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Screen shot from Zoom meeting of the Florida Democratic Party.

2020/2022

Democrats elect Manny Diaz as new party chairman

Defeats Ione Townsend and Cynthia Chestnut on first ballot.

Former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz has been elected the new chair of the Florida Democratic Party.

Diaz, who ran a high-profile, fully staffed campaign and rounded up scores of endorsements from elected Democrats and others, won on the first ballot Saturday afternoon, with 54% of the votes, in the Democrats’ complex system of distributing votes based on the populations of counties.

Hillsborough County Democratic Chair Ione Townsend finished as runner-up, with 30% of the vote. Alachua County Democratic Chair Cynthia Moore Chestnut received 17%.

The Florida Democratic Party held its organizational meeting virtually over Zoom.

“Now fellow Democrats, our real work begins. It will not be easy. I pledge to all listening that from this moment forward, I will spend every moment for these next four years working tirelessly together with all of you to focus on our greatest and most important priority, to elect Democrats to office up and down our state and improve the lives of all Floridians,” Diaz said in accepting the office.

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Diaz’s candidacy and his overwhelming campaign had drawn some sharp criticisms from within the party, from certain members who were concerned about his record as Mayor, about his brief exodus from the Democratic Party 21 years ago in protest of the Clinton administration, his subsequent support for some Republicans running for office, and concerns that he might not be able to represent the progressive views of many Democrats, or adequately represent its diversity.

Townsend and Chestnut had run in part as alternatives to Diaz and drew support from some Democrats who wanted to stop him. They each took shots at Diaz in their nomination speeches, though not by name.

Townsend reminded Democratic voters that she has always been a Democrat and never supported Republicans; while Chestnut pointed out that she is an African American woman and “our time has come.”

In the end, Diaz’s support proved overwhelming. Townsend quickly congratulated him and offered him her full support.

In the election for first vice-chair, Judy Mount of Jackson County was reelected, defeating Chestnut 63% to 37%. Casmore Shaw of Osceola County was reelected secretary. Francine Garcia was reelected treasurer.

Diaz succeeds Terrie Rizzo, the Palm Beach County Democratic chair who took the state position in late 2017.

Cuba-born Diaz, 66, was Mayor of Miami from 2001 to 2009. His son Manuel Alberto “Manny” Diaz II is the head coach of the University of Miami Hurricanes football team.

He takes over a party with numerous problems.

Florida Democrats suffered widespread election disappointments in the November General Election, as Republicans took Florida’s 29 Electoral College Votes for Donald Trump and made gains in both the Florida Senate and the Florida House. That followed a disappointing showing in the 2018 election when the party lost its U.S. Senate seat and saw a gubernatorial election they thought they could win slip away.

Florida Democrats also have seen Republicans make gains on Democrats’ superior position in voter registration across the state.

The party suffered an embarrassment in the spring when it was revealed it had improperly sought and received a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan of more than $800,000. The party returned the money but did not offer any accounting. Republicans blasted them over it in the fall election campaigns.

In addition, the party’s federal entity, the Democratic Executive Committee of Florida, run by the same leadership, showed financial accounting problems all year and came out of the November election broke and in debt, while the Republican Party of Florida entered the next cycle with millions of dollars in the bank for federal election campaigns.

“Our Florida Democratic Party is at a crossroads,” Diaz said in his nomination speech. “While Democrats all over the nation make gains, we continue to lose ground. We continue to lose elections. And more importantly, when we lose, all Floridians suffer, especially the poor and working people, our Black, Hispanic, Asian, and LGBTQ communities. And our environment suffers. We cannot afford to fail them.”

“Now we must look past what divides us and build on what unites us,” Diaz continued. “Today and in the years to come, the eyes of many in this country will be on us. Let us show them that we will do everything to turn Florida blue. Let us show them that we are proud to be part of this vibrant party. This is the future I need you to help me build, the legacy we must leave for future generations.”

He called for the Democrats to be “one party with one future.”

“Let us be the ones who bring healing and unity. Let us be the ones we have always been. Let us be a Florida Democratic Party that speaks for the voiceless, fights for the oppressed, and assures that America remains the shining beacon of hope of democracy for the entire world,” he concluded.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Two-Time Loser

    January 9, 2021 at 2:28 pm

    So Chestnut didn’t just lose; she finished dead last, twice.
    Time to retire from politics.

  2. Shanetta

    January 9, 2021 at 8:51 pm

    I’m so sick of the Florida Democratic Party. Every time a woman of color runs for the top job, they reject us. BLACK WOMAN are SICK and TIRED of Democrats taking us for granted. Stop throwing us crumbs and give us REAL POWER!

  3. Shanetta

    January 9, 2021 at 8:53 pm

    Why do powerful black women frighten you? Privileged white man?

  4. Trust Me, She's Scary

    January 10, 2021 at 3:25 pm

    Powerful Black women scare me because… well, because I married one.

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