Stacey Patel traveled Sunday to Polk and Hillsborough County to visit Democrats as part of the Brevard County Democratic Executive Committee Chair’s statewide campaign to become the next leader of the state party.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Patel said while sitting with her husband, Sanjay, at an outdoor table at the Bricks in Ybor City, where she met up with Hillsborough County DEC Chair Ione Townsend and Democratic Progressive Caucus’ Jessica Vaughn.
“We’ve had quite a fun tour of Florida. I think it’s going well. I think we had a strong performance in Miami at the forum (last Thursday) and that has certainly encouraged more people to reach out to me, and were certainly having a really interesting time meeting Democrats across Florida.”
Patel took to social media a week after Stephen Bittel resigned as party chair to determine if there was grassroots support for her to enter the race, setting a goal of raising $2,500 for the campaign and identifying 250 pledges of monthly donations and 250 volunteer pledges.
Ultimately, 118 campaign donors kicked in more than $6,000, while 255 people pledged monthly contributions and 252 pledged monthly volunteers who will work nearly 30,000 hours per year.
Patel is running against Palm Beach Democratic Executive Committee Chair Terrie Rizzo, Hillsborough State Committeewoman Alma Gonzalez and SEIU President Monica Russo from Miami, though the status of Russo’s eligibility remains in question six days before the voting members cast their ballots.
Patel said the basis of her candidacy is to give power back to the people.
“I think our message really needs to inspire people, and I don’t think we’ve necessarily done an effective job of putting the values of the people first,” she said. “I think we need to create more transparency in our party, so people think that they can feel that they can walk into our party and participate.”
Compared to her competitors, Patel is a relative newcomer to party politics, as she was elected chair in Brevard just a year ago. She boasts that under her tenure, participation in the Brevard DEC has gone up dramatically, with around 35 members attending meetings in 2016 to the roughly 150 precinct members.
“We’ve increased the number of donations by our DEC by 540 percent in the first three quarters of this year, and we won three municipal elections,” she says, referring to Democrats winning in traditional Republican country in city council races last month by Angela Raymond in Cape Canaveral, Danny White in Malabar and Sammie Brown-Martin, who became the first black female ever elected to the Rockledge City Council.
She also says that there’s too much centralized power in the FDP, which she’d like to change so that people feel “empowered” as the party of the people.
“I feel like if people felt like they owned our party — if we had much more small donorship in our party — that would be part of giving people back our party as well,” she says.
One of the issues that Patel embraces is changing the party rules to allow much more participation in the election of a party chair.
Under the current weighted system, there are 1,204 possible votes for chair under the FDP system, yet only 182 electors will vote next Saturday.
Bittel resigned last month after several women with the FDP reported inappropriate and demeaning behavior toward them during his tenure.
“Don’t count us out,” Patel said when asked she wants Florida Politics readers to know about her candidacy.