Mayor's race continues to divide Democrats


Published: Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 3:21 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 3:21 p.m.

The fallout from the Gainesville mayor's race continues to cause division in the local Democratic ranks.

Last Wednesday night marked the first Democratic Executive Committee meeting since the county party's officers petitioned the state party to pull the charter of the Alachua County Democratic Black Caucus over members' support of Republican Ed Braddy in the April mayoral runoff.

Braddy unseated Democrat Craig Lowe in a race that is officially non-partisan but always involves both the local Democratic and Republican parties.

The DEC grievance against the Black Caucus was on the agenda and the room was packed for a discussion that turned out to be fleeting.

Addressing the issue briefly from the dais, DEC Chair Robert Prather said party organizations have that "single unifying purpose" of supporting and electing Democratic candidates and that Black Caucus members had campaigned for a Republican candidate over a Democrat.

When it was time for the audience to chime in, Prather limited speakers to one minute each, which he said kept with his typical practice.

Only four speakers had an opportunity to talk at the podium before the meeting was adjourned at 8 p.m. sharp for a presentation on the Affordable Care Act. Black Caucus Chair Ermon Owens was one of the four who spoke.

Owens said the Black Caucus, as an organization, does not make endorsements and members can support the candidate they choose in a nonpartisan election. He asked the DEC to rescind the grievance filed with the state party and "apologize to the (Black Caucus) members they have made derogatory statements about."

The bylaws of the Florida Democratic Party, which also apply to local caucuses, does include a loyalty oath stating "I will not oppose the election of any Democratic nominee, nor will I support any non-Democrat against a Democrat in any election other than in judicial races."

Two DEC members said it was well known that Braddy was Republican and Lowe a Democrat so the argument the race was nonpartisan did not hold water.

Conversely, there was the argument that Democrats had backed Republican candidates in local races before and not faced the same backlash as the Black Caucus. Local attorney and Black Caucus member Ray Washington held up a 2001 letter to the editor in which former Democratic state Sen. Rod Smith, who eventually went on to head the start party, endorsed Paula DeLaney, a Republican at that time, in a re-election bid for Gainesville mayor.

Outside the meeting, Owens said the issue didn't get a fair airing.

"I expected to have more than one minute and I expected justification for what they did," he said.

Meanwhile, more letters have been sent to state party officials. DEC member Horace Moore Sr., who ran against Prather for DEC chair, sent a letter in late April questioning if four DEC officers had the authority to file a grievance without bringing the issue to the full DEC membership.

"Actions taken by the four officers of the ACDEC in their April 17th letter are systemic of our elected leadership's arrogance and disrespect toward African-Americans and other Democrats with opposing opinions and ideals and have been going on for several years."

And the DEC has also filed a grievance with the state Democratic party. That one involves a $2,500 contribution the state party made to Lowe in March, when fellow Democrat and former City Commissioner Scherwin Henry, who is African-American, was still in the race.

The undated letter said the state party did not consult with local party officials before making the contribution, which "damaged" the county Democratic Party's relationship with the African-American community.

Black Caucus member Armando Grundy-Gomes, who ran for the City Commission in 2012, said he felt the Henry campaign was the most recent example of DEC members' lack of support for black candidates.

Speaking at last Wednesday evening's meeting about the recent legislative session, Democratic state Rep. Clovis Watson Jr. touched on the ongoing dispute. Watson noted that his past disputes with county party leadership included a switch to the Republican Party for a time.

Watson said the continued in-fighting would only hurt the party moving toward the 2014 general election cycle.

"We are a dysfunctional Democratic family but we are a family ... I think we need to stop fighting," Watson said.

State party officials did not return a call seeking comment last Thursday.

The hearing on the DEC complaint against the Black Caucus was postponed from last Saturday and is not expected to take place until the summer.

Christopher Curry is a Gainesville Sun staff writer.

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