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New Pinellas Democratic Chair Barbara Scott wants to make party more inclusive

Barbara Scott wants to shift the perception of the Pinellas Democratic Party. 

That shift: From an exclusive, members-only club, to one open to all Democrats.

Scott was elected county party chair Monday night, unseating four-year incumbent Susan McGrath in a shocking landslide vote.

“You don’t need to be a member of the Democratic Executive Committee to get Democrats elected,” Scott said.

Scott praised her predecessor. McGrath led the party during St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s 2017 re-election campaign, a hotly contested race that many expected Kriseman to lose.

Democratic voter turnout in that non-presidential election was higher than former President Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012.

McGrath was also at the helm when Congressman Charlie Crist won his seat against former Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly in 2014. It’s the first time a Democrat has held that seat in more than a half century.

“I just saw a little void with communication down to the grassroots level and training and that’s why I stepped up,” Scott said.

Scott wants to forge strong working relationships with community organizers and grassroots activists fighting for Democratic ideals.

Part of that relationship building also includes building a better bench for local Democrats. The local party has been criticized for lacking quality candidates to run in competitive races.

“We have so many great grassroots organizers who might be interested in running, but don’t know how,” Scott said.

She wants to implement candidate training — seminars that teach prospective candidates how to run including how to file, fill out financial reports and communicate a successful message. That includes reaching out to young people who might not be ready to run yet who can be shaped into competitive candidates.

Scott said she’d also consider working with existing elected Democrats to establish a candidate mentor program.

Scott, who joined the local party after the 2016 presidential election, might have benefited from a growing urge nationwide for fresh leadership. Many Democrats, particularly younger and more progressive ones, have become disenchanted with establishment politics and the old vanguard.

That disenchantment has made leadership changes appealing to voters outside political inner circles. A new party leader could signal change and spark enthusiasm.

McGrath rejects the notion that she represents an entrenched “party elite,” a term she doesn’t like to use.

“I’ve only been chair for four years. It’s pretty hard to (turn) the battleship in four years. It’s not like I’m a longstanding party chair,” McGrath said.

But she respects the outcome of Monday’s vote: “I shook Barbara’s hand and gave her a hug because it’s important that we move forward,” McGrath said.

Despite her defeat, McGrath said she’s still going to work hard to elect Democrats. As a past chair, McGrath has a seat on the party’s board. She’s also still head of the Pinellas Stonewall Democrats and Executive Director of the liberal Consumer Action Network.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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