ST. PETERSBURG — More than four weeks have passed since Pinellas Democratic Party Chairman Mark Hanisee left his shameful phone message for the Rev. Emanuel Sykes prompting me to pose the question: “Is the democratic party’s big tent shrinking?” Members of the print and electronic media have reported widely on Hanisee’s actions and without fail, readers and viewers agree Chairman Hanisee’s behavior was inappropriate. By all accounts, the issue is not dead.
As of this writing, I still have not received a return phone call from Chair Hanisee and more importantly, he has not apologized for his behavior. Effective leadership demands common courtesy and more political acumen than Hanisee has displayed. Maria Scruggs shared her experiences with Hanisee and the Pinellas Democratic Party revealing Rev. Sykes’ experience is not an isolated one and the Party’s tent is not shrinking but closed.
A cadre of elected democrats admonished Hanisee for his behavior. County Commissioner Charlie Justice called for a “full throated apology” and city council members Wengay Newton and Amy Foster continue to respond appropriately.
I am told Hanisee does not believe his behavior was inappropriate. This speaks to a larger fundamental problem with the party and Hanisee’s leadership.
I think we have long passed the point of apology. Hanisee’s arrogance and insensitivity warrants a leadership change. I think it is time for our elected African-American officials, State Representative Darryl Rouson, County Commissioner Ken Welch and School Board Member Renee Flowers to initiate actions for Hanisee’s removal. Some ask whether or not their position in the party is sufficient to allow them to invoke the necessary procedures. One must not forget they are also elected and have constituent responsibilities.
The insensitivity and arrogance of the county organization is exacerbated by the silence at both the state and national levels. I submit it is not wise to continue to take the African-American vote for granted. The recent assault on affirmative action by the highest court in the land, the recorded ranting of basketball owner Sterling and the utterance of racial slurs toward President Obama by a police official all suggest the party at all levels (county, state, national) need to abandon its tendency to assume African Americans are happy with the current state of affairs and will vote in sufficient numbers to make a difference.
While many may not vote for Republican candidates, many are starting to question the wisdom of voting at all. Perhaps Ms. Scruggs is right—the tent has closed in Pinellas specifically, and party wide given the complacency at the State and National levels regarding Hanisee’s behavior. If not addressed, this issue will surely find its way to the upcoming campaign trail.