By Mike Steely

In a packed meeting at Democratic Headquarters Thursday evening fifteen party officials of the 15th state house district voted 11-4 to select Rick Staples as the party nominee in November. Staples is replacing Rep. Joe Armstrong who was convicted of a felony tax evasion charge and is ineligible to see re-election.

The attendance was so large that about 30 people could not be seated and waited outside for the results.

Staples defeated Councilman Daniel Brown. The two well-known Democrats were the only people to be nominated although prior to the meeting Commissioner Sam McKenzie and Armstrong’s wife, LeTonia had been mentioned as possible candidates.

Rep. Armstrong made an appearance prior to the meeting starting. Both Brown and Staples spoke briefly before the voting.

Party Chairman Cameron Brooks and vice-chair Jackie Clay recused themselves from leading the meeting because they are district members and planned to vote. Emily Gregg, party secretary, chaired the session.

Dan Brown was nominated by Clay and Staples was nominated by Mary Wilson.

“I have respect for the process,” Brown told the audience, adding, “and I will support the nominee.”

“We’re at a crossroads,” he said of the Democratic Party and reminded the voting members of his experience and said, “I know what it takes to make difficult decisions.”

Staples said, “It’s time for a change” and added that too many businesses are leaving the district.

“Whether or not I am your choice tonight I’ll walk out that door and stay involved,” Staples said.

Voting for Staples were Brooks, Wilson, Rev. Harold Middlebrook, Debbie Helsley, Sylvia Woods, Paul Witt, Peggy Myers-Carter, Bill Cos, Chris Sneed, Lydia Pulsipher and Larry Hill.

Brown’s supporters were Clay, Dewey Roberts, Joe Woods and Paul Armstrong.

Staples ran unsuccessfully for the 1st District Commission seat. He has been active in Democratic Party functions, is Vice President of 100 Black Men of Greater Knox County, a former Sheriff’s Office employee and a manager for the Castles of Choice project.

As Democrat nominee Staples will face Independent Pete Drew. There is no Republican candidate.

Staples entry into the race makes him the favorite over perpetual candidate Drew and may add some momentum with the candidacy of Gloria Johnson seeking to recapture her seat in the adjoining house district.