Duval Democrats Completely Change Leadership for 2017

December 7, 2016 10 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

In the wake of the 2016 Election and the removal of Corrine Brown, the Duval Democrats reorganize and review what it means to be Democrats.

Newly elected Committeeman, John Parker (l) and Precinct Captain Claudia Baker

On Monday night, something unusual happen in terms of timing.

Both of the local Democratic and Republican county parties voted for new leadership.

Anthony Gancarski reported pretty much live from the Republican local election, and I was at the Duval Democratic Party meeting spot in Springfield.  Its on Liberty Street at the Union Hall of the United Electrical Workers.

It was actually my first time ever at a Democratic Party function, and my first time inside the Union Hall, so I was curious as to the proceedings.

Sure, I know a lot of Democrats:  If you spend anytime in or around politics, you meet people of all parties over the years, but as a lifelong Republican who has spent the past 10 years as an Independent, I never had much reason to go to the Duval Dems various functions.

I toyed with it back during the Bush years.  Like a lot of Reagan Era Republicans, I found compelling reasons to leave the party.  I thought about joining the Dems.  But at the time, they just weren't having any of it.  It was impossible to talk to leadership, no one called you back, they didn't have anything for anyone to volunteer for, they were pretty unfriendly and consumed with internal conflict.

Younger Democrats that I knew, like Ben America and people with similar progressive politics complained that they were completely shut out of the party, sidelined, ignored, and discouraged from helping the local party grow or expand its public profile.  Their best efforts were regularly being sabotaged by an older, control oriented leadership and there was little love lost between the groups.

And then there was the internecine fighting and backstabbing along racial lines.  I found it bizarre that Duval still basically had a racially separated political party.  White Democrats in the camp of the well known trial attorneys and labor unions and Black Democrats in the camp of the power base surrounding Corrine Brown, basically.  Or at least thats how it seemed.

It was a huge turnoff organizationally, and so (like so many other dismayed former Republicans) I simply found myself remaining indefinitely in the 'Independent' category.

Stepping into the room, it certainly looked and acted differently that Republican functions of the same sort.  Ive always loved the atmosphere at Republican events. Usually there are cocktails, and knowing the right people means that you have access to the good gin. They tend to be collegiate, chatty, hail fellow well met kind of affairs.  Republicans are generally kind to each other unless they are pissed off. They are orderly and looking to have a little mischievous fun.

This reorganization election was none of the above. (except the chattiness and socialization) The Union Hall can accommodate a couple hundred people. There were well over a hundred of them.  There were clear and recognizable groups.  The LGBT contingency like Jimmy Midyette and Dan Merkan and James Eddy.  The Progressives like Ben America, Scott Gailliard, Matt Killen and a few others. Lots of older people who looked like traditional democratic liberals, the elected officials (Reggie Brown, John Crescimbini, Joyce Morgan, former city council woman Pat Lockett Felder) and the professional set who look like what I would have called 'New Dems' back in the day. People like Lisa King and her husband John Parker. The Black Dems (which incidentally included all of the elected officials except for Crescimbini).  US Rep Al Lawson's aide was present for the meeting.  He is making efforts to reach out, which has to be comforting for the locals who feared losing a local resident in Congress.

Young Dems: Brie Feinberg, Cierra Smith, and Young Democrats President Kristellys Estanga

Over the past couple of years, there has been a water change for the local Dems.  One of which was the ascendency of passionate Progressives within the Young Democrats organization. The older Democrats call the group of them Young Hotshots. A few of them I recognized from the Bernie Sanders Campaign Headquarters in Springfield on Main Street during the presidential primaries.  One of them in particular bears pointing out. KrĂ­stellys Estanga.

The Venezuelan born, passionate, engaging, and beautiful young woman has been a sudden burst of energy around town.  I first met her while serving on the Sheriff's Commission on Public Engagement and she's an intriguing person to be sure.  But I became aware that she was a Democratic activist when I found her working for Bernie Sanders. She currently serves as the President of the Young Democrats as well as the Vice Chairman of the Democrat's Hispanic Caucus.  

The Young Democrats have been present but not necessarily important within the Duval Dems organization for years previously.

At the Monday night meeting they were well represented.

People were obviously talking about the national election, depressed as shit over Trump, but cheered by the remarkable purpling of the vote here in Duval County.

Also this is the first internal election for the Duval Dems since the exit of Corrine Brown, the symbol of the racial fracture that has kept the Dems divided for a generation.

Corrine Brown, Alcee Hastings and Carrie Meek famously cut a deal with Republicans in the Florida Legislature to create black majority congressional districts.  They did so, according to widespread belief, at the cost of giving the Republicans almost permanent majorities in both the Legislature and in Congress.  

Given the hundred years of completely ignoring black leaders for higher office, it was hailed at the time as a positive step forward for equality and fairness,  but in practice it lead to a long simmering cold war within the local Democratic organization.  The recent and nearly complete takedown of Corrine and her power base network was helped along by a lot of statewide members of her own party.  And it has left opportunity for many black Democratic politicians who were frozen out of the Brown group.

So all of these things informed the gathering of Democrats for the reorganization election.  The main themes being the overwhelming need to reach out and grow the local party. The need to recruit and develop a bench of Candidates, to catch up with the new issues and the new political reality---and the need to finally start showing some sort of political unity.

There was a missionary feeling in the room about this. The feeling that the country (and the State) needs to be rescued from a political process that has gone terribly astray.

When I was a teenager and first becoming interested in (and passionate about) politics, I was drawn to the remains of the Republican Party after the Nixon years. Ronald Reagan inspired me back then, and I remember that there was this same feeling amongst Republicans in the early 80s.  Before the feeling transmuted into 'taking the country back'.

The election itself provided a clear contrast between how things have been working for the dems and a completely different vision of how to move forward.

There were six seats voted on for the reorganization.  The Chair, the Vice Chair, Secretary, Treasurer, and a committee man and committee woman.  In the contested races there were representatives of an older generation.  People in their late 60s, well established in the working of the party for the past 30 years.

They were pitted against much younger newer candidates, and the election was nothing short of a water change.

Chair, Audrey Gibson

For the first time in the history of the local party, the organization has elected an African American Chair.  It seems incredible, but Audrey Gibson, the highly praised State Senator, became the first black chairman with a lopsided victory.

In person she is a firecracker---an energetic, enthusiastic booster personality.  Without reference to the historic nature of her election itself, she promised to lead the party in the growth of its membership and in helping field candidates---after a long very dry period marked by a lack of enthusiasm from the organization.  She was loudly acclaimed by the gathering.

Vice Chair, Darren Mason

Darren Mason, the crisply tailored and ambitious legislative assistant for City Councilwoman Joyce Morgan was resounding elected Vice Chair of the party.  His election was heavily favored and promoted by the other big winner at the election: The Duval Young Democrats led by KrĂ­stellys Estanga.  And it is important to stress the significance of Darren's election - Audrey is a Senator and is going to have scheduling conflicts.  Darren will be a much more visible Vice Chair than most

Before the night was over, the organization fielded three candidates for the executive committee.  Including Mason, Treasurer Joe Johnson (who gave a surprisingly powerful barnstormer of a speech) and Secretary Daniel Henry a clear majority of the official Duval Dem party administration will be driven by young, passionate progressives.  Chosen from the ranks of a newly influential Young Democrats.

Treasurer, Joe Johnson, left.

Secretary, Daniel Henry

Lisa King, Committeewoman

Married couple Lisa King and John Parker were chosen as the State Committeewoman and Committeeman. Lisa is one of the most experienced and savvy people in the city, and her husband John Parker was the former president of both the local and statewide Young Democrats back during the organizations glory years.

In a lot of truly remarkable ways, the reorganization election represents a water change moment for the Duval Dems.  The latent hostilities of the Brown years seem to have been set aside in the demise of her organization and the wake of Trump. Really passionate Progressives are in leadership for the first time, and the organizations representation for the state is in pretty good hands.

It is interesting to contemplate what will happen with the party, newly unified (as much as any political party can be claimed to be united), newly energized and led by a group of people who are all noted for passion and hard work.

The evening ended with a request by Jimmy Midyette to appoint someone from the LGBT community to a position of leadership within the organization.

I left the meeting, (my first democratic function ever) with the feeling that the times have changed over night.

Stephen Dare