Patrick Manteiga comes to the defense of embattled Pinellas Dem chairman Mark Hanisee

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Editor’s note: Patrick Manteiga, publisher of La Gaceta, discusses the controversy surrounding Pinellas Democratic Party chair Mark Hanisee.

The Pinellas Democratic Party has been blessed to have Mark Hanisee as its chair. He is a tireless worker who is a proven fundraiser and has the skills to avoid the infighting that strangles other DECs. Hanisee is one of the best chairs on the Democrat side we’ve seen in the Bay Area.

We are glad and Democrats are lucky that he is not going to resign due the recent rancor regarding his comments.

Democrat Reverend Manuel Sykes was busy organizing a campaign to run against Republican Congressman David Jolly. He had advisors who included Angela Owens and Ivan Farber. The campaign was chatting up its chances with rumors (we hear, mostly from Farber) flying about that the DCCC was going to fund the Sykes campaign with $3 million, President Barack Obama was going to come down and help, Alex Sink and Mayor Rick Kriseman were going to endorse the Sykes campaign and the local Party was going to pay his qualifying fee with a loan.

Behind the scenes, the talk about the Sykes campaign was quite different. Not only was the DCCC not going to fund Sykes, it was recruiting a candidate to run against him. There would be no Obama, Sink was going to endorse someone else and the local Party wasn’t going to loan him one cent.

The big problem was that Sykes had baggage. He had past indiscretions that had been reported on and would be used against him and the Party. If the press didn’t crucify Sykes, the Republicans certainly would if the polls showed Sykes close. Even some of the people Sykes had around him had problems. Campaigns like Rev. Sykes can spin out of control and hurt their party.

The DCCC doesn’t care if someone is black, white, red or purple. It does care if you are an aggressive fundraiser and show strongly in the polls.

Sykes, who is African-American, didn’t have the last two qualities.

The State Party was aware of the growing mess and knew that Democrat Ed Jany was going to jump in and be the anointed one.

The State Party called Hanisee and asked him to fix the problem.

Hanisee had been talking to Sykes, trying to give him an understanding of his problems if he ran. Hanisee was relaying to Sykes the negative feedback he was getting from the media, the Party and Democrats about Sykes’ chances.

The advice culminated with a voicemail to Sykes that reiterated all the problems above and added, “You better hold off, or, like I told you Sunday night, you are going to be persona non grata. Take that to the bank. That’s telling you the gospel truth. You’re going to be getting a call from Rick Kriseman, if you haven’t already, telling you to back off. Have a nice weekend.”

Angela Owens leaked it to the press and some in the Black community wanted an apology from Hanisee, some wanted his resignation and some threatened the Black vote would stay home.

Hanisee was relaying the truth. Sykes’ campaign was going to be unsuccessful, his character was going to be questioned because of his past scandal and the Democratic Party leaders would have marked him as uncooperative and selfish, which would have hurt his chances for a future run for a more winnable seat.

Hanisee was doing his job as chair. Chairs aren’t supposed to pick favorite candidates but they are responsible for directing traffic and Sykes’ campaign was going to wreck and cause a traffic jam for other Democrats in Pinellas County. Hanisee doesn’t write the rules but he was doing a great job of interpreting the rules to Sykes of the forces at play in his race.

To his credit, Hanisee told Sykes he regretted the bluntly worded voice mail and reiterated his respect for him. Sykes had led the NAACP, he leads a congregation and works to improve his community. He is respected and deserves respect but in the strange world of politics, that isn’t enough to make a good candidate. Hanisee’s effort was to save Sykes grief and embarrassment. Owens’ leak to the press aired the dirty laundry and everyone lost — the Party, Sykes and Hanisee.

Since the phone message was left, Sykes decided to not run, Democrat Ed Jany jumped in the race but had to jump out because of his own self-made scandal of exaggerating his education on his résumé and the Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee’s (PCDEC) Grievance Committee has recommended Ivan Farber, Sykes’ campaign aide, to be removed from the PCDEC.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.