County DEC leaders ordered to resign
By DAN DeWITT and JOY DAVIS-PLATT
The state Democratic Party has demanded resignations from the leaders of the Hernando Democratic Executive Committee, which has been plagued by internal bickering for nearly three years.
"I have initiated the process of suspension and removal (of the officers)," Scott Maddox, the party chairman, wrote to DEC officials in a letter dated April 3. "I would request that you submit your resignation . . . within 30 days."
The action was based on a complaint brought to the state party last year by treasurer Steve Zeledon and will probably bring an end to the reign of chairman Dom Cabriele, whose election in December 2000 marked the beginning of the squabbles.
The infighting included an attempt to have Zeledon ousted from his role as treasurer. Its low point, most party members agreed, came when Cabriele filed a complaint with the Sheriff's Office alleging that Zeledon had smacked the arm of Cabriele's wife.
The fighting continued through last year's election, and many, including Zeledon, blamed it for the party's poor showing locally.
"We suffered a terrible loss in 2002. There is no reason why we should have lost someone as good as (former U.S. Rep.) Karen Thurman," said Zeledon, who contrasted that election with the party's performance in 2000.
"We did a lot of work when we swept the County Commission (in 2000)," he said. "We had a tremendous team of people working in a very collegial way, and that atmosphere has been destroyed. . . . I think this will be for the good of the party."
Cabriele said Tuesday he had not yet picked up his copy of Maddox's letter. And, though it does not mention an opportunity to appeal the decision, Cabriele said he is determined to do so.
"I'm going to challenge the whole thing. I'm not resigning," said Cabriele, who blamed the dispute on others who are seeking his job.
"All I can say is we sent the stuff up (to Tallahassee), and they didn't read it. The real situation is that we have 12 or 14 people who have been challenging my chairmanship," Cabriele said.
Other members of the local party said the decision will allow the party to begin rebuilding.
"We had some leadership that was perhaps controversial," said Al Hernandez, Hernando's state committeeman.
"There's a lot going on in the Democratic Party right now, and it's probably time for some reorganization."
Though Zeledon was asked to resign, he agreed with Hernandez.
"I'm just going to wait for the dust to settle a little. After that, I see this as an opportunity to unify the party," he said.
During last year's election, he criticized Cabriele for working against some Democratic candidates, including Greg Williams, who unsuccessfully challenged state Rep. David Russell, R-Brooksville, in 2000 and 2002. Cabriele sought out and supported Bruce Donovan to challenge Williams in the primary.
Cabriele said he was merely trying to find a candidate that could better challenge Russell.
Maddox's demand was based on matters that had little to do with the DEC's main purpose, which is to support local candidates.
The state party's decision was a response to a complaint Zeledon and some of his supporters filed and that the state first ruled on last July.
The dispute began even earlier than that, in December 2000, when Zeledon narrowly lost the election for the DEC chairmanship. Most of the other officers, including Zeledon, were Cabriele's opponents.
They claimed Cabriele had stacked the election by recruiting new members, many of them recent converts to the Democratic Party. They also accused Cabriele of effectively cutting them out of their official duties.
Zeledon, for example, said he never received the group's account books. In October 2001, Cabriele called for a vote of DEC members that he claimed was a valid method of removing Zeledon from his job as treasurer.
That was one of the items that the state ruled on in July.
The state party ordered that the election was not valid and Zeledon should be reinstated. It also required all Hernando DEC meetings to be monitored by a representative of the state party and that the local party pay $300 a month to cover the expense of the supervision.
Cabriele said earlier this year that he had tried to return control of the books to Zeledon, who was not interested in the responsibility -- a claim Zeledon disputes. Cabriele also said he had not had meetings monitored because he had not called any meetings, except for one last fall when the state party was too busy to send a representative.
In the letter, though, Maddox rejected those claims. He found that Cabriele had failed to comply with all the directives, and added a statement that echoed Hernandez's sentiments:
"It is in the best interest of the (state party) and its members to have Democratic Executive Committees that operate and function in accordance with the (party) bylaws."
-- Dan DeWitt covers politics, the environment and the city of Brooksville. He can be reached at 754-6116 or email@example.com
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111