Changing the Democratic Party by Electing Its New Chair


By Jim Gangitano, Volusia County State Committeeman January 2017

It Has Been Called the Most Interesting Election Since November.
I ran for election in December to be Volusia County’s new Democratic State Committeeman to bring Florida Democratic Party (FDP) resources to Volusia County and improve the FDP. Since then, my resolve to be a catalyst for FDP change has only strengthened. I am very pleased to be working with my colleague and friend, State Committeewoman Joan Lane, to advance our shared goals.

Change is needed because Democrats could be winning more elections than we are. Florida is a purple state and Volusia is a purple county. Florida Democrats went into the November election with a slight advantage in voter registration, and in Volusia County, we also went into the election with a slight registration advantage. We also have outstanding Democratic leadership and club members in Volusia County, who organized a small army of volunteers.


I understand that there is more to winning elections than having a voter registration advantage and a good “ground game.” However, these two factors show that winning in our national, statewide, and Congressional races is possible. We’ve shown that we can do it here in Volusia—we did very well in local elections in November.

Fortuitously, my election to be State Committeeman, and Joan’s reelection as State Committeewoman, occurred a little over a month before the state-wide election for FDP Chair was scheduled. If anything would create change in the direction of the FDP, it would be the election of a new FDP Chair. I began the New Year knowing that Joan and I would have the opportunity to vote, on behalf of Volusia Democrats, to select him or her. It was an honor and an opportunity that filled me with great hope and some apprehension about the importance of deciding well.

Joan and I, Democratic Executive Committee Chair Jewel Dickson, and several of the Club presidents met with the candidates for Chair as much as possible in the short period of time before the election. They came to Volusia County to talk with us. We were pleased with the quality of the candidates: Stephen Bittel, Alan Clendenin, Dwight Bullard, Leah Carius, and Lisa King. All of the candidates running for Chair were strong progressives who agreed that that change was needed. Most of them made similar points. FDP must:

    • Better support the county Democratic Executive Committees, local clubs, and grassroots Democrats.
    • Revise the rules to provide fairer representation of all counties in FDP elections and other voting matters.
    • Hire FDP staff from Florida to make sure they understand local conditions and can work with local volunteers. Make sure the staff reflect the diversity of Florida’s Democrats.
    • Sharpen our messages and quickly address misinformation from the other side. Increase our use of social media to spread the Democratic message.
    • Broaden and deepen fundraising to grow the Party and to increase the participation of small donors.
    • Work to attract more young people to the party.

With so much agreement among the candidates on what FDP should do, we needed to look at other factors to differentiate them, so we also reviewed the candidates’ management experience, fund-raising capability, and ability to inspire the members of our party.

Again, they were all very well qualified. In the end, we voted for Stephen Bittel. He received over 55% of the vote and was elected, so we were not alone in thinking that he was the best of an excellent group of candidates.

Chairman Bittel is a lifelong progressive activist and is a self-made real estate developer from Miami, who has been a major fundraiser and donor for national and Florida Democratic causes.

I came away, as did Joan, with a new sense of hope for Democrats in Florida, a sense that we had a fresh start. As I continue in the role of representing Volusia County within FDP, I look forward to hearing all of your ideas.