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Flagler’s Humiliated Democrats Try To Regroup, Only to Expose the Dysfunctions At Their Core

| November 25, 2016

Ralph Lightfoot, center, diagnosing the worst electoral season for Democrats in Flagler County's history at the All Flagler Democratic Club meeting on Nov. 23 at the Palm Coast Community Center. The audience, however, was looking for strategy. (© FlaglerLive)

Democratic Executive Committee Chairman Ralph Lightfoot, center, diagnosing the worst electoral season for Democrats in Flagler County’s history at the All Flagler Democratic Club meeting on Nov. 23 at the Palm Coast Community Center. The audience, however, was looking for strategy. (© FlaglerLive)

Two weeks after suffering their worst-ever electoral defeat in the county—a defeat that left them without a voice on the county commission, the Palm Coast City Council or in any of the county’s constitutional offices—some 60 Flagler County Democrats gathered for what turned into an autopsy on themselves.

It did not go well.

They did not lack for energy, frustration, anger, or calls for action. But a 90-minute meeting revealed a profound lack of leadership, ideas, grounding, and sense of priorities: one of the suggestions for action, quickly panned, was to send thank-you notes to Hillary Clinton. Other points of discussion got people talking about standard-issue Democratic concerns that illustrated an astounding disconnect with the catastrophic loss for being irrelevant to the party’s local survival: fracking, capital punishment, climate change, gay marriage, the minimum wage and other so-called “common-purpose activism” issues.

The Wednesday evening meeting of the relatively newly formed All Flagler Democratic Club at the Palm Coast Community Center portended an equally profound lack of a future for the local party: it has not a single named prospect to field in the 2018 local elections, when seven seats will be up on three major government boards.

The party’s disconnect—and its dysfunction—was underscored as some in the audience pressed for a focus exclusively on what went wrong, how to fix it, and what to do next to win, while others, including the club’s interim leadership, talked process and thank-you cards. The divide clanged with more alarm than organization.

“We as Democrats just got our tails handed to us in this election, and we got our tails handed to us in this election because we don’t know how to win,” Mike Cocchiola, a middle-aged man whose patience had finally run out almost an hour into the meeting, said in a booming voice. “And here we are talking about fracking. Why aren’t we talking about what we have to do to win, OK? If we’re going to sit here or stand here and look backwards at all the things we did instead of looking at the things we didn’t do to win, we’re going to lose again. It’s time for Democrats in this area, this room here, to get tough. To get mad and stay mad. To find a way to win. We ought not to be talking about fracking. We have to talk about what it’s going to take to win the next election, starting now.”

“We are working tirelessly to figure out what the hell went wrong in Flagler County,” Sheila Zinkerman, the club’s acting president, said in a smaller voice from her head table.

“Well, we ought to talk about it here,” Cocchiola said.

“It’s not on our agenda today,” Zinkerman said.

“That should be the only agenda,” he retorted.

Another participant was more blunt: “We’re headed to a pretty big shit-show,” Kendall Clark said.

Sheila Zinkerman, the club's acting president, Wednesday evening. The thumbs-up was premature. (© FlaglerLive)

Sheila Zinkerman, the club’s acting president, Wednesday evening. The thumbs-up was premature. (© FlaglerLive)

The meeting’s “standard order of business” done with, Zinkerman had no choice but to let the discussion turn to an autopsy, particularly as Democratic Executive Committee chief Ralph Lightfoot had framed it with his own analysis of what had gone wrong. But that analysis, too, seemed discordant with the results.

“People think we’re tremendously outnumbered here, and that’s just not the case,” Lightfoot said. Evidence suggests otherwise.

Aside from stocking precincts with captains, an initiative Lightfoot himself had said in an interview months ago was being done, the party appears to have no strategy on how to reverse the largest registration deficit it’s faced in the county, with Republicans continually adding to a now-6,300-voter lead that just six years ago was a Democratic lead of 1,000 voters. The lead was lost in April 2012. At this rate, Democrats risk having minority-party status in Flagler, behind Republicans and independent. The gap between Democrats and Republicans is larger than it is between independents and Democrats.

Lightfoot, Zinkerman and Diana LeBrun, who’s in charge of building the club’s membership, all said that Democrats did not lose because of what the local party did on their behalf.

“On Nov. 8 we suffered a tremendous loss not only nationally but locally,” LeBrun said. “I can say it was not because we were not involved. We phone-banked, we door-knocked, we did everything we should have done.”

A gaping divide between those who want to win and those still speaking the language of lost causes.

