-of-state later this year; while pledging "to be a source of moral support" for Carlisle, Brown's e-mail added, "You will not receive any further [correspondence] regarding the Councilwoman."
Reached by phone on April 16, Brown said the first e-mail was sent to CP by mistake. Asked whether she was still Carlisle's campaign manager, Brown said in a prepared statement that Carlisle asked for help on the campaign, but "due to the negative political climate, I have wavered over my decision to provide support. Facing the media the day of the arraignment is one of the most intimidating experiences I've encountered to date." She says that while she will continue to support Carlisle's campaign, she calls herself "more [of] a campaign writer than a campaign manager."
Following Brown's statement, Carlisle also sent a prepared statement to CP saying she "appreciates Brown's willingness to assist with my campaign for re-election. Her support has been invaluable to me personally and as an elected official. She brings not only her writing ability, but also proven organizing skills. She has offered her services free of charge."
She ended the statement saying she had the "strength and the courage to lead the 9th District." However, voters in the district have also expressed conflicting feelings about Carlisle's ongoing campaign.
"I think Twanda is by far the best candidate," says Jack Reynolds, interim president of the Black Contractor's Association. "I don't think putting someone else in that seat would put us in a better position.
"She hasn't been convicted of anything, and I think it's important to support the best candidate."
Others say that, even putting the criminal charges aside, Carlisle has done little for the district.
"I have been very dissatisfied with the job she has been doing for a very long time," says Point Breeze resident Joni Rabinowitz of Just Harvest, who is supporting challenger Ricky Burgess. Carlisle, Rabinowitz says, "is never available to talk to you when you call, and she's never sponsored any legislation."
Carlisle is scheduled for a preliminary hearing April 19.