Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky is apologizing for his treatment of two Black nominees to statewide political appointments, saying his criticism of their credentials failed to account for what he called a history of Black people being “unfairly dismissed as unqualified.”
The apology from Volinsky, who’s running for the Democratic nomination for governor, comes after leaders of the Black Lives Matter chapters in Nashua and Manchester criticized Volinsky’s treatment of the nomination of former GOP congressional candidate Eddie Edwards to oversee the state’s professional licensing board.
Edwards withdrew himself from consideration for the job Tuesday after the Executive Council failed to hold a confirmation hearing for more than three months after he was nominated.
In a four-page letter to Gov. Chris Sununu, Edwards blamed “structural political racism” for his lack of support among the council’s Democratic majority.
Democrats on the Executive Council deny Edwards’ allegations.
But Edwards and Black Lives Matter organizers both point to comments Volinsky made in March, when Sununu first announced Edwards’ nomination.
Volinsky called Edwards, a former South Hampton police chief who once led the New Hampshire Liquor Commission’s enforcement bureau, “unqualified.” The term mirrored language Volinsky used earlier this month in voting against the nomination of Ryan Terrell, a Black businessman whom Sununu had hoped to appoint to the State Board of Education.
In a Facebook post Wednesday, Black Lives Matter Manchester commented on Volinsky’s approach to both men.
“Andru Volinsky's microaggressive comments have no place in politics,” the group wrote. “We strongly disavow his statements claiming that a Black man had no experience or expertise in earning his position for the office of professional licensure and certification. Volinsky's team has reached out to us asking for our approval but we will only condemn his behavior. Shame on you!”
In an interview, Black Lives Matter Manchester organizer Ronelle Tshiela said her group’s stance on the issue was motivated by a concern for justice.
“It’s not a question of where somebody falls on the political spectrum,” Tshiela said. “A Black man is being targeted by these comments that are outright racist. If a Black man is being targeted in this way, we are going to say something about it.”
Sununu recently appointed both Edwards and Tshiela to a commission to improve police accountability and transparency.
Nashua Black Lives Matter founder Jordan Thompson also issued a statement condemning Volinsky and “systemic racism in New Hampshire politics.”
“The accusation that a Black or brown person is not 'qualified' or does not have the 'expertise' for a position of power is one of the oldest dog whistles in the book,” Thompson wrote.
Volinsky has denied race was a factor in his opposition to Edwards, or in his vote earlier this month to reject Terrell’s nomination to the Board of Education. Volinsky accused Sununu of engaging in “tokenism” in nominating Terrell, before later apologizing.
But Thompson’s statement also criticized Sununu, whose office circulated Edwards’ letter to reporters and whose staff took to social media Wednesday to taunt Volinsky.
“Governor Chris Sununu is taking full advantage of a movement that is about centering Black lives to further his own personal interests,” Thompson wrote.
Questions of race, and who was politicizing it, were again debated at the Executive Council table Wednesday. Executive Councilor Debora Pignatelli, a Nashua Democrat, said she felt the need to address Edwards’ letter to Sununu.
“Normally I wouldn’t comment on this, but since I’m being charged with racism, I want it known that nothing is further from the truth,” she said.
Pignatelli called the episode an example of “politics of a really nasty sort.”
“I don’t know whether it’s you, Gov. Sununu, or Mr. Edwards who is playing politics here,” she said. “I do know Councilor Volinsky is running for governor, and the letter attacks him most strongly. This sounds like pure politics to me, politics of a really nasty sort. We can do better than this can’t we?”’
Pignatelli added that she’d voted against Terrell’s nomination to the Board of Education “because I didn’t think the gentleman had the needed qualifications. It was as simple as that.”
She said she’d given Sununu the names of two candidates who could fill the vacant Board of Education post, and said she understood another strong candidate had applied on her own.
“Three highly qualified women, who happen to be women of color,” Pignatelli said.
Sununu said he hasn’t considered candidates beyond Terrell.
“I’m still hopeful that we can maybe bring Mr. Terrell back at some time,” Sununu said. “It would be an opportunity for reconsideration.”