BY JACKSON BAKER | JUNE 18, 2007
Keith Norman, chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party, has confirmed reports that lawyer Richard Fields, accused by Mayor Willie Herenton of targeting him for blackmail, has resigned from the local Democratic executive committee. "I asked him to resign, and he agreed. There was no argument about it," Norman said in a Monday afternoon interview.
The resignation is the second forced upon Fields in as many years because of his involvement in a political controversy. In early 2006 he was prevailed upon by then state party chairman Bob Tuke to exit the committee after he became active in a legal effort to void a special election state Senate victory by Democrat Ophelia Ford over Republican Terry Roland. Fields worked in harness with lawyers representing the state Republican Party in that effort.
Fields was reelected to the committee in party elections held earlier this year and withstood a challenge to oust him from member Jennings Bernard when Norman ruled Bernard's motion out of order.
Norman, who had been supported by Fields for the chairmanship, said he learned of Fields' purported role in an alleged plot against Herenton when he picked up his morning newspaper and saw a story on the matter as he was preparing for an early-morning walk last Thursday.
"I just prayed for guidance as I walked," Norman, pastor of First Baptist Church on Broad St., said. After his walk he called Fields and requested his resignation "in the best interests of the party." Norman, who described the conversation as harmonious, said Fields offered no resistance, asking only that things be put on hold overnight, pending his presentation of his own version of events.
An account in which Fields denied the plot scenario and accused his accuser, former topless waitress Gwen Smith, of dissembling appeared in Friday morning's Commercial Appeal, but Norman said he held to his guns and repeated that Fields should follow through on resigning.
"Believe it or not, I got no calls [from committee members]. This is just something that Richard and I worked out together. He will have nothing further to do with the party officially," said Norman, who denied an earlier report that the forthcoming regular June 28th meeting of the executive committee would consider a lifetime ban of Fields from membership but commented, "Somebody mentioned that possibility to me, and I said, 'Hmmm, that may be worth thinking about.'"