Again, that’s not what the evidence showed, at least not to the extent that Democrats did all they should have done: In this election cycle, long-time Democrats Barbara Revels and George Hanns lost their re-election bids for the county commission, two-time Democratic Sheriff Jim Manfre lost, Democrats Adam Morley and Curtis Ceballos lost their respective races for the state House and Senate, Democrat Doug Courtney lost his nth bid for office, this time for clerk of court, three Democrats who ran for Palm Coast City Council all lost, Jason DeLorenzo, who left the council to run for the county commission, lost, Myra Middleton Valentine, running for a school board seat, lost, and Democrats didn’t bother fielding a single candidate for Supervisor of Elections, Tax Collector or Property Appraiser. Donald Trump won the county with the largest margin of any Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1984. (At Flagler polling sites during early voting and on Election Day, Republican volunteers were positioned to hand out voters crib sheets of who to vote for, with every Republican candidate named, and none of the Democrats. The Democrats barely had volunteers, and no opposing crib sheets.)

There’s no question that the Republican-Trump sweep played a role in getting Republicans elected, but it was neither a disproportionate role nor the result of anything like an inevitable landslide—not in an election in which the Democratic presidential candidate still managed to poll at least 2 million votes more than Trump.  Rather, analysts have been attributing Clinton’s loss in large part to a combination of factors that had little to do with Trump or Republicans, or even with Clinton’s flaws, and everything to do with Democratic presumptions: taking a base for granted, lacking a message to get excited about, and assuming that the much-vaunted get-out-the-vote machinery that even Lightfoot touted Wednesday evening would help its candidates prevail.

“We labored for many, many months, canvassing, phone-calling, we had rallies,” Zinkerman said. “We were on the streets a lot along with the [Democratic Executive Committee] and their coordinated campaign,” stuffing 4,500 bags and door-hangers with local candidates’ campaign materials. Zinkerman brandished one of the bags with a smile, a gesture more wan than triumphal.

merill shapiro

Merrill Shapiro created the club as an energizing organ for local Democrats. He was not at the meeting Wednesday, having had to turn over the reins because of his numerous other commitments. (© FlaglerLive)

Someone in the audience spoke of the flood of fake news that distorted the facts, though that, too, has been an exaggerated scapegoat that masks every election’s version of the same distortions, which campaigns either successfully counter or fail to detect and counter in time: Barack Obama successfully countered the whisper campaign about his alleged Muslim or African birth, Bill Clinton successfully fought off numerous “bimbo eruptions” (in the immortal words of Betsey Wright, Bill Clinton’s deputy campaign chairman in 1992). On the other hand, John Kerry in 2004 was unsuccessful against the utterly false but successful Swiftboat campaign designed to discredit his valorous service in Vietnam, just as Michael Dukakis, in a 1988 campaign almost as bitter and distasteful as the last one, was incapable of countering the first Bush campaign’s racist innuendoes or its portrayal –as effective as it was inaccurate—of Dukakis as a sissy. The fake-news phenomenon was real and toxic, but not insurmountable. Rather, Democrats had no response for it, once again letting assumptions or presumptions–that truth would win out on its own–supplant strategy.

So when an organizer pleaded at the All Flagler Democratic Club for all to “educate, organize and mobilize,” the exhortation sounded more like another slogan than anything resembling the necessary kind of strategy many of those in attendance had come to hear.

Himself frustrated from the criticism he was hearing from some of the people in the audience, Lightfood snapped: “If you knew how to win the election, why didn’t you tell me six months ago?”

But aside from stating the obvious—“we need to increase voter registration and we need to increase turnout”–he had no new ideas or solutions so much as a repeated diagnosis of what went wrong: “The last election was something nobody saw coming, especially in this county,” Lightfoot said.

Too many young people are registering as independents he said. “That’s the population we have to go after.” How? He didn’t say.

A lawyer attending the meeting pointed out accurately that there was not a single millennial in the audience, which had the near-exact demographics, if not quite the skin tones, of a tea party meeting: most were on Medicare. He also questioned why the group hadn’t solicited the local Democratic millennials, who have their own club.

“What do we do going forward? We can quit and do nothing,” Lightfoot said. “Or we can fight back.” How? He didn’t say, other than urging people to “get involved.”

That’s what many of those in attendance wanted to do Wednesday, but many felt bottled-up by the lack of direction, to the point that some later grumbled about creating a separate, more aggressive organization aimed more narrowly at fulfilling the Cocchiola approach. Ironically, that’s how the now-defunct Ronald Reagan Republican Assemblies of Flagler County, the radical group that fielded  many candidates and helped elect two of them in 2014, had come into existence—as a frustrated reaction against the established local Republican structure.

