Palm Beach County municipal pique interest of Florida Democratic Party

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Just because there are no party labels on Palm Beach County municipal ballots, doesn’t mean parties haven’t made their mark.

For more than a decade, Palm Beach County nonpartisan city and town elections have attracted the attention of both political parties and partisan activists, writes George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post.

For example, the Florida Democratic Party paid for mailers and will support field organizing for Sharon Lascola and Matt Kurit, who are looking to unseat incumbents Anne Gerwig and Howard Coates, respectively, in the March 11 Wellington council elections. Lascola and Kurit are both Democrats and Gerwig and Coates are Republicans.

State Democrats have been involved in some of the larger “nonpartisan” races in Florida, including those in 2011 that elected Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, as well as pumping more than $100,000 into Lois Frankel’s 2003 mayoral campaign in West Palm Beach.

“For the past several years, the party has been investing in local races, and this represents a continuation of those efforts,” Florida Democratic Party spokesperson Joshua Karp told the Post about the Wellington races.

Republican Party of Florida representative Susan Hepworth said the GOP has stayed out of Palm Beach County municipal races this year.

In the past, both Palm Beach County Republican and Democratic parties have made their ways into nonpartisan municipal races.

In a Republican Executive Committee meeting last week, Boca Raton Commissioner Susan Haynie and commission candidate Craig Ehrnst, Royal Palm Beach mayoral hopeful Laurel Bennett and Palm Beach Gardens council challenger Michael Peragine each made pitches to GOP activists.

Haynie is facing fellow Commissioner Anthony Majhess — who has no party affiliation — for Boca mayor. Peragine is trying to replace longtime registered Democrat Eric Jablin on the Palm Beach Gardens City Council. Jablin is also receiving assistance from the local Democratic Party.

Mike Coleman, a local Democratic activist, says the Jablin-Peragine race is one match where the local Democratic Party is involved, mostly by calling on Democratic voters who requested mail-in ballots.

“It’s pretty much Democrats to Democrats, letting them know there’s a Democrat in the race,” Coleman told the Post.

Parties often take up nonpartisan races where registered Republicans are up against registered Democrats. Usually they will stay out when both candidates are from the same party.

One exception was the FDP involvement in Frankel’s 2003 run, where she unseated incumbent Democrat Joel Daves, who irritated some in his party by endorsing Republican Rep. Clay Shaw in his re-election the year prior.

Former county GOP Chair Sid Dinerstein worked on pre-recorded calls for Democratic activist Rene Varela’s successful 2009 campaign for Lake Worth mayor. Fellow Republicans criticized Dinerstein, but he explained that no Republican was running, and Varela’s opponent was simply too far to the left.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.