Saturday night was the Pinellas County Democratic Party's annual Kennedy-King fundraising dinner, and the keynote speaker was the likely Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Charlie Crist, making what was said to be his first appearance at a Democratic Party event in his home county.
But the real story was the simmering anger over how the Democratic Party handled recruiting in Pinellas' Congressional District 13 — specifically the way local, state and national Democratic officials strong-armed one of the area's most prominent ministers, Manuel Sykes, out of the race. Pinellas Democratic Chairman Mark Hanisee even left a voicemail message for Sykes promising that he would be "persona non grata" if he ran.
"Who is Mark Hanisee to threaten and direct him in a manner analogous to 'Massa' speaking with one of his slaves," former St. Petersburg police Chief and Deputy Mayor Go Davis — the most influential African-American leader in Pinellas County — wrote in a front-page opinion column of the latest Weekly Challenger newspaper directed to African-American residents in Pinellas.
Though many African-Americans he has spoken with since the news of Sykes' treatment told Davis they would not be comfortable voting Republican, "there is a growing sentiment toward staying home," he wrote. "Chair Hanisee's behavior could very well adversely impact upcoming elections. Why treat a prominent African-American minister with a very large congregation in such a disrespectful manner? … After all, aren't we the party with the big tent, or could it be that tent is shrinking?"
Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch said of Davis' column that "many elected Democratic officials share the same concerns" and that he expects them to speak out further this week.
Hanisee said last week that he regrets leaving the "disrespectful" voicemail with Sykes, but it's no sure thing that will be enough for him to keep his job.
"He has a chance to handle it appropriately, and we'll see if he does," said Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice, suggesting Hanisee still owes a full-throated apology to Sykes.
Caught in the middle of the Democrats' clumsy handling are Crist and Ed Jany, the independent congressional candidate embraced by national and state Democrats. The last thing they need is a Democratic Party that all but dares African-Americans to stay home in November.
"I don't think we should ever be in the business of discouraging quality candidates," Crist said.
Hard line on marijuana
A lot of would-be entrepreneurs in Florida see the prospect of making serious money if Floridians vote to legalize medical marijuana, but farmers should forget about it, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said in a Political Connections interview airing today on Bay News 9.
"You're not going to see marijuana grown in former orange groves. This will all be grown indoors, it will all be grown under very controlled conditions — should it pass — and it will be regulated by the Department of Health, not by the Department of Agriculture," said Putnam, a staunch opponent of the ballot initiative. "This is not a potential cash crop for agriculture."
What's more, Putnam suggests that a bill expected to be signed by Gov. Rick Scott that legalizes one strain of marijuana for a few specific medical conditions undercuts the arguments in support of the ballot initiative.
"To me, the medical component of the marijuana ballot initiative is substantially off the table now," said Putnam, 39.
And what about Putnam's own experience with marijuana? He said he has never tried it in his life.
John Morgan, the trial lawyer leading the charge for medical marijuana, responded by suggesting Florida's agriculture commissioner is in an unnecessary position that is a waste of taxpayer money.
"What does he do all day?" Morgan asked.
Political Connections airs at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Donald Trump, who surely would love to open a casino in Florida, is none too pleased with Gov. Scott's discussions with the Seminole Tribe of Florida over a new gaming compact.
"Thought @FLGovScott was a better negotiator — the Seminole Indian gaming deal is a disaster for Florida," @realDonaldTrump tweeted last week.
And also this: "Wow, looks like @FLGovScott wants to hand over the State of Florida to the Seminole Indians w/ the terrible gaming deal in talks!"
Sink endorses Jany
Alex Sink, who narrowly lost her campaign to succeed the late C.W. Bill Young in Congress, last week formally endorsed Jany for the seat. "My late husband Bill McBride knew Ed through their connection and love of the Marines, and we both recognized Ed's commitment to service and unique leadership abilities," Sink wrote in a letter to supporters.
GOP boss to be picked
Florida Republican activists will gather in Tampa later this month to elect a new state party leader, and all signs point to Clay County GOP Chairwoman Leslie Dougher, 50, getting the gig.