With the race for Florida Democratic Party chair less than two weeks away, activists are fighting over who is eligible to remain in the running.
An activist filed a challenge with the party alleging that Alan Clendenin, who moved counties to keep his chair bid alive, is ineligible to run. When Clendenin lost a race for state committeeman in Hillsborough, he then rented a mobile home in Bradford County and won a similar position there.
Patricia Byrd, a state committeewoman in Bay County, wrote in the Dec. 30 complaint that Clendenin has homestead exemptions in Hillsborough and Manatee counties and doesn't actually live in Bradford.
"It appears that Mr. Clendenin has disengenuously played a shell game with residences and homestead exemptions in total violation of state election laws and state homestead laws for the sole purpose of positioning himself to be eligible to run for the state party chairman," Byrd wrote. "However, despite his best efforts, it is clear that he was not, and is not, a resident of Bradford County."
Clendenin called the complaint "petty gamesmanship."
Property records show that Clendenin and John Pecchio are co-owners of the two homesteaded properties. Clendenin said he takes the homestead exemption on the Tampa home and Pecchio, his partner, takes it on the Manatee home.
Scott Tussing, director of public service and exemptions for Manatee County, confirmed that Pecchio is the only one who has the homestead exemption for the Manatee property and Clendenin has it for the Hillsborough county. (If they were a married couple, the situation would be different and then only one home could be homesteaded. The couple is not married.)
Richard Boylan, chair of the party's rules committee, said he hadn't yet received the complaint.
Clendenin wasn't the only candidate to move counties in the hopes of keeping his candidacy alive.
Former state Sen. Dwight Bullard moved to Gadsden County where he won a state committeeman position after he lost a similar election in Miami-Dade to Coconut Grove developer/donor Stephen Bittel. Voter registration records show that on Dec. 27th Bullard changed his address for voting purposes to 36 Lanier Lane, Gretna but listed his address in Miami-Dade for mailing purposes. The Gretna address doesn't exist in records on the Gadsden property appraiser website. Bullard, a teacher at Coral Reef Senior High in Miami, hasn't responded to text messages or an email about his move.
Winning a county position is a requirement to run for chair. In addition to Clendenin, Bullard and Bittel, Duval County's Lisa King and Osceola County Democratic Chair Leah Carius are also running.
All five candidates will appear at a forum in Pompano Beach Jan. 11th and they face off in the election Orlando Jan. 14th.
This blog has been updated with comments from the Manatee County property appraiser's office.