Saturday, December 10, 2016

Sanders coalition takes over Brevard Democratic leadership

Sanders coalition takes over Brevard Democratic leadership
Dave Berman , FLORIDA TODAY 4:42 p.m. EST December 9, 2016

The new Brevard Democratic Steering Committee pladges to work to turn the county's political landscape from red to blue. Video by Dave Berman/FLORIDA TODAY. Posted Dec. 9, 2016.

Bernie Sanders supporters have taken over the leadership of the Brevard County Democratic Executive Committee, pledging to work to turn the county's political landscape from red to blue.

The new party chair is Stacey Patel of Satellite Beach, who trounced two opponents in committee elections this week. Patel was an elected Sanders delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

Patel said after her election that she will work to find candidates who can win local offices.

"We've already expanded the membership significantly this year" within the local Democratic committee, Patel said. "And we are going to work to continue to expand the membership. By doing that, we're going to expand the Democratic electorate here, and begin to identify really strong candidates from the Democratic side. So we expect to really be prepared for 2018. We are all in this together."

No Democrats represent Brevard in the Florida Legislature, in partisan countywide offices, on the Brevard County Commission or on the Canaveral Port Authority board of commissioners. Some positions up for election in 2016 had no Democratic candidates.

Voter registration figures show that there currently are 42,607 more registered Republicans than registered Democrats in Brevard County. Democrats last outnumbered Republicans in Brevard in 1988.

Democrats missing from ballot in many local races

Patel this year helped lead an effort by Sanders supporters within Brevard to become Democratic precinct committee members. It is these committeemen and committeewomen within Brevard who elect the Democratic Party's county leadership.

Many Democratic precinct positions had been vacant, so the Sanders supporters made a push to file the paperwork needed to seek the committee positions. Most of them were unopposed in the Aug. 30 primary election, when the positions are filled.

The Sanders coalition turned out in force during a Democratic Executive Committee reorganization meeting this week in Rockledge to elect their slate into the leadership posts by wide margins. The two-hour meeting was marked by repeated enthusiastic cheers for the Sanders slate of candidates.

"I want to open the door, and I want to invite people in," Patel said in her candidate remarks to the meeting attendees. "We believe the power belongs to the people, and we are here to reclaim it. We are not here for the galas. We are here for the justice."

Patel has worked as an "organizational transformation consultant" and in using social media "for social good."

Patel and the rest of the new Democratic Party leadership, elected to four-year terms, is younger and more ethnically diverse than their predecessors. In addition to Patel, the new Steering Committee includes:

• State Committeeman Sanjay Patel of Satellite Beach, who also was Sanders delegate to the Democratic convention. Patel, who is Stacey Patel's husband, has a background in consulting and "change management." He defeated two other candidates.

• State Committeewoman Angelina Matos of Rockledge, who defeated one other candidate. Matos has a background in management, sales and customer service. She was the Brevard County campaign manager for Democrat Corry Westbrook's unsuccessful campaign to defeat incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey in the 2016 election.

• Vice Chair Oscar Rivera of Merritt Island, who was unopposed. He works on social justice, environmental and equality issues.

• Secretary Catherine Martinez of Melbourne, who defeated one other candidate. She has worked with children with special needs for 18 years, including specializing in autism for the last 12 years.

• Treasurer Benjamin Landes of Cape Canaveral, who was unopposed. Evident of the youth movement in the local party leadership, Landes is a junior finance major at the University of Central Florida

In the state committeeman race, Sanjay Patel, easily defeated two previous leaders of the local party. He received 50 votes, compared with 15 for incumbent State Committeeman Bill Rettinger and 10 for Lancent Warren Sr., who was the vice chair of the Democratic Executive Committee committee, as well as its acting chair after the previous chair resigned.

"I recognize what you're attempting to do," Warren said in his candidate comments to the meeting attendees prior to the vote. "You guys need to reach out to the people."

Warren declined to amplify on his comments after the meeting, saying: "We just need to move forward together, and work to move the county blue."

Rettinger had offered during the meeting to serve for two years, if elected, and to "take your handpicked candidate under my wing," then resign in favor of the Sanders group's candidate. But his offer was not accepted, as evidenced by the vote results.

"I wish them all the luck. There's a lot of work to do," Rettinger said after the meeting. "I will work with them as much as they ask me to. I'm a Democrat, first and foremost."

Matos promised to bring a "fresh perspective and fresh experience" in her new position as state committeewoman.

"We're here to show those Republicans that we can turn Brevard County blue," Rivera said.

Sanjay Patel told those in attendance that he is "terrified" by the current national political shift, referring to the incoming Donald Trump administration and the right-leaning Republican Congress.

"At no point in my life have I felt the color of my skin the way I do now," said Patel, who is of Indian descent.

"I choose to fight," Patel added. "I'm a progressive. We're going to have to unite as a party."

Patel said he is optimistic about the county Democratic Executive Committee's new leadership

"I'm excited about every one of those people that got elected," he said. "They're amazing. They're hardworking. I think we're going to see some exciting things coming out of this DEC."

One early order of business will be filling more Democratic precinct committee positions.

Each of the 170 election precincts in the county has at least one committeemen and one committeewoman position available, and some precincts can have two of each because they have more than 1,000 registered Democrats.

Martinez said there currently are 86 filled Democratic committee positions, with 366 remaining vacant.

Contact Berman at 321-242-3649 or Follow him on Twitter @ByDaveBerman and on Facebook at

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