Democratic Party chair out in angry Hillsborough vote
The hopes of Tampa’s Alan Clendenin to run for state Democratic Party chairman apparently ended in a raucous Hillsborough Democratic Party meeting Monday, in which Clendenin was voted out of the local party office that qualifies him to run for state chair.
In the meeting, several local Democratic elected officials – members of the Tampa City Council, the county school board and Mayor Bob Buckhorn – weren’t allowed to cast votes, after a controversial ruling by party Chairwoman Ione Townsend.
Townsend ruled that only holders of partisan offices, such as county commission or state legislative seats, were “automatic members” of the party executive committee and entitled to vote in executive committee elections. Non-partisan officeholders are not, she ruled.
Clendenin’s backers say the non-partisan officials have voted in past elections, and would have voted for Clendenin, and that the move to eliminate them was engineered by his opponents.
His opponents say he wouldn’t have won anyway, and dispute that they engineered anything.
“How would Sally and I engineer anything? That’s ridiculous,” said Susan Smith of Tampa, chairman of the state Democratic Party’s Progressive caucus, referring to herself and Sally Phillips of the state party’s LGBTA caucus.
“The members made the decision – they had a vote on it.”
Smith acknowledged she supported Clendenin’s opponent for the local party office, Russ Patterson, saying the state party needs new leadership.
Both sides acknowledged the party’s bylaws aren’t clear on the subject, but the Clendenin backers criticized Townsend’s ruling, and the events angered some of the local officials not allowed to vote.
“The role of parties is to try to enlarge the tent, not look for arbitrary ways to cut people out,” said City Council member Harry Cohen, who favored Clendenin.
School board member April Griffin wouldn’t say whom she intended to vote for, but said, “I was there fighting for my right to vote. … I’m part of a party that’s supposed to be fighting against voter suppression.”
Griffin said she has voted in past elections, and that Townsend “shopped around for interpretations that suited her” in making the ruling about eligible voters under the party’s bylaws.
Patterson beat Clendenin 42-30 for the post of Hillsborough County delegate to the state party executive committee. A candidate for state chairman must be member of that state committee.
Clendenin said six council members, three school board members and the mayor were either present at the meeting or sent proxy votes, but weren’t allowed to vote. Clendenin said he believes he also lost some support because of the angry back and forth shouting in the meeting between his supporters and Patterson’s.
The current state party chairwoman, Allison Tant, has said she won’t run for re-election. Clendenin ran against Tant in 2013, losing narrowly.
This year, up to half a dozen Democrats are reported to be considering the race.
Townsend said the accusation that she was involved in a move to oust Clendenin was “fantastical … a conspiracy theory.”
She said she researched the subject of whether the non-partisan officials should vote because of an inquiry a month ago from a Clendenin backer, and never discussed it with Phillps or Smith. Her ruling, she said, came from advice by members of the state party’s rules committee, and was sustained in a floor vote during the meeting.
Townsend said she stayed neutral in the race, but acknowledged her husband backed Patterson.
“We have some fences to mend and bridges to build and I’ll do my best to do that,” she said.
Clendenin has been a staunch Hillary Clinton supporter, and his backers suggested he was opposed by those who supported Bernie Sanders.
Clendenin himself said only, “I was saddened to see a small group of activists turn against our elected officials.”