With a sudden vacancy at the top of the Florida Democratic Party, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Tampa’s Alan Clendenin is being mentioned as a possible successor to Stephen Bittel.
Bittel stepped down Friday after less than a year as the party chairman following a POLITICO Florida report of anonymous allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior. He made his announcement shortly after all four Democratic party gubernatorial nominees called for him to resign.
Clendenin automatically becomes part of the conversation, if for no other reason than the fact that he finished second in the past two elections for FDP Chair – to Bittel last January, and Allison Tant back in 2013. And while he says his phone has been ringing off the hook over the past 24 hours following Bittel’s resignation, Clendenin says he’s much more interested in making sure that the party is unified with less than a year to go before the 2018 midterm elections.
“I think more than anything else that we have somebody in the chair’s seat who will be effective and turnkey and unifying,” Clendenin said late Saturday morning. “So whether that’s me or someone else, I think that’s the most important element of this and I think that’s more of an informal discussion everybody will have.”
FDP vice chair Judy Mount has been selected to lead the party on an interim basis, with the state executive committee scheduled to meet Dec. 9 to elect a permanent successor.
With just three weeks before that election, there will be extremely limited time for any potential candidates to campaign for the role, which Clendenin says is appropriate under the circumstances. If he were to become a candidate, he says it would be nothing like his previous two races for the position.
“It was brutal, and decisive, and that’s not what the Democratic party needs today,” he says of those campaigns in 2013 and again last winter.
A longtime member of the Democratic National Committee, Clendenin was rebuked by his own Hillsborough County Democrats in part because of a controversial by-law change, and ultimately moved to Bradford County to become a Democratic Executive Committee member eligible to run for the party chairmanship. He contends that those bylaws would not be in play in a special election to replace Bittel, but that remains to be seen.
Clendenin was elected chair of the Democratic National Committee Southern Caucus last month, and says with so much at stake in 2018, “this is not a time to screw around.”
Before Bittel’s resignation, the FDP had been on a roll this fall, capturing the special Senate District 40 election with Annette Taddeo and the St. Petersburg mayor’s contest. But there are some in the party who are fine with his resignation.
“The party works for us, not the other way around,” says attorney general candidate Jeremy Ring. He says that under Bittel, the party apparatus showed “zero interest in my race.”
“We asked them for the simplest of things, and we couldn’t even get them to do an email swap with us,” Ring said Friday, shortly before Bittel officially stepped down.
“I think it’s incumbent that they stay focused on Cabinet seats and state legislative seats, ” Ring adds. “Everything isn’t just about the top of the ticket.”
Democratic party strategist Steve Schale came out on Friday in support of Mount getting the job in 2018. Clendenin says he’s a fan.
“She’s been an activist as long as I can remember, and now as first vice chair she’s really immersed herself in a party leaderhip role and I think, she’s somebody who is an effective voice for the FDP,” he says, before adding that another candidate could emerge who’s not even being discussed in FDP circles this weekend.
“We need to be professional and have that type of leeaderhop where we can all come together, have a party that is unified and ready to hit the street running and capitalize on that momentum that we’ve experienced,” he says.