In a one-party county, the only fight left for Republicans is in-fighting, a luxury Democrats cannot necessarily afford if they are to find candidates willing to run, let alone win a single seat in the next few elections.

By the time the meeting broke up, that prospect looked even dimmer than when the club convened. Merrill Shapiro, the founder of the All Flagler Democratic Club—and FlaglerLive’s board chairman—had after all created it as an offshoot to what was in the past perceived as an ineffective Democratic Executive Committee. Shapiro’s creation appeared to be heading for the very same fate it was designed to counter.

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37 Responses for “Flagler’s Humiliated Democrats Try To Regroup, Only to Expose the Dysfunctions At Their Core”

  1. Wishful thinking says:

    Quick solution! DUMP the DEMS and join Ranks with the Republicans. Barbara Revels would have cleaned up all the way if she was Republican. My closest friend admitted to me she voted straight party line Republican. Only other salvation amend the county charter to become Home rule and make all local offices non- partisan- do away with elected sheriff and hire well experienced law enforcement applicant.
    The dems has no chance in Flagler County because we showed how much we are tired of the entire mess

  2. Flagler Parent says:

    I agree with home rule and non-partisan row officers.

  3. Heather says:

    Door knocking, phone banking, yard signs all require fundraising. No one should be running a political party who hasn’t raised money. Clubs and local parties generate the buzz for candidates. And buzz is expensive.

    They don’t solve fracking. They don’t stop Russian propoganda.

    They groom candidates. They recruit candidates. They get voters excited about those candidates. They raise money to support candidates. And they mobilize members to make sure voters vote for their candidates.

    Any else is activity not progress.

  4. Layla says:

    This isn’t a local problem, it was a national problem. And the result was that people voted a straight ticket in the other direction…it really is that simple. The people need jobs and they are tired of Obama’s forced illegal invasion of this country. He overreached.

    Neither party stands for the people anymore. We hired somebody to fix that. Put your anger away. That is why you lost. Concentrate on the things which made you great in years past. Socialism is not wanted in this country. We want to be great again, not divided, angry and demonstrating. Shoot for that and see what happens.

  5. Steve says:

    As a registered Democrat I can say that I did not receive even one phone call from a democratic candidate in this election.
    No wonder they lost. There was no presence at all in flagler beach by the democrats.

  6. anon says:

    First, it’s the economy And second, it was Hillary.

    I don’t know if I would have voted for Trump or any other Republican candidate if Clinton wasn’t the candidate. I probably would have voted third party. But I wasn’t going to vote for HIllary or vote for someone who would help her.

    Then again, this is the way the country usually goes. Every eight years (with the exceptions of Carter and the first Bush) we alternate the party of the president.

  7. Anonymous says:

    To win ever again on a national level, Democrats need to move to the right and basically become more conservative. Listen to the working taxpaying voter who is paying for every purchase and program these Washington Bureaucrats dream up. They have just spoken their mind in this election, by electing a president they are not as proud of as they would like to be, because of having to overlook all of his inflammatory comments. Every working taxpaying voter becomes more conservative when it is he who has to pay the bill so he will vote conservatively. THERE’S YOU SIGN!

  8. Diana L says:

    I personally spent 6 hours in Flagler Beach knocking on doors getting out the vote. I know others canvassed in Flagler Beach, also.

  9. Knightwatch says:

    Democrats can win and will win. It’s time to let go of the past, let go of Hillary and President Obama. We need to (1), quickly assess what we did, and didn’t do right, in this past election; (2), focus on what’s important to Flagler County over the next two years; (3) develop and expound simple, understandable and achievable goals for our party and Flagler County; (4), target upcoming local races and recruit good solid candidates; (5), focus our entire energy on raising money, getting our message out and getting these candidates elected.

    That’s it. In between, we make the All Flagler Democratic Club a “must belong” home for all local Democrats, and we become a real force in this community.

    Come to the next All Flagler Democratic Club meeting. I believe it’s on Dec. 20th. Join the Club. Then come vote for action (new officers) on January 17th. The future of the Democratic party in Flagler County is at stake. If you care, join and vote.

  10. Knightwatch says:

    Layla, you “hired” a serial sexual predator, a xenophobic, narcissistic sociopath. Oh, yeah, all the vile promises he made that appealed to you… he can’t do them. We’re not going take away health insurance from 20 million Americans, we’re not going to restart coal mines, we’re not going to hunt down and deport 11 million unregistered immigrants, we’re not going to tag and track American Muslims, nor will we ban Muslim immigrants, we’re not going to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS or kill their families, we’re not going to take Iraq’s oil fields, and we’re not going to start global trade wars.

