Jamal Fox suspended, Jim Kee denounced in hot District 2 race

by Eric Ginsburg @Eric_Ginsburg

District 2 challenger Jamal Fox is facing an unexpected problem related to his campaign — his employer announced on Tuesday that he is being suspended with pay. According to Fox, the problem originated with his opponent, Councilman Jim Kee, who was denounced by the Young Democrats of North Carolina Tuesday.

Fox said last week that Councilman Jim Kee brought up two issues related to Fox’s campaign and his employment as a political science professor at NC A&T University. A student allegedly made a comment to Fox outside of the Guilford County Courthouse downtown — where early voting is taking place — on Oct. 18 about receiving an “A” in one of his classes for voting. Fox also said A&T was suddenly concerned about whether he went through proper channels to notify the school of his candidacy, an issue that Fox said Kee brought up with the school.

A&T spokesperson Samantha Hargrove said on Tuesday afternoon that Fox was suspended with pay for violating the UNC system’s political activity policy. Fox could not be immediately reached after the school announced his suspension.

In a press release, the executive board of the Young Democrats of North Carolina said, “We condemn Councilman Jim Kee’s tactics” that are “a disservice to the people of Greensboro” by attempting to discredit Fox.

Greensboro City Council races are non-partisan, but both District 2 contenders are Democrats.

Kee said he notified A&T administrators about the comments on favorable grades after it happened for a second time. On Oct. 21, Kee said someone told him they heard a similar comment that day, leading him to inform the school out of concern that Fox’s actions could put the school in jeopardy. He said he was unaware that Fox broke a school rule about notifying the university for approval before running for office.

“I didn’t know that until I met with A&T,” Kee said, “and they actually gave me a policies and procedures form. I never asked them to do anything. I explicitly state that I’m not interested in increasing unemployment in Greensboro.”

Kee, an A&T alumni, served on the school’s board of visitors. He said he initially raised the issue with the board of elections on Oct. 18 after hearing the allegation from multiple people that day. Kee never accused Fox of doing it but told elections staff what he heard and that he thought it should stop, Kee said.

Guilford County Elections Director Charlie Collicutt said Kee brought up the alleged comment about rewarding students for voting to him.

“Jim came in and reported it to me late on Friday the 18 th ,” Collicutt said. “He said one of his campaign officials overheard what was going on.”

Collicutt said that he talked with Fox, not to warn or reprimand him but “just to let him know the statute” regarding rewarding people for voting. GS 163-275(2) outlines that “for any person to give or to promise or request money property or other thing of value for the vote of any elector” is criminal, Collicutt said.

Kee said he couldn’t name who told him what students said to Fox except to indicate that the information came from a campaign worker on both occasions.

Gerald Green, a volunteer for Robbie Perkins’ campaign, has been standing outside the courthouse to campaign during early voting every day of early voting and said he heard nothing of the sort.

Green said he was talking with Fox when students walked up that day and that only two other people were within earshot. Green, an A&T graduate, said he met Fox outside the courthouse where the two often pass downtime talking and are normally beside each other.

“I was blown away when I heard what was being said after,” he said a week later, standing next to Fox outside the early voting site. “I will vouch for it to my grave that I was right there and I didn’t hear that.”

Green said nobody said any variation on the alleged comment regarding grades or school credit, either.

District 1 candidate Sharon Hightower said she was there at the time but said she didn’t want to be involved in the conflict.

“I’m not in the middle of all this,” she said. “I was at the courthouse. I had nothing to do with anything that was said because I’m running my own campaign. I’m interested in running a clean, decent campaign.”

Hightower declined to comment about what, if anything was said that day, but said she did not communicate with Kee or his campaign about it.

Fox said that none of his students ever said anything of the sort to him on that day or any other, adamantly claiming that it is just a smear campaign by Kee.

“That’s just my opponent using his personal relationships with the administration to push this and try and discredit me and my accomplishments so far,” Fox said. “I would never damage the integrity of the university, the department or myself. as a professor.

It’s always my duty to encourage and advocate for people to vote. That’s my subject matter. I teach political science.”

Kee said he acted out of concern for his alma mater.

“I’m not trying to take down anybody’s campaign,” Kee said. “I’m not afraid of anybody when it comes to running. I’ve never accused anyone of anything. I’m just reporting what I heard.”

Fox said that civic participation is part of the curriculum for his classes but that he never encouraged students to vote for him or even directly told them that he is running for office. His classes discuss the need to read up on candidates and make informed decisions, and he provided voter guides printed by non-partisan group Democracy North Carolina, Fox said.

“In talking about it, I never told my students I’m running,” Fox said.

He’s seen some of his students while campaigning outside of the downtown early voting site, but said no comments about rewards for voting were made.

“That’s just a flat-out lie,” he said. “I distanced myself from the students coming out or when they walk up.”

Fox said he was surprised to hear that his job may be in jeopardy for “personnel reasons” related to his decision to run for office without notifying the school. Given that he announced his candidacy in the spring and has been very open about his campaign, Fox said he’s confused as to why it would only come up weeks before the election.

“Everybody knew I was running for office,” he said. “It’s kind of hard not to when there’s a billboard by A&T’s stadium. Several people [who work at A&T] even donated to my campaign.”

Nothing about needing to disclose his campaign came up when he signed his new contract in August, Fox said. “Nobody said anything,” he said. “Everybody knew I was running.”

The A&T Register, the student newspaper, printed an article about Fox’s run for office on Oct. 2.

Fox released a statement on Monday implying that A&T cleared him of any wrongdoing in the incident prior to his suspension with pay the following day.

“Let it be known the university has not found that I violated any policy, rule and or regulation pertaining to grades,” Fox said.

Jordan Green contributed reporting for this story.