BROOKSVILLE — A decade ago, Steve Zeledon's attempt to win the chairmanship of the Hernando Democratic Executive Committee sparked one of the most contentious periods in the local party's history.
On Thursday night, Zeledon stood as the lone nominee in a special election for the top spot and was elected unanimously. He will serve the remainder of a four-year term that ends in 2012.
Zeledon, 75, succeeds James Singer, who held the post for about 10 months. Singer stepped in after Cy Wingrove resigned, citing infighting within the party.
Those days of disharmony are over, Zeledon said Friday.
"This is the typical Democratic kumbaya moment and I hope it lasts at least until 2012," he said.
Zeledon acknowledged that the party shed some members and said part of his job is to bring the productive or promising ones back into the fold.
"We lost a lot of good people who came for one or two meetings and said, 'I don't need that,' and I don't blame them," Zeledon said.
Given his own rocky chapter in the party, Zeledon added, "One thing I'm proud of is, I'm still here."
In 2000, Zeledon narrowly lost the chairman election to Dom Cabriele, and the two were increasingly at odds after that. Cabriele called an election to remove Zeledon as treasurer on grounds that he failed to do his job. Zeledon said Cabriele had control issues, did not allow Zeledon access to the checks and kept financial information from him.
The state party ordered Cabriele to reinstate Zeledon. But in 2003, Scott Maddox, then chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, ordered all officers of the Hernando DEC to resign, including Zeledon and Cabriele. After an initial effort by Cabriele to fight his ouster, the state eventually appointed new officers.
Born and raised in New York City, Zeledon retired about 11 years ago as director of information systems for the former Litton Laser Systems, a Fortune 500 company in Apopka. He lives with his wife, Opal, in Ridge Manor. They have two grown children.
Fundraising is always near the top of the to-do list, he said, but that's not the primary goal.
"It's more important to try to get the Democrats in this county to realize they can't just sit back, that elections have consequences, and we've all got to get out and vote," he said.
The party is busy looking for quality candidates for 2012, he said. It's the next chance to try to reverse the tide in a county where Republicans have a near-monopoly on elected offices.
A DEC "reunion" is planned for July 2 at 6 p.m. at Strong Tower Winery, 17810 Forge Drive in Spring Hill. Zeledon said he hopes it's the first step toward bringing members back for that "kumbaya moment."
Some members, though, are probably gone for good; casualties of personality conflicts and disagreements on how to run the party. Ray Dolman was ousted as treasurer during Singer's tenure and said several other members were also forced out or just got fed up and left.
"We had a group of people who were experienced with the DEC and very instrumental in helping secure funds for the Democratic Party," Dolman said. "That whole group is now gone."
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.