The Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee elected Ione Townsend on Monday night to be their chairwoman for the remainder of 2016.
Of the 76 votes counted, Townsend took home 68 votes. Longtime DEC member Alvin Wolfe finished a distant second with six votes.
A third candidate in the race, Eastern Hillsborough County Democratic head Michael Newett, announced before the vote that he was dropping out of the contest.
Townsend had been considered the favorite going into Monday night’s vote, in part because she has received good reviews inside the party in her work as vice-chairwoman since being elected to that position in December 2014. That was the same election that saw Elizabeth Belcher elected as chairwoman. Both women were elected for two-year terms, but Belcher announced in November that she would be stepping down.
All three candidates had 10 minutes each to make their case before party members. They could use that time to speak exclusively, or have others speak for them.
“I will focus on helping to recruit candidates for winnable seats that will improve our representation at the local level, state level and the federal level,” Townsend promised in her remarks. “We’ll grow our party by increasing our membership, increasing our tally of trained, eager precinct committeemen and women who know and understand their job, and bringing more people into the democratic process.”
Townsend is a native from Maine who became active campaigning for former Democratic U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, as well for Michael Dukakis’ presidential bid in 1988.
She moved to Florida with her husband CL in 2005. In 2008, she worked as a volunteer for the Barack Obama campaign in Pasco County, and in 2012, she was a core team member of the Plant City neighborhood team for the re-election of Obama. She helped create and was a charter member of the Tampa Bay Chapter of Organizing for Action, and the lead in OFA Tampa Bay for the Affordable Care Act.
It wasn’t all hunky-dory at the event, however.
Belcher was one of six people in the crowd who Townsend chose to speak for her candidacy after making her remarks. In her brief comments, Belcher conveyed a tinge of bitterness at how she was treated as party chairwoman.
“It is outrageous that false allegations, accusations and false claims floating around here in the DEC. We are destroying ourselves from the inside.” She did not elaborate on those comments.
Belcher did say that she was grateful that members of the party introduced her to Mark Hanisee, the former Pinellas County Democratic Party chairman, who took on a fundraising position for the Hillsborough DEC in 2015. Hanisee was briefly a candidate to succeed Belcher, but party bylaws prevented him from running for the post.
The Hillsborough County Democratic Party has been known for a long time to take a backseat to the Hillsborough Republican Party regarding fundraising and getting people elected, something that Townsend vowed to attempt to end on her watch.
“I’d like to see the prestige and effectiveness of our county party restored to the point where we are the dominant party in Hillsborough County, holding the majority of elected positions,” she said.
Since she is replacing Belcher in the middle of her two-year term, the party will have another election for party chairman in December.