Palm Beach Democratic Party Looking to Rebound: A Look at SE Florida DECs

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We’ve editorialized extensively about Palm Beach County’s continued decline in Democratic voter numbers, but what’s worse is the decline in actual Democratic precinct committee people over the last few election cycles. At the organizational meeting on Thursday participation rates were high among DEC members as reported by the Palm Beach Post’s George Bennett.

The DEC members wisely re-elected John Ramos as their State Committeeman. Ramos was facing opposition from none other than Mark Alan Siegel whose four year tenure as DEC Chairman was plagued by scandal, declining election performance and public gaffes. Bunny Steinman was re-elected State Committeewoman. Years, ago when I was a local party staffer in Palm Beach, Steinman pioneered a precinct development program that has been wildly successful, and without it perhaps the Republican momentum in the county would be even stronger.

With Siegel out of the DEC Leadership and seemingly out of the picture, the county has an opportunity to reverse recent negative trends. While Palm Beach and Broward Counties are often grouped together in the minds of those from outside the area, increased pressure has been placed on Broward to turn out Democrats due to Palm Beach’s failings. The party has lacked a strong chair since Monte Friedkin stepped down after the 2002 election and with his resignation went much of the infrastructure that had been developed during his tenure. This included multiple full time staffers, field offices, a visible public relations presence and most importantly a strong party apparatus to reign in dissident Democrats and the independent power bases of elected officials.

Palm Beach was the only urban county in the state where Alex Sink’s performance was at the same level as Buddy MacKay’s in the 1998  election when Jeb Bush won by 11 points statewide. In every other urban county, Sink ran several percentage points higher than MacKay had in 1998. Palm Beach was also the only urban county where John Kerry’s 2004 performance was better than Obama’s 2012 (by contrast, Obama ran  at least 9 points higher in Orange BOTH in 08′ and 12′ than Kerry). Keep in mind Obama, won Florida in 2012 by a point while Kerry lost the state by 5 points in 2004. Miami-Dade County has seen a reverse shift going from a marginal county in the late 1990s to 62% for Obama in 2012. But much of this growth has happened in-spite of a DEC that has constantly been beset by infighting and factionalization.

Broward County stands in contrast to Palm Beach and Miami-Dade in several important ways. Sunday afternoon the Broward County Democratic Party held its every four year organizational session at a banquet hall in Tamarac. It’s the same hall where the party has held numerous events in the past including my first DEC “victory” party on a long night in 1998 when the Democrats were wiped out across the state. But that night compared to many that came after seemed like the good old days, as the party had actually won a handful of statewide races, far different than what has happened since in off-year elections.

The Democratic Party reelected Chairman Mitch Ceasar for his fifth term. His election was  in hindsight a mere formality despite spirited opposition from Cynthia Busch, a local OFA leader. Busch and her allies made many valid critiques of the local party during her campaign, but ultimately she failed to convince the majority of DEC members that a change was truly needed. The Chair’s election had taken a nasty turn, but  this was nothing new at all. Florida’s most Democratic urban county has a vibrant Democratic activist base where disagreements seem to be numerous but participation always remains high. Ceasar’s DEC, which he has been the Chairman of for 16 years has over 800 seated precinct committee members, a sharp contrast to Palm Beach which after years of neglect has fewer than 300 seated members. Much of the continued participation rate owes itself to the enthusiasm of Busch and other activists, but Ceasar rightfully can take  much of the credit for the continued high rate of precincts filled throughout the county and the public posture of the party. Broward has also produced the highest victory margin for Democrats at the top of the ticket for the entirety of Ceasar’s tenure. Whether he deserves credit or not for that can be debated, but that record stands in contrast to the declines being seen recently in Palm Beach.

But the dissidents in Broward were not without a significant victory. Longtime State Committeewoman Diane Glasser was knocked off by Maggie Davidson, who has also been a long time activist and local organizer. Davidson played an important role this year, in Lois Frankel’s wins in both the Democratic Primary and General Election in CD-22. Davidson was able to skillfully marry the dissidents who backed Busch with several other DEC members who had worked with her on campaigns or on numerous woman’s causes. Glasser was beaten soundly, and Busch herself was elected as the 1st Vice Chair of the party later in the afternoon. Ken Evans, considered a rising star in state party circles was elected the new State Committeeman.

While the Broward DEC certainly can improve by taking some of Busch’s critiques about communication, and use of new media, the party does not have the problems of Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and some other large county DECs. That does not mean that the party should reject the participation or critiques from the dissident group that backed Busch. In fact, from my personal discussions with many yesterday, it seems the Broward DEC will be more proactive the next few years in communication and organizing. Still much needs to be done to make the Broward DEC as effective as it could or should be; but the DEC could be much worse as evidenced by the county’s neighbor to both the north and the south.

Changes at the top of Democratic organizations are good things in many places, but in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade County, they have been too frequent and often representative of the types of factional warfare that has doomed the Democrats in many winnable elections throughout the state.  The lack of consistency in either county has been partly caused by meddling politicians either trying to control the party or worse yet, keep weak for their own personal gain.

New Palm Beach Chair Terrie Rizzo (who took over from Siegel in September and was elected in her own right last week) and Miami-Dade’s Annette Taddeo-Goldstein have their work cut out for them in making the party a relevant organization locally. Both have said the right things initially, but it is early days still and much heavy lifting is still left to be done.

