Veteran Democratic activist Alan Clendenin of Tampa is back in the turbulent race for chairman of the state Democratic Party, but to do it he had to move to Hampton — a town just east of U.S. 301 near Starke with an estimated population of 488 and a reputation as a speed trap.
Clendenin's hopes for the state chairmanship appeared to be dashed two weeks ago when he lost an election for a Hillsborough County party position that would have made him eligible to run for the state job. His opponents in that vote said they hoped to thwart his state chairmanship race.
But he has friends in Bradford County, where Hampton is located, and the Bradford County Democratic Party had an opening for a similar position.
Starting the day after he lost the Hillsborough County race, Clendenin said, he rented a home in Hampton, switched his voter registration from Hillsborough to Bradford, and won an election Monday night as the county party's delegate to the state Democratic executive committee.
That makes him eligible once again for the state chairmanship race.
"I have complied with the rules to be able to run for state party chair, and I am running," he said following the Monday night election. "I thought it was time to jump back into the race and present an option to what's happening in South Florida."
Clendenin, a retired air traffic controller who ran unsuccessfully for Hillsborough school board this year, won't give up his townhouse in Hyde Park just off Bayshore Boulevard.
His move is the latest in a flurry of maneuvers in Hillsborough, Orange and Miami-Dade counties by people hoping to become state party chairman in campaigns marked by accusations of party rules violations and backstabbing.
Clendenin lost his Hillsborough County party post after an election in which some elected local officials were prevented from voting because they hold non-partisan offices.
Some of those officials, including school board member April Griffin, objected vehemently, saying they've routinely voted in such county party elections, but local party Chairwoman Ione Townsend said that her ruling preventing them from voting is in accordance with party bylaws.
The maneuvering has been more intense in Miami-Dade, where real estate developer and prominent Democratic donor Steve Bittel also wants to be state party chairman.
Unlike Clendenin, Bittel hasn't been active in the local party organization. He first had to get appointed to a precinct-level post in Miami-Dade — in a process opponents say violated county rules — then run for a state delegate position like Clendenin's.
To make that possible, Bret Berlin, who's held the post for 12 years, resigned, only a few days after winning re-election, to clear the field. Bittel is expected to face former state Sen. Dwight Bullard in an election for the state delegate post Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, another veteran party activist, Susannah Randolph of Orlando, appears to be out of the race for state party chair after failing to win a state executive committee post in an Orange County party election.
As leader of Florida Democrats, the chairman is responsible for fundraising and organizing grassroots campaign efforts to benefit state and local candidates as well as serving as public spokesman for the party.
Stories about municipal corruption and speed traps in Hampton, where Clendenin has moved, made the New York Times, CNN and other news outlets in 2014 after the state Auditor General's Office reported the town of fewer than 500 people had eight police cars and took in $616,188 in traffic ticket revenue from 2009 to 2012.
The town reportedly had annexed a sliver of land in the 1990s that extended the city limits to take in a short stretch of U.S. 301, where it established a reduced-speed zone.
Clendenin has long been a national-level party activist and holds a seat on the Democratic National Committee.
He lost narrowly to Allison Tant of Tallahassee for the post of state party chairman in 2013. Tant is resigning.
After he lost his Hillsborough County party post two weeks ago, Clendenin said, friends from several counties including Bradford offered to help him re-establish eligibility for the state race.
Clendenin said the party needs sweeping reform.
In 2013, he vowed to move the party headquarters from Tallahassee to the Orlando-Tampa area to bring it closer to the state's major political battlegrounds.
If he wins this year, he said, "Everything is going to be on the table, a top-to-bottom revaluation and realignment. Staffing, physical location, messaging and party rules — there won't be any sacred cows."
Contact William March at [email protected]