Shouts and storm-outs as county Democrats discuss censuring Aaronson, Sachs, Vanaby George Bennett | December 3rd, 2010
Carole Pollack was inducted as a Palm Beach County Democratic precinct captain Thursday night. Less than two hours later, after listening to party members shout each other down and seeing several walk out in protest, Pollack herself was storming out of a Democratic Executive Committee meeting in West Delray saying she might never return.
Pollack witnessed an intramural Democratic bloodbath over whether the party should take action against Democratic County Commissioners Burt Aaronson and Shelley Vana and state Sen. Maria Sachs for bucking the party and endorsing Republican-turned-independent Charlie Crist in the Nov. 2 U.S. Senate race.
Committee members who stayed to the bitter end rejected a motion to censure the elected officials but voted to authorize a committee to send a “brisk” letter telling them of their disapproval.
Pollack didn’t stick around for the final vote.
“This is the first time I’ve been here. I’m not sure that it won’t be the last. I’m very upset by what I’m seeing here,” she told the party activists who met at Temple Emeth.
“This is not the army I joined. I don’t like it. It’s ugly and I don’t care who’s right and who’s wrong. This is a total waste of time — a total waste of my time. I just spent an extra hour here listening to this stuff, and I don’t need it. I don’t want it. Good night, I wish you well,” Pollack said before making her exit.
The melee had begun about an hour earlier when party activist Rodney Statham questioned Chairman Mark Alan Siegel on his decision to suspend a pair of Democratic zone leaders, Nate and Harriet Smith, for publicly turning their backs on Aaronson when he spoke at a recent nonpartisan Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations meeting.
The Smiths said they were protesting Aaronson’s turning his back on Democratic Senate nominee Kendrick Meek. Siegel said the action was unacceptable “rudeness” for party leaders and suspended the Smiths from their zone leader jobs. He lifted the suspension this week after only 10 days.
Statham argued that the Smith’s silent protest wasn’t rude. He told Siegel that “you as chair feel the need to penalize us for expressing our First Amendment rights.”
The Smiths were welcomed as heroes at Thursday night’s meeting. Siegel was reelected party chairman earlier in the evening without any other nominees running. But Nate Smith received seven votes for chairman and his wife got one while Siegel got 96 and other candidates received 13.
Instead of taking action against the Smiths, many Democrats at the meeting thought the party should punish Aaronson, Vana and Sachs instead.
“We need to let our elected officials know that it is not acceptable to endorse Republicans,” said former party chairwoman Carol Ann Loehndorf.
“Turning your back on the party, which is what Burt Aaronson and the others did, is much worse than what our friends did,” said Bob Krause of the Democratic Club of Greater Boynton. “I feel strongly that those people that abandoned our party and deserted our party should be rebuked in some manner.”
Similar spleen-venting continued for several minutes.
Things started careening out of control when Siegel asked Democratic activists which candidate had won their precincts in the Senate race. Crist outpolled Meek countywide thanks to strong support from Democratic voters.
“Who won the election in your precincts?” Siegel asked
“Why did they win the election?” Krause shouted back from the audience.
“Because you didn’t do your job, that’s why!” Siegel shouted.
Much of the crowd booed Siegel’s remark and several people walked out of the meeting.
“It’s our job to win the election,” Siegel said over the uproar. “I lost my precinct too, OK? We were beaten in this election.”
“You were rude just now — more rude than turning your back on a piece of crap. How dare you!” a man shouted at Siegel.
As committee members talked of censuring the three elected officials, Siegel said that action would be too harsh.
“They have no doubt as to how the party feels. The question is, do we want to make a permanent breach with people we depend on to carry our ideals in Tallahassee and in West Palm Beach?” Siegel said.
“If we pass a resolution of censure, it will be a declaration of war on all of the elected officials as a group.”
Eventually, with only about half the original crowd still in attendance, Siegel succeeded in getting the committee not to censure the elected officials.
The “brisk” letter is to be drafted by a nine-member committee sometime in the coming weeks.
Dems might also get a chance to register their displeasure with the elected officials next month. Aaronson, Vana, Sachs and other elected Democrats have all been invited to January’s party meeting.