St. Petersburg city elections are nonpartisan because city voters approved a city charter that bans party politics from the election process. St. Petersburg resident Rene Flowers, long active in local Democratic Party circles, says she decides whom to support in city elections based on their merits, not their party affiliation, and that's the way it is supposed to work in St. Petersburg elections.
But you would think Flowers had committed a crime by choosing to support Republican Bill Foster instead of Democrat Kathleen Ford in the recent mayoral race. Flowers has been kicked out of her leadership positions in the local Democratic Party and the St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP. All after exercising her right to be nonpartisan in a nonpartisan election.
Neighborhood Times editor Sandra Gadsden explained how Flowers became persona non grata in a Nov. 8 column. The St. Petersburg Democratic Club and the South St. Petersburg Democratic Club threw Flowers off their executive committees before the Nov. 3 election, but after Flowers had endorsed Foster for mayor.
The heads of both party groups said they didn't oust Flowers and that she resigned. But Flowers denies that she left voluntarily, and timing and a printed agenda tend to support her claim. Flowers' support of Foster was reported in the St. Petersburg Times on Sept. 9. Here is agenda item No. 3 on the St. Petersburg Democratic Club's Sept. 15 meeting agenda: "Removal of Rene Flowers as vice president for her endorsement of Bill Foster for mayor." The link is undeniable.
The NAACP's explanation for removing Flowers is that she had missed meetings in violation of the organization's bylaws. Branch president Ray Tampa enforced the rule against Flowers, a former St. Petersburg City Council member and one of the best-known African-Americans in Pinellas politics. Tampa said Flowers' ouster had nothing to do with the election. However, Tampa was an outspoken supporter of Kathleen Ford in the mayor's race. And his letter giving Flowers the boot is dated the day after the election. It strains credulity for Tampa to claim that Flowers' support for Foster had nothing to do with her ouster.
The NAACP should be particularly sensitive about acting like an arm of the Democratic Party in a nonpartisan local race. Its success in local programs depends on attracting the support of all politicians and residents, regardless of political party.
Flowers said that in a partisan race, she will support Democrats. But in a nonpartisan race, she said, she will choose the person she thinks is best for the office. Flowers knows both Foster and Ford well. She considered their strengths and weaknesses and decided Foster was the best candidate for mayor. It isn't Flowers who acted inappropriately, it is the partisans who decided to punish her for daring to support a Republican for mayor.
Whether a race is partisan or nonpartisan, all Americans have a duty to make educated choices when they vote and select the person best equipped for the job of governing. To choose solely on the basis of party affiliation is blind partisanship and does not advance the cause of good government.