Behind-the-scenes competition to replace Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant is getting ugly. The rumor mill is working overtime.
Several prominent Democrats have risen to the top of the list since Tant announced she wouldn't seek reelection to the $125,000-plus position on Friday.
Democrats have also continued to advance the name of Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chair Dwight Bullard, and on Saturday he made his intentions clear.
“I want to run for the chair of the local party and then throw my hat in for chair of the big enchilada, [the FDP,]” he told Sunshine State News.
Bullard told SSN he had received many phone calls and messages over the last 36 hours urging him to take the helm of the state’s struggling party. On Friday, a Facebook group, “Draft Dwight Bullard for FDP Chair,” popped up supporting his candidacy.
“I’m humbled and really excited about the possibility of things, considering the movement around wanting to deliver the Democratic Party, as a whole, back to its roots,” Bullard said.
“There’s a real disconnect between the decision-making process [in the party] and the sentiment of the people,” he explained.
Someone else, however, might have their eyes on Bullard’s spot and the FDP chairmanship: Annette Taddeo.
Taddeo is rumored to be working behind the scenes to sweep up support among Dems in the Miami-Dade area, a stronghold for the party.
According to sources close to Taddeo, who lost her congressional big to Joe Garcia in the primary, wants to use Bullard’s Miami Democratic Party chair as a stepping stone to the party chairmanship in January, sidestepping Bullard or another like him to become the party favorite.
The sources claim she has been making calls in an attempt to siphon votes away from Bullard and impress the FDP.
Bullard frowned upon such behavior, fearing the possibility the party would be moving in the wrong direction.
“That’s what people are disgusted with at this point, just the sort of atmosphere that’s been created around deception or favoritism,” he said of Taddeo. “People are saying, ‘Let the process work itself out.’”
Bullard says Taddeo doesn't intimidate him. He believes he still would be able to win support from his allies to win the party chair, but he doesn’t think Dems should consider Taddeo as their leader.
“I think it should be clear that people want some real fundamental change,” he said.
Taddeo and Bullard aren’t the only ones interested in the job, though.
Besides Clendenin, attorney Dan Gelber’s name is also in the mix. He’s most notable for serving as minority leader in the Florida House in the mid-2000s and for heading the party’s House Victory program.
Gelber also ran for attorney general against Pam Bondi in 2010 but lost the election and, apart from helping Charlie Crist in his 2014 run for governor, has since kept a relatively low profile in Florida politics.
While some Democrats salivated at the possibility of Gelber being their chairman, others seemed confused whether it would actually be the direction of radical change Dems need to see to get them winning again.
“At a time of establishment politics, to look at someone like Dan Gelber... [who] is the textbook definition of establishment politics -- an old white guy -- would be a slap in the face to diversity and the Florida Democratic Party can kiss further wins goodbye,” said Democratic African American Women Caucus president Leslie Wimes.
Others are considering the possibility of a total outsider coming in to shake up the party, which experienced another embarrassing defeat this week. Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s White House hopes went up in flames Tuesday, as did the aspirations of most statewide candidates who lost to their Republican opponents.
Overall, party members say they know something has to give -- and the old, losing ways of the FDP have to go.
“The days of the old smoke-filled-backroom politics are coming to an end,” Bullard told SSN. “People want levels of transparency, engagement ... People want to feel a level of respect and that political leadership actually gives a damn.”