Author’s note: As a former staffer for the Palm Beach Democratic Party but a seated precinct captain in Broward, I have a unique perspective on what goes on in both counties and how they stack up against one another. I also served as the statewide Director for the DEC Chairs Association at one point in time so I have a general sense of how local parties should be structured and how they should perform. This by no means makes me the sole arbiter on these things but does mean I have an opinion that is well formed through well over a decade of experiences in the party.

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17 thoughts on “Palm Beach Democratic Party Looking to Rebound: A Look at SE Florida DECs

  1. Now that Burt is out of the way and we are rid of Wexler, If Wendy can keep her meddling hands out of everyone’s business and Weiss and handler are kept at bay the party just might survive and grow. We just need some real progressive Dems. to vote for. Not the warmed over garbage we keep seeing year after year.

  2. Hey observer, its not changing. You have Deutchie Douche preaching about Citizen United while he has Playboy owner running his PAC and cover again for Crist who is tied up Sargeant and others. You can’t make this shit up. They spend like drunken sailors and cry about. These people are jokes from the bottom to the top!

    You have not seen anything yet.

  3. “Steinman pioneered a precinct development program that has been wildly successful” – can you say more about this, knowing as you’ve stated that many DECs are in poor shape and struggling with the basics. It might help those of us in bright red counties. Thanks!

  4. Busch would have been a revelation a GREAT DEC Chair. Cesear has been around too long and should have retired. Still I agree Mitch is a good spokesman and far better than Siegel or any of the clownish figures Miami has produced the last few years.

  5. Mitch sucks too! War on women…free massages anyone?
    Who are you kidding. You know the party is a mess when you are pushing the wife, lobbyist who defended not to count our votes in 2000, pushing a prolife, provoucher, progun Repubilican for 20 years as your Governor, you have a former Committeewoman in Broward who is on conviction charges but is still encouraged to run, a chair in PBC screaming hateful stuff and not resigning, (thank goodness he was voted out) not listen to the whispers asking him can you please step down…thanks and finally…….well it has not dropped yet but expect it.

    Just look at PBC there is a great deal that will be coming out of PBC. WoW lol PBC one party two names both going down!

  6. Monte Friedkin? Enough with the hero worship KK. I know he paid you very well but to pretend like these problems didn’t exist in his time is rewriting history. You and I both know he divided north vs south and tried to constantly play the card that he was Jewish.

    Regarding Broward I like Cynthia a lot but feel she and her allies misplaced their anger. If they really knew how bad things are in other counties like Palm Beach they’d actually congratulate Mitch on his success and competence.

  7. The raw number of Palm Beach Democratic Committee people does not accurately reflect the many additional leaders who organized their precincts but did not file for election last August. Many will be appointed early in 2013 . Watch the numbers swell. There are also many who choose to forgo titles but do the grass roots work in their precinct and really turn out the vote. The former chair deserves much of the credit for making sure that DEC members are doing the job – precinct development was always his top priority.

  8. This is a good point. I’ve been told Precinct leaders have been more effective recently. I put that down more to Bunny and others (including Terrie Rizzo) than Siegel but perhaps you are right. This is a point well taken.

  9. Palm Beach downward performance more down to growth patterns and Jewish defections than anything DEC related. Though I must say the party formally endorsing in primaries did not help matters one bit.

  10. The reality is that Siegel’s comment while ill timed and stupid in a sense were not that far off the mark.

    He is an arrogant guy and needed to go honestly BUT he got a raw deal. I believe that it is ridiculous for Jewish-Americans to make a bed with right-wing Christians who oppose everything we as a community believe in. We are liberal Democrats and making common cause with the enemy on a single issue of Israel means that we are enabling the enemy to restrict abortion, force school prayer, pass school vouchers, restrict civil liberties, repeat Obamacare and undo civil rights. I do not think such an alliance is ever smart for a group like us that have suffered genuinely at the hands of theocracies in the past. That is why despite all the hand wringing and anger from some quarters about Obama, he retained the vast majority of Jewish-American support and we will continue to back his policies despite what some of our “leaders” say.

  11. You are an idiot. Jews have always voted on social issues. Vouchers, school prayer, etc are not issues that all Jewish people agree on. What an schmuck. Go talk to your Bobby Wexler who fucked the Jewish community at the DNC because he didn’t want to look bad. PBC is a joke because you have leaders like “Wexler, Abruzzo, Deutch, Sachs” who are nothing but a bunch of liars making money off of your ass.

  12. Right so we all agree on the issues. Then why crawl into bed with the Christian right over Israel??? That was Siegel’s point you know. Besides while Israel is important Palm Beach County, Florida and America are more important. We need to focus on what is best for us as a community here at home. Siegel was an idiot to talk to a right wing nut job like Javier M. and his ilk, He got what he deserved in many ways but at the same time was not wrong in what he said, just why and where he said it.

  13. Siegal does not understand crap. Israel is biparitsan and so are many of the other issues. The problem is that you have stupid people in the party that can not make the connection. Obama sucks on Israel and U.S policy. Wake up and the reality is Romney would of been worse. The Democrats problem is that don’t have a real platform. In PBC you have elected officials that vote for vouhers, anti-choice issues, the immigration bill and their main priority is protecting themselves.

    Hey Molder why do you think the Ds have more voters but less electeds of the same party. Deals baby. Get with the program. I agree with Morning Star the DEC is a joke and so are the elected officials.

    Look at the commission and bring Mary M back. Sick people. It will catch up though both parties because it is Charlie and Harry Sargeant that binds them both.

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