Tim Heberlein drops out of contention for Hillsborough Democratic chair

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Hillsborough County Democrats are scheduled to vote for new officers this Thursday night, but the man who looked likely to become the next chair of the party, Tim Heberlein, is dropping out of the race.

The reason is because of a potential conflict of interest with his day job. Recently, Heberlein took on employment with the Sierra Club, working as their Beyond Coal Organizing Representative.

“Because of the high profile nature of both roles, it could potentially lead to confusion should I be required, in either role, to make official statements or act in contrary to the positions of the other organization,” Heberlein says in a press release. “With this in mind, I respectfully rescind my candidacy for Chair of the Hillsborough Democratic Party. I will continue my committed involvement with the local Democratic Party, but for the sake of transparency and in order to maintain the highest integrity of the role as DEC Chair, my withdrawal from the race seemed necessary.”

Heberlein has been the vice chair of the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee over the past two years, and had a lot of backing inside the party to become its chairman.

The only other candidate running for the job is East Hillsborough Democrat Elizabeth Belcher, who recently lost a bid for County Commission to Victor Crist.

“This is quite a surprise,” Belcher said Monday night. She said she was glad to hear that Heberlein will still be involved with the party. Although it’s likely she’ll become the next chair now, it’s not completely a done deal. Floor nominations are still allowed, and another candidate could come forward on Thursday night when the Democrats gather to vote.

The chair’s position is being vacated by Michael van Hoek.

Heberlein’s full statement is listed below:

When I filed to run for Chair, I did it with the passion, belief and understanding that I was fully able to fulfill the job, bring Democrats together and win to make real change in Hillsborough, as I have done for the past 10 years.

Earlier this year, when I applied for a job with the Sierra Club, the staff reviewed my participation in the role as Vice Chair of Operations with the Democratic Party in Hillsborough County to ensure the clarity of the role and evaluate for potential of conflict. After that review, I was hired on as the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign organizer and continued to proudly volunteer as Vice Chair. I was required to adhere to strict guidelines that prevented potential conflicts of interest and have thus been successful. Since filing my candidacy of Chair, both the Sierra Club and I agreed to review these new changes in circumstances to ensure they did not produce any new conflict between the Sierra Club and the Hillsborough Democratic Party.

Today, after detailed review with staff, it was agreed that my employment with the Sierra Club and new potential Chair position with the local Democratic Party could potentially create a conflict of interest. Because of the high profile nature of both roles, it could potentially lead to confusion should I be required, in either role, to make official statements or act in contrary to the positions of the other organization.

With this in mind, I respectfully rescind my candidacy for Chair of the Hillsborough Democratic Party. I will continue my committed involvement with the local Democratic Party, but for the sake of transparency and in order to maintain the highest integrity of the role as DEC Chair, my withdrawal from the race seemed necessary.
I want to thank my team: Lydia, Alvin, Alex and Julie, and all of those who so passionately supported my candidacy. I ran to build our Party together and I will continue to do so in the capacity I’m able.

Our Democratic Party has long been committed to preserving the environment, investing in clean energy, and to ensuring the future of our planet and its ecosystem. While these are some of the many reasons I am a proud Democrat, I appreciate all, regardless of party affiliation, are willing to act in combating the effects of climate change. I look forward to the new administration driving our party to victory in 2016 and beyond.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.