I am extraordinarily optimistic about the future of the Florida Democratic Party (FDP). I recently wrote a summary of some of the candidates running for FDP Chair (click here for a refresher), and since that was published I have had the pleasure of speaking with four of the candidates running to lead our party. I also highly recommend that you check out what Steve Schale had to say about the FDP as someone who used to work there (which can be found here). I agree with everything Schale said, especially the part about the job of FDP Chair being a thankless job. Personally, I don’t know why any sane person would want to be FDP Chair. That being said, it is an important job that needs to be done well. I am grateful that talented candidates have put themselves forward to be FDP Chair, and would personally like to thank the four candidates who took the time with speak with me about the race. I had wonderful conversations with Mr. Bittel, Ms. King, and Sen. Bullard that I will detail tomorrow.
There is one story that is germane to the FDP Chair race this year, and that is the recent history of the Broward Democratic Party. I was a part of one of the most contentious races in the recent history of Florida Democratic Party politics when back in 2012 I was one of the main people supporting Cynthia Busch in her attempt to unseat the four term incumbent chairman. We threw everything and the kitchen sink at the incumbent, even running people against him in his own precinct. We had dozens of people recruiting hundreds of precinct people. The race was so contentious that on the day of the Primary Election the sitting chair refused to even shake my hand and started yelling at me about how I was a part of the dirtiest race he had seen in his decades of politics. The press even covered it as the toughest challenge that the chair had ever faced. Our insurgent campaign fell short. The chair was re-elected, but we were so strong that Cynthia was elected First-Vice Chair of the Broward Democratic Party.
The reason that story is germane is because a similar story played out for FDP Chair, with Alan Clendenin losing the race for Chair and becoming First-Vice Chair. Though the elections were similar, their resulting tenures couldn’t have been more different. In Broward County, the chair had spent his 16 years as chair effectively marginalizing anyone who didn’t support him, and he wasn’t Cynthia’s biggest fan after the 2012 election. If Cynthia had waited around for the chair to give her something to do, she should still be waiting by the phone to this day. Cynthia started building coalitions and doing the things that she knew needed to be done. She never asked the chair’s permission as she realized that she was an elected officer just like he was. She always looped the entire executive committee in before things got too far along. Cynthia’s hard work resulted in record activity, record fundraising in her tenure as interim chair, and her overwhelming election as Broward Democratic Party Chair last month.
By contrast, Mr. Clendenin could not name a single accomplishment in his tenure as the number two person at FDP over the past four years. He said he was marginalized by the chair and never looped in to party activities. He claims his help was not welcome. This is just one of several things that Mr. Clendenin claimed that had my B.S. detector going off the charts. As an elected officer, he should have demanded that he be included and if those demands fell on deaf ears he should have injected himself into party activities to ensure that his voice was heard. His role is what he made of it, which was not much. Cynthia made the most of her role. On the largest scale Vice-President Biden made the most of his role in a historic partnership with President Obama that benefitted the world. I also seriously doubt that if Mr. Clendenin had recruited a quality candidate for CFO or Ag Commissioner in 2014, as an example, that Chair Tant would have rejected the candidate because of Mr. Clendenin.
I am willing to give the candidates for FDP Chair the benefit of the doubt, but I would have to suspend disbelief in order to bring myself to accept many of the things Mr. Clendenin spoke about. His completely ineffective tenure as FDP First-Vice Chair is just one example. Another is the fact that he claimed that he could raise as much money as Mr. Bittel could as FDP Chair when I asked him, and significantly increase the fundraising at FDP over the levels achieved by the current chair. That claim doesn’t pass the smell test because if he had the ability to significantly increase the FDP budget he would have fulfilled his responsibility to help the organization by doing so. It is ludicrous to think that Chair Tant would have rejected any money that Mr. Clendenin could help raise for the FDP, which means under the best case scenario for Mr. Clendenin he was so small and petty that he refused to raise money for the FDP despite his standing as the number two person in the organization.
Mr. Clendenin took issue with facts that I brought up in my last missive on the FDP Chair race. He said he left it to others to fill precinct slots in Hillsborough County, which were the people who decided whether he got re-elected as State Committeeman, and trusted people do so (in part because his plate was so full) when in hindsight he shouldn’t have. The process to fill precinct slots covers months, and we started planning more than a year out in Broward back in 2012, so his failure to ensure that he had at least the 60 votes that would have won him re-election is on him. He also could have guaranteed that the non-partisan elected officials that were excluded from voting for him could have voted if he had signed them up as precinct committee people, but he failed to do so despite his standing as an officer in the organization. The fact that he was totally unaware of what was going on in his own back yard should give anyone serious pause before trusting him to run any statewide organization.
Mr. Clendenin thought the facts that he lost his re-election bid for State Committeeman and his fourth place finish in his school board race created an unfair perception. To quote Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Those are statements of fact, and not my opinion. He claims he really wasn’t trying to win the race for school board but block a tea party GOP candidate from winning, though wouldn’t the best way to ensure that a bad candidate loses be to win the race yourself? Taken separately, one of Mr. Clendenin’s failures when looking as his tenure as FDP First-Vice Chair, his failed re-election as Hillsborough County State Committeeman, and his fourth place finish in his school board race could be brushed off. When considered together, they make his excuses ring hollow. I don’t think Mr. Clendenin is a bad guy. He just came across as someone who wants to be FDP Chair so badly that he is willing to say or do anything to get the gig.
(Author’s Note: Please feel free to send any comments, suggestions, column ideas, or hate mail to ThePhlipSideFL@gmail.com.)
Sean Phillippi is a Democratic strategist and consultant based in Broward County. He has worked for campaigns on the federal, state, and local levels, including the Florida Democratic Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Sean is the Managing Member of TLE Analytics LLC, the political data and consulting firm he founded in 2012.
Tomorrow: The Phlip Side (FDP Chair Edition Part 3 of 3): Three shining cities on a hill!