May ‘new face’ bring new chapter

Published 4:33 pm Friday, March 23, 2007

By Staff
The House seat left vacant by former speaker Jim Black was filled Thursday afternoon. Here’s hoping that appointing school leader Tricia Cotham to the seat will be the silver lining of what has been a tremendously dark cloud.
Cotham took 23 of 32 votes cast last week when Mecklenburg County Democrats voted on Black’s replacement. During Thursday’s House session, Gov. Mike Easley confirmed her.
Cotham is right about two things. North Carolina voters — regardless of their political leanings — want somebody who will play fair.
When Black resigned his House seat last month and then pleaded guilty to corruption charges shortly thereafter, he did more than hurt himself. He did more than hurt his party. He put a black eye on the political processes of this state.
Black, who served as a legislator for more than 20 years, admitted to accepting about $25,000 from chiropractors while pushing legislation that would favor them.
Prosecutors said those chiropractors had an interest in spinal-safety laws, legislation affecting the amounts of co-payments insurers could require patients to pay chiropractors and legislation requiring that insurers’ review of chiropractic treatment be performed by a chiropractor, according to a News and Observer report.
Black met chiropractors in restaurant bathrooms to accept cash for his personal use.
So when appointees were looking for Black’s replacement, they had to look for someone who was above average — far above average. That’s important for the state, which has political recovering to do. And it may be doubly important for the state’s Democrats.
Enter the second thing Cotham is right about. She is — at least for the next few days — the North Carolina Democratic Party’s “new face.”
The slot she’s filling brings with it a level of notoriety, obviously. But Cotham brings a little more just by being herself.
Cotham’s family has deep roots in the Democratic party. Her father was the county Democratic chairman, and her mother leads the Uptown Democratic Forum in Charlotte, according to the Winston-Salem Journal. Cotham’s great-grandmother was active in Harry Truman’s election campaign and she has a first cousin who serves in Maine’s Legislature, according to the newspaper.
But there’s one more thing that could make Cotham stand out from her fellow politicians. At 28, she is the youngest lawmaker in the General Assembly.
Cotham, an assistant principal at East Mecklenburg High School, hopes to keep her day job. And in her new post, she can make a positive impact on a lot of people — regardless of their political preferences.
Because of the circumstances surrounding her appointment, Cotham will be scrutinized — and noticed. Here’s hoping her example will be a good one — and a salve.