Black Caucus presidents bump heads

Published: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 2:16 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 2:16 p.m.

Henry Crespo, president of the Florida Democratic Black Caucus, has sent the Democratic Black Caucus of Alachua County a letter threatening to revoke the group's charter, according to Ermon Owens, president of the county caucus.

"The president of the state caucus, Henry Crespo, and his executive board, have given us 45 days to respond to some things and desires and documents that they want, and the main portion of those documents are our financial records, and I, as the president of the county caucus, is not willing to give him that," Owens said.

The vote to revoke the Alachua County Black Caucus charter was held during a conference call on Feb. 16, but the 45-day deadline to appeal that decision is April 18.

Charles Goston, past president of the county Black Caucus, said the issue will probably be resolved before then because black legislators will be addressing the issue with the Florida Democratic Party next week during the 12th annual State of Black Florida Summit 2014.

"This issue will be resolved before the 45-day deadline," Goston said.

When reached by phone, Crespo, who lives in Miami, said he did not want to comment on the matter.

"We are going to just let the process play itself out," he said.

Owens said there is no reason for Crespo to have the financial records of the county caucus or have his name on the group's bank account. Owens said he believes the issue is fueled by the problem the Alachua County Democratic Executive Committee had with some members of the county caucus endorsing Republican Ed Braddy last year in the race for mayor of Gainesville. The DEC initially filed a complaint in a letter sent to the state party on April 17, 2013, one day after Braddy unseated Democratic incumbent Craig Lowe in a runoff election.

Owens said Crespo has also threatened to strip other county caucuses throughout the state of their charters.

"I think Crespo has marching orders to try to diminish the influence of a lot of the county caucuses that are very vocal, and the Alachua County caucus is one that is very vocal," said Owens, adding that the state caucus is threatening not to send the county caucus its re-certification papers to the Florida Democratic Party.

Owens said if the state caucus decides to do that, his group will file a complaint with the Florida Democratic Party.

"No matter what happens, the Alachua County caucus will remain strong and firm," Owens said. "We are a group united and committed to things that are happening on the local level, and certainly on the state level, but especially locally. We are going to continue on, and if it comes to it, we don't need to have any party affiliation."

Established in 1983, the Florida Democratic Black Caucus, like the county caucuses within it, is supposed to work to identify black candidates for political office, educate voters about candidates and issues, lead voter registration drives and engage in activities that will lead to the success of Democratic candidates running for political office.

Goston said Crespo burst onto the scene out of nowhere last year to become president of the state caucus. He said Crespo has had the county caucus' re-certification papers for almost a year, and along with the executive committee of the state caucus, is trying to find out how much money every "caucus has so he can utilize it for his own purposes."

Goston said Allison Tant, chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party, is aware of the situation.

"We have already made her aware of this issue, and there is nowhere in the bylaws that states that any president can ask for the financial records of any county Black Caucus," said Goston, adding that Crespo asked the county caucus for a signature card to its bank account that will give him access to the account.

"Once he gets on our signature card, he can just go in our bank account and take whatever he wants," Goston said. "He wanted us to send him all of our banking information with all of our account numbers."

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