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Delegate fray stirs grassroots petition effort

Jim Hannagan hopes to collect 1.5-million signatures supporting Florida’s delegates.

ATOYIA DEANS | Times

Jim Hannagan hopes to collect 1.5-million signatures supporting Florida’s delegates.

Jim Hannagan is not politically connected or active in the local Democratic Party establishment.

But he is a lifelong Democrat who rushed home from a trip to Massachusetts on Jan. 29 just to cast a ballot for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary.

Now angry his vote may not count, Hannagan has launched an effort to get the Democratic National Committee to relent and seat Florida's delegates during its convention.

His strategy: Get 1.5-million Democrats throughout Florida who voted or are registered to vote to sign petitions Hannagan will deliver to the DNC.

So far, volunteers in Pinellas, Leon and Duval counties have collected about 7,000 signatures in 12 days, Hannagan said. He held his first meeting with volunteers in Palm Harbor less than two weeks ago and hopes to organize teams of volunteers in Florida's 67 counties.

Rallying volunteers at a meeting at an office park in Clearwater on Thursday night, Hannagan recalled the bravery of the colonists.

"These 13 colonies got together," said Hannagan, 45, a marketing consultant from Ozona. "They fought in blizzards, without shoes, with bloody feet ... for a principle."

• • •

The DNC stripped Florida and Michigan of their delegates because the states scheduled primaries earlier than the party rules allowed.

Florida elected 121 delegates earlier this month. If they were counted, 67 would go to Clinton, 41 to Barack Obama and 13 to John Edwards.

Though Thursday night's meeting had a pro-Clinton flavor, Hannagan said the purpose of the petition drive is to get all Democrats' votes to count.

And why go to the trouble? Hannagan said he is a loyal Democrat who is fed up with his party. He wants to show that someone outside the party establishment can make a difference through grassroots organizing.

"This is the first time really I've ever done anything like this," he said. "I'm really outraged and frustrated."

Thursday night, volunteers brought in stacks of petitions they gathered at places such as Senior Fun Fest at the Clearwater Harborview Center and St. Patrick's Day events.

"It was almost like people were asking" to sign, said Adolph Torres, 47, a software engineer from Palm Harbor who gathered petitions Sunday in Tarpon Springs. "It was not a hard sell at all."

The meeting attracted 19 volunteers, including two retired professors, a manager at Sears, two women who work with developmentally disabled children and adults, and a man who retired from a career in marketing.

One other person at the meeting was Nancy Hoppe, 76, a retired teacher from Largo who was recently elected as a convention delegate for Clinton.

She read to the group from an e-mail she sent earlier in the week to Toni Molinaro, chairwoman of the Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee.

"We have been punished enough for something not of our doing," Hoppe read. "It's time for us to be released from limbo."

Hannagan has worked through contacts and information on Web sites — including Clinton's — to organize volunteers in other parts of the state.

"I have between 2,000 and 3,000 (signed) petitions," said Anthony Reddish, who is the drive's county captain in Leon and surrounding counties.

"Right now, I have events posted for next weekend, Springtime Tallahassee, it's a big event," Reddish said. "We have about 20 volunteers to get petitions signed."

Hannagan said the idea is to organize teams in all the other counties, each with seven positions, including county captains, petition and fundraising leaders.

He has organizational meetings lined up elsewhere around the state.

On Friday, he met with organizers at the home of Cindy Lasagni in Holiday in Pasco County.

Today he is meeting with volunteers at a Days Inn hotel in Lakeland in Polk County. And on March 30, more than 150 volunteers are expected at a meeting in Miami. In South Florida, the petitions also will be translated into Spanish.

Hannagan said he also has gotten the names and congressional districts of Florida's delegates from state party officials. He is trying to find phone numbers for them to try to gain their support.

In Pinellas, Molinaro said she had not heard of the petition effort but supported it.

"I think they really should count our vote," said Molinaro.

"At this point I'm willing to negotiate, half (of delegates) which was outlined in the rules," she said. "I think they went extreme in the punishment."

• • •

There have, of course, been other efforts to get Florida's delegates reinstated.

On Monday, the Florida Democratic Party rejected the idea of having a second primary by mail.

On Friday, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a lawsuit by Democratic consultant Victor DiMaio.

The court said DiMaio had not suffered damages and therefore had no standing because he had not yet voted when he filed the lawsuit. He filed the suit when the DNC had announced it would strip Florida of its delegates but before the primary took place.

Asked whether the Democratic National Committee would be swayed by 1.5-million petitions, a DNC spokesman pointed to a statement released in response to the dismissal of DiMaio's lawsuit.

"Decisions concerning the seating and delegates will be made by the Rules and Bylaws Committees or the Convention Credentials Committees as either committee reviews properly filed charges," the statement read. It did not say what counts as a properly filed charge.

At the Clearwater meeting, Hannagan urged volunteers to stay focused on collecting petitions regardless of what other possibilities arise for the re-instatement of the delegates.

"Whether or not this makes a difference, it makes a difference to me," he said. "We'll know that we participated and tried to fix a broken part of our democracy."

Jose Cardenas can be reached at jcardenas@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4224.

>>Fast facts

By the numbers

If the delegates voted for by Florida Democrats were counted:

67 would go to Sen. Hillary Clinton

41 would go to Sen. Barack Obama

13 would go to Sen. John Edwards

Delegate fray stirs grassroots petition effort 03/21/08 [Last modified: Friday, March 28, 2008 1:44pm]
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