Democrats for the first time in decades hold a majority of Pinellas County Commission seats as well as the mayor's office in St. Petersburg.
But those successes over the past two years were not enough to stop local party officials from unseating chairman Mark Hanisee, and replacing him with vice chairman Susan McGrath. McGrath won the seat Thursday, 57 votes to 41, after a particularly nasty campaign among party activists.
Hanisee was known among activists and elected officials as a strong money-raiser who helped make the local party competitive again. But he may have been known more widely for his clumsy handling of candidate recruitment to take on Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly of Indian Shores.
Hanisee left a voice mail message threatening a prominent black minister, Manuel Sykes, that he would be "persona non grata" if he ran for the seat, only to wind up with no Democrat running after a preferred choice dropped out.
McGrath had endorsements from county commissioners Janet Long and Pat Gerard, as well as former chairman Ramsay McLaughlan. The former president of the Stonewall Democrats, her victory also reflected the growing influence of gay activists in Pinellas politics.
"A lot of new people have come into the party and they wanted to take over," Hanisee said after leaving a hotel ballroom to a standing ovation after the results were announced.