Changing of the guard at the helm of the county DEC

Robert Prather is the new chairman of the Alachua County Democratic Executive Committee. (Submitted photo)

Published: Friday, January 18, 2013 at 2:29 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 18, 2013 at 2:29 p.m.

There’s been a changing of the guard and an infusion of new blood at the helm of the county’s Democratic Party.

In December, Robert Prather, 31, was elected as the new chairman of the Alachua County Democratic Executive Committee. He succeeded Jon Reiskind, 72, who stepped aside after eight years as the head of the local Democrats.

The DEC chair is voted to a four-year term.

Prather grew up in rural Kentucky, where he supported Democratic candidates with his vote and campaign contributions but did not get further involved because he saw little opportunity to have an impact on the political landscape.

That changed in 2006 when he moved to Gainesville, a traditional Democratic stronghold surrounded by a sea of red counties.

Prather, who is gay, said he soon became involved in gay rights political issues — including the group that organized to successfully oppose the 2009 referendum that would have repealed Gainesville’s anti-discrimination laws for transgender, gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

He was active at the local level in President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign as well as Mayor Craig Lowe’s 2010 campaign and two campaigns of City Commissioner Lauren Poe.

Prather, a research program coordinator in substance use and abuse at the University of Florida Department of Psychology, said his involvement in the Alachua County’s Democratic Party dates back to 2008.

Prather said he became treasurer in early 2012, and Reiskind identified him as a potential successor.

“New blood is very good for an organization working well, and it is working well,” Reiskind said. “It was a great election,” Reiskind said of the November 2012 general election.

Democratic candidates swept the three County Commission seats on the ballot. Currently, three of the five county commissioners and six of the seven Gainesville city commissioners are members of the DEC.

Reiskind said Prather has “the right temperament” to serve as chair, a willingness to hear differing opinions.

“The majority of the things we’ve done in the past will stay the same, but there are some things I’ve already changed,” Prather said. “I’ve made an effort to reach out to communities I feel are under-represented in the DEC.”

He said he met with black leaders in east Gainesville and members of the Democratic Black Caucus to put “forth the opportunity” for them to have a role in the DEC.

Prather said he met with former city commissioner and current mayoral candidate Scherwin Henry to say he planned to remain neutral in the upcoming mayor’s race. Prather said he also extended an invitation for Henry to join the DEC.

Now in his fourth campaign for local office, Henry said he’s had ongoing concerns that the DEC had not done enough to support minority candidates. He said Prather “seemed to understand there are some things that can be done better on the DEC.”

“I really came away impressed with his mind-set and his desire to be inclusive of all Democrats and his commitment to support all Democrats fairly.”

Still, Henry said a sticking point that will keep him from joining the DEC is the requirement to sign a loyalty oath. He said he felt his 42 years as a registered, voting Democrat shows his loyalty.

Henry said he felt Prather was sincere but expects that DEC members will still support Lowe in the upcoming campaign.

Several, including current and former county and city commissioners, have contributed to Lowe’s campaign. Reiskind gave $50 to Lowe a little more than a week before Henry filed the required paperwork to launch his campaign.

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