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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Pinellas Dems energized at Jefferson-Jackson dinner



Pinellas Democrats held their first Jefferson-Jackson fundraising gala since 1994 Saturday night at the Hilton Carillon in St. Petersburg, a coming out of sorts for an invigorated party with its sights set on victories in November.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, state party chairwoman Karen Thurman and state Sen. David Aronberg -- plus a host of Tampa Bay area Democratic politicians -- were among the more than 300 guests to attend.

Pinellas DEC chief Toni Molinaro, who was given credit by many speakers for turning the local party around, said she thinks $60,000 was raised. To put that in perspective, the biggest take Molinaro can remember from a party event in recent memory was $10,000.

"This is a way for us to have a culminating event that celebrates the progress of Pinellas County Democrats and the future of Pinellas County Democrats," said Molinaro, who recently saw her party overtake the GOP in local party registrations.

"I've never seen anything like it," said County Commissioner Ken Welch, who was seated at a table with Molinaro, Nelson, Thurman, Aronberg and state Rep. Darryl Rouson, who served as master of ceremonies. "The Democratic Party is on the move, not only in Pinellas County, but across the country."

Nelson told the assembled guests that polls conducted internally by Barack Obama's campaign indicate that the presidential contender will be competitive in Florida this November. And Thurman stressed that Pinellas County had "set the bar" for local party performance high and would be critical to success in the state legislative and the presidential contests.

The program wrapped up with a silent auction, where people could put down money for a John F. Kennedy signed letter and photograph, a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol and a baseball signed by Obama, among other items.

Then guests set off to the hotel lounge to continue the evening.

-- Will Van Sant, Times staff writer.

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 11:30am]


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