Ex-con beats opposition to punch by making rap sheet public
The Saturday morning community meeting at New Light Baptist Church on Sept. 30 concerned the disproportionate rate of school suspensions among black students. Attended by parents, longtime community activists and one principal, the group discussed parental advocacy, lawsuits and opening church doors to youth as potential solutions for giving young African Americans the support necessary to succeed academically. There was broad agreement that school suspension would function as a funnel into the prison system for young black students if it was not addressed.
That was a good cue for Karl Brustmeyer, a 34-year-old education activist from Gibsonville.
“I was one of those kids who was suspended,” he said. “Everything you’re talking about, I lived it’… I went to prison. I went to jail. I’ll tell anybody. How can you help them when you haven’t walked in their shoes? You come out being antagonized and attacked.”
Sitting beside him, nodding in agreement, was Olga Morgan Wright, a legal assistant at Smith Moore law firm and the Republican candidate for the NC House of Representatives District 58 race.
Then Brustmeyer, who is treasurer of the Independent Minority Political Action Committee, got to the point. He asked the Rev. Cardes Brown, who was chairing the meeting, whether he was a member of the Simkins political action committee; the pastor acknowledged that he was.
“Will you support any candidate who goes out against a candidate who has a criminal record?” Brustmeyer asked. Brown professed to not understand the question, so Brustmeyer tried again: “Our black officials or candidates won’t come out and attack black men with criminal pasts?”
“No,” Brown said, “I don’t think so.”
Brustmeyer’s political action committee, which registered with the NC Board of Elections on April 24, has endorsed Wright for the District 58 seat, against incumbent Alma Adams, a popular Democrat who chairs the Simkins PAC. The Independent Minority PAC, or IMPAC, which is younger and in some ways more conservative has challenged the monopoly long held by the Simkins PAC on black electoral politics in Greensboro. The Simkins PAC’s endorsement is sought after by aspirants to political office because of the political action committee’s track record of getting its chosen candidates elected, after sending its endorsement lists to voters in heavily African-American zip codes just before Election Day. As a measure of how much candidates covet the Simkins PAC’s support, the Democratic candidate for Guilford County clerk of court, David Churchill, made a $1,000 contribution to the political action committee earlier this year. Democratic candidate for Guilford County sheriff Berkley Blanks gave $500.
Although Brustmeyer repeatedly asked whether the Simkins PAC would attack candidates with criminal pasts, in fact he is the one who has had multiple run-ins with the law and spent time in prison. He said he made the public disclosure because he expected Adams to use it to smear his reputation, thereby discrediting IMPAC and its chosen candidate, Olga Morgan Wright.
“It’s going to be controversial because I am a controversial person,” Brustmeyer said. “If she does a smear campaign on me that’s her way of de-legitimizing the organization.”
Brustmeyer’s Guilford County criminal record contains three felony cases. A 1991 charge of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill was transferred to Superior Court and dismissed by the district attorney. Brustmeyer said the charges didn’t stick because the authorities had the wrong person. A 1994 charge of cocaine possession with intent to sell and distribute was likewise dismissed, but Brustmeyer pleaded guilty to a charge of possession with intent to sell and distribute marijuana. He was sentenced to three years of supervised probation.
A 1995 cocaine felony charge was also dismissed. “During that time I had some accomplices,” Brustmeyer said, “and I believe it was attributed more to them than to me.”
The prison time to which Brustmeyer alluded at the Sept. 30 community meeting doesn’t show up in Guilford County court records because he was arrested with a quantity of drugs that warranted federal charges. He said he spent four years in federal prison.
Adams did not return calls on Monday or over the weekend to respond to Brustmeyer’s claim that she planned to launch a smear campaign against him and his political action committee. Simkins PAC member Rep. Earl Jones, who serves with Adams in the NC House and is himself running for reelection, said he was already aware of Brustmeyer’s criminal record and saw no reason why it should be considered a liability.
Jones added another twist.
“He has gone through my Community Action Program and he became a self-sufficient member of society,” the representative said. “I had an anti-poverty program in Guilford County, and one component of it was felon reentry support.”
Brustmeyer appeared to be stunned by the statement.
“That’s the first time I’ve heard of it,” he said. “I know for certain that I didn’t participate in it.”
Following Brustmeyer’s preemptive maneuver it may be less likely that the Simkins PAC will draw negative attention to its political rival. Jones gave that impression.
“That’s part of his record,” he said of Brustmeyer. “He’s served his time and paid his penalty. He’s working and trying to be a good citizen. What more can you ask for?”
To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at firstname.lastname@example.org