Hillsborough Democrats select new leader by Mitch E. Perry

12/12/06

Last night the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee moved forward by selecting a new leader to try to bring the party out of the doldrums.(roll tape#1 o.q.�the winner is Michael Suarez�)

Michael Suarez is a former aide to Senator Bob Graham and an unsuccessful candidate for State House in 1998.

He upended Michael Steinberg, a local attorney who ran for the Democratic nomination for Congress in District 11 this summer, Pat Kemp, a Congressional aide to Congresswoman elect Kathy Castor, and Bob Keenan, who has been involved in Hillsborough County Democratic politics for years.

Environmental activist Deborah Cope was elected Vice Chair for the Hillsborough Democrats.

In last month’s elections, nationally, the Democrats made a major comeback, taking back the House and the U.S. Senate. In state Politics, they even surprised some analysts by taking 7 seats in the State House.

But in Hillsborough County, there was little to boast about. Great hopes that Iraq war veteran Stephen Gorham could upend Ronda Storms in the District 10 Senate seat went awry, and the predominantly Republican County Commission went further red, with Kevin White now the lone Democrat there.

WMNF asked newly minted Hillsborough Democratic Executive Committee Chairman Michael Suarez, what’s his strategy to bring the party back to competitive status in a county where registered Democrats still outrank registered Republicans (roll tape#2 o.q.� Here in the County�)

In recent years, the Hillsborough DEC has been beset by major problems internally, as well as externally, in terms of organization and funding. Michael Suarez says one of his hopes is that with the Presidential campaign poised to heat up, some of those candidates will come visit in the County to help raise money. He also says they’ll be small donor events.

The emphasis on providing money for the DEC was perhaps never better articulated than Democratic Party consultant Vic DiMaio. DiMaio addressedthe hundred and fifty or so in attendance at La Teresita in West Tampa, by talking about how his candidate of choice, attorney Michael Steinberg, would be able to raise money (roll tape#3 o.q.�to win campaigns�)

Internal problems at the Hillsborough DEC blossomed after outgoing chair Janee Murphy took over controls in 2003. Some members of the DEC left, and bitter tension was apparent at DEC meetings.

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Last year, Murphy’s Vice Chair, Bob Keenan, took his objections with Murphy to the state level, writing a letter to State Party Chairwoman Karen Thurman alleging a serious of transgressions made by Murphy. Chairwoman Thurman ultimately took no action, but Keenan’s leaking to the media further stained the Committee and created more divisions.

Now, with Murphy stepping down, there is hope among Hillsborough Democrats that the party can come together.

Michael Suarez says some of that healing has already begun, but more needs to be done (roll tape#4 o.q.�I can get those votes�)

Among those in attendance at last night’s meeting were a couple of Democrats collecting signatures to get ballot access in next March’s Tampa City elections. Mary Mulhern , who last last month to Rose Ferlita in her bid for Hillsborough County Commission, is now trying to run for Tampa City Council, while Tampa Policeman Marion Lewis is hoping to get on the ballot for Mayor.

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