    I know how disappointed you are.

  11. DRedder says:

    I know more than a few Democrats who crossed party lines to vote. Thier reasons, the Democrats are old and corrupt. Opposed term limits, had no ideas how to create jobs , want to push entitlements in exchange for minority votes, instead of putting folks to work, they saw that they wasted thier prior vote on Obama and his failed policies both here and abroad. They felt overwhelmed that Clinton would offer more failure and those across the Democratic ticket would do the same. They were able to sift through the Leftest propaganda and see that they had nothing to loose by voting Republican.

  12. PCer says:

    The Dems need to connect with Millennials and Gen Xers. They are currently relating to the more liberal and progressive issues of the party. But Dems can’t scare them away. Focus on real solutions to real problems… affordable education, jobs for everyone (not everyone needs to be a college grad or prepped for college), affordable health care, safe affordable housing for young families, childcare, more grants for small startups and less subsidies to big corps, This meeting was a joke, find ways to get more young blood involved. LISTEN to what they want and need, stop telling them what they want and need. FOCUS on local stuff, start with the problems at home… housing, jobs, local environment, small businesses, ridiculous red tape foe start ups and building. Lastly, stay mad and stay impassioned. DO NOT SETTLE!!!

  13. Layla says:

    @knightwatch, I can never be more disappointed than I was in Pres. Obama.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Thumb up Knightwatch! All Flagler Democratic Club will work with the Democratic Executive Committee to formulate a strategic plan for the 2018 election. I will submit your 5 point Action Plan to our committee. Thank you for listing #5. Without #5, there is no #4-3-2-1.
    Sheila Zinkerman, “Thumb Up” Acting President
    All Flagler Democratic Club
    Next Meeting
    12/20 Palm Coast Community Center
    7:00-8:30 PM

  15. Sheila Zinkerman says:

    Thumb Up Knightwatch. All Flagler Democratic Club will work with Democratic Executive Committee to develop a strategic plan for the 2018 election. I will submit your 5 point plan to our committee. Thank you for including #5. Without #5 there is no #4-3-2-1.
    Sheila Zinkerman, “Thumb Up” Acting President
    All Flagler Democratic Club
    Next meeting:
    12/20 Palm Coast Community Center
    7:00 PM – 8:30 PM

  16. AL says:

    Hillary won an overwhelming popular vote, but not in Florida. Florida still has a significant number of registered Democrats who are not really Democrats. Usually they don’t vote in large numbers. But Trump brought them out of the woodwork. They voted straight Republican, with little knowledge of who they were voting for beyond Trump. If a sexual predator and adulterer can win in Florida, there is little Democrats could have done. Even some of the local Dems running for office got on the Trump bandwagon.

    Move on from here and forget about what went wrong. Trump is already doing enough “wrong” as President-elect.. Fight back. Comments to the editor, Twitter, Facebook and other social media are there for the taking. Don’t go to sleep until 2018. There are enough issues that are important to everyone that Dems can take on and fracking isn’t one of them The whole damned state is going to flood over. Better to concentrate on destruction of the environment, something Floridians feel deeply about. If you happen to have a personal agenda that is important to you, act on it. But don’t force it down the throat of the local party. The economy and education are important. There are enough issues that we all care about. Let’s concentrate on these..

  17. Fredrick says:

    Perhaps the Democrats need to start teaching people to fish instead of handing them fish. How about stop calling everyone who voted against your corrupt, lying, thieving candidate a racist, homophobic, misogynist. Accept the fact that we voted against your candidate not necessarily for what we got. Stop adding 25 million people to a health care system without adding the doctors, nurses and infrastructure .to support them. How about stopping people from coming into the country illegally and then we worry about what we do with those that have been here for years. People are tired of the overreach that Obama has made. They are rejecting what he has done. Don’t worry we will all survive 4 years of Trump. If we can survive 8 of Obama’s disaster nothing can stop us.

  18. Blessed says:

    Knightwatch I could list the many ways your candidate was less than perfect, but I don’t have to. The millions of informed voters, who are tired of the name calling, personal bash fest on the taxpayers dole, and making sure to invest heavily into cronyism, and foreign interests. We have had it with status quo politicians, and time for something different. Like it or not, things will change.

  19. W.Ryan says:

    The Dems were in full force during the election. They knocked on my door. What we’ve failed to understand is that the messaging is wrong. Also we had stellar candidates but unfortunately at a bