Chairman put on the spot by fellow Democrat

Published November 2, 2006

All politics is local, the saying goes.

Consider Wednesday's Suncoast Tiger Bay Club lunch, where Pinellas Democratic Party chairman Ed Helm and GOP county chairman Tony DiMatteo squared off.

Mostly, they rehashed points that could have come from their respective national organizations. Helm said Democrats offer "real change"; DiMatteo said the GOP will deliver "more freedom."

But things picked up when Pinellas County Commission Chairman Ken Welch, a Democrat, asked Helm to explain his challenge to County Commissioner Calvin Harris at an August Tiger Bay luncheon.

Helm and Harris are not the best of friends. A self-described progressive, Helm sought to have Harris booted from the Democratic Party for endorsing Helm's opponent, Republican Rick Baker, in last year's race for mayor of St. Petersburg.

In August, Helm asked Harris to provide "evidence" he was a "real" Democrat.

On Wednesday, Welch noted that Harris took 70 percent of the vote in a September primary election that was open only to Democrats.

So, Welch asked Helm, how do you feel now about saying Harris is not a real Democrat.

"I asked him a question," Helm replied. "I didn't assert that he is not a real Democrat."

Yeah, right, Welch said later.

"Typical Ed Helm spin," he said. "He knew what he was implying when he asked the question. He evaded the point."