BY MARIA L. SCRUGGS
ST. PETERSBURG — Now that the proverbial cat is out of the bag, it is true; the Pinellas Democratic Executive Leadership Committee (PCDEC) has long since fostered an environment that is inherently insensitive and dismissive of one of the party’s most loyal constituency: African Americans. As of April 2014, there were 52,579 African-American voters within Pinellas County. Of that amount, 42,888 or 82 percent are registered Democrats.
My acceptance of this truth is based on my attempts to participate in the PCDEC; not only for the purpose of developing strategies to include minority participation but also as a candidate whom about a depth and breadth of public service experiences that yielded results.
However, after continued disrespect and exclusion by party leaders and elected officials, I finally concluded that neither my talents, nor my experience were welcomed in the PCDEC. That reality could not have become any clearer than when I too, received a disrespectful phone call in 2010 from someone in the organization.
Mark Hanisse and I explored and eventually decided upon running together as a ticket; Hanisse as Chair and me as Vice Chairperson of the local PCDEC. We talked about and strategized on our individual and collective strengths on a daily basis. After weeks of meeting with him, and with little to no explanation, the daily phone calls came to an abrupt halt. Imagine my surprise when arriving at an event hosted by Florida’s Black Legislative Caucus, that I too received the call.
The individual on the other end of the phone line, a white male, whom was very congenial, yet apologetic, explained to me that “the party was just not ready at this time to have an African American in leadership.” I was asked to consider taking a position that I would be appointed to that would afford me the opportunity to have a title. He also advised me that the party leaders had chosen to support Karen Hodgen as Vice-Chair instead.
In total disbelief, I contacted Hanisee, whom confirmed that he too received a call from various leaders within the party. According to Hanisee, he was advised that if he insisted on remaining on a ticket with me, he too would be persona non grata!
Local elections of the PCDEC in 2010 resulted in an all-white leadership team, with the exception of a young African-American male whom was recruited as the Sergeant- At-Arms. However, the picture posted of the PCDEC’s leadership team at the time was void of a photograph of that young man.
In his column, Dr. Goliath Davis alluded to Hanisee’s call being reminiscent of a directive that “Massa” would give to his slaves. In addition to Hanisee’s tone and the boldness to make such a call, as equally egregious and reminiscent of the slaves’ experiences are those African Americans either in the party or elected officials whom co-signed on Hanisee making the call as evidenced through their silence either before or after the call was made.
Dr. Davis posed the question: “Has the tent of inclusion within the Pinellas Democratic Executive Committee shrunk?” My response is a resounding YES, and in my humble opinion the tent has closed!
Mark Hanisee’s call to Rev. Sykes was merely an example of the systemic exclusion that has occurred within the party for some time. While some will certainly contest this statement and point to the one or two exceptions, the one thing we can be assured of is that those one or two African Americans that will be lifted up are the one or two who remained silent during these acts of exclusion!