After decades of service as a Democrat, Athens Mayor Nancy Denson is no longer a member of the Athens-Clarke County Democratic Committee.
Members voted Thursday night to remove her after she violated the committee’s bylaws. She did so by hosting a fundraiser for the Republican candidate for House District 117 (formerly held by Regina Quick) though Democrat Deborah Gonzalez is also running.
Denson has said she understood a special election to be nonpartisan, but candidates are nevertheless required to register with a political party in a “jungle primary,” where all candidates are listed on the ballot together, so she was staging an event for a registered Republican, Houston Gaines. She also contributed $1,000 to his campaign. Gaines was her campaign manager in the 2014 mayoral race.
Committee Chairwoman Denise Ricks told those gathered at the Athens-Clarke County Library that Denson would be the first member ever removed from the committee. The decision came after officials had conversations with Democratic leaders and attorneys across the state. Ricks gave Denson a letter explaining how she had violated Bylaw 12.1, which bars committee members from supporting other parties’ candidates, and invited her to the Thursday committee meeting to explain her actions. The mayor didn’t attend the meeting.
“I do this with great sadness,” Ricks said. “I thank her and wish her well.”
Before the vote, longtime Democratic Committee member John Jeffreys said the penalty imposed on Denson didn’t have to be “the max,” suggesting she be suspended instead of ousted. Only two other members supported his suggestion; the vote to remove the mayor was overwhelming.
Regardless of the vote, Denson has said she intended to resign from the committee in 2018 to continue supporting Gaines.