Rouson switches parties again

The District 55 candidate returns to the Democrats.

Published January 18, 2008

ST. PETERSBURG - Attorney Darryl Rouson, who was courted to the Republican party by the likes of Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist a mere two years ago, has begun his bid for the state Legislature as a registered Democrat.

Rouson, 52, hopes to be elected to the District 55 seat now held by Rep. Frank Peterman Jr., who must step down because of term limits. Rouson will run against City Council member Earnest Williams and activist Charles McKenzie, both Democrats.

Rouson, former president of the NAACP's St. Petersburg chapter, has long alluded to a potential run for the seat, but his party swap presents an unexpected shakeup in the hotly contested race.

Long considered the only Republican candidate with a chance of winning the predominately Democrat district, Rouson said he decided to leave the GOP to appease potential voters.

"They feel comfortable voting for someone aligned as a Democrat," he said. "My principles and my values remain constant, and I cannot be pigeonholed by a label. I have fought for certain things that are important regardless of party affiliation."

Rouson's opponents declined to discuss his new party affiliation Thursday.

Rouson was an active Democrat before leaving the party in 1999 to become the NAACP president. Rouson remained an independent until he stepped down from his post and joined the Republican party in 2005.

His most recent political turnabout is considered a loss for local Republicans, who have yet to come up with a candidate to enter into the district race, where 63 percent of registered voters are Democrats.

"He had a good shot to win on our side," said Tony DiMatteo, Pinellas County Republican party chairman. "We don't like to lose anybody, but he had to make his own decision."

Cristina Silva can be reached at csilva@sptimes.com and 727 893-8846.