Palm Beach County is the second most reliably Democratic large county in the state. Behind its sibling to the south, Broward, the county produces the largest margins consistently for Democratic candidates statewide. Recently, while Broward’s Democratic Party has been rocked by fiefdoms and factions, the Palm Beach party has effectively registered voters, targeted critical areas and worked to increase both absentee and election day turnout.
The Chairman of the Palm Beach DEC, FDP Vice Chairman and prospective chairman come 2013, Mark Alan Siegel, has come under fire in recent weeks. Siegel has organized the Palm Beach party effectively when compared to other counties, even his many critics should admit. However, two recent scandals have rocked the local party and have created potential problems for the Democratic ticket in November as well as for Siegel’s ambitions of leading the state party.
One scandal involves Evelyn Garcia, who until this week was a DNC member. Garcia made several ill advised statements about Israel and was forced to resign. Much like during a 2003 scandal involving former DEC member Rob Ross who was accused of being sympathetic to Holocaust deniers, the Palm Beach Party leadership was slow to react. In the Ross matter, many of the same Democrats creating a stink about Garcia today, were silent at that point. What has changed? These “Democrats” are threatened by an effective and strong DEC, working hard to get out the vote exclusively for Democratic candidates.
The Garcia mess, despite the best efforts of Republican leaning groups, will blow over, but that of C. Shahid Freeman may not. Freeman now faces a criminal investigation into fraudulently practicing law and collecting money to help with immigration cases locally. The scandal has rocked the local Democratic Party over the past month and threatened the good work Siegel and his board have done to organize Palm Beach County over the past several years.
Despite all of this, few questions can be asked of Siegel’s effectiveness as Chairman of the Palm Beach party. Unlike most DEC’s Palm Beach actually has functioning precinct captains and plans that turn out voters. Additionally, the party has worked to recruit candidates for races and defied local power brokers who play both parties against the middle to protect and promote their own personal fiefdoms. Still all of this could be lost if these scandals are not contained quickly. It is no small irony that these circumstances are being fueled by local Republicans and Republican friendly Democrats who are helping to undermine the ability of the local Democratic Party to turn out the vote in November.
As someone who previously worked as a paid employee of the Palm Beach Democratic Party and who continued to keep my hand on the pulse of the county, these are unfortunate developments. Siegel, unlike many his predecessors, has effectively organized the party at a grassroots level. Unlike what happens in many other large counties, members of the DEC in Palm Beach have worked hard to turn out the vote but now face serious election distractions.
The chief beneficiary of these scandals are local Republicans and ultimately Mitt Romney and Connie Mack IV. While serious concerns about Siegel’s leadership have been raised following these revelations, in order to prevent leakage this election cycle, local Democrats need to work hard and together to put these issues behind them quickly.
Whether local Democrats support or oppose Siegel and his efforts to become the Chairman of the FDP, they need to work together now to move past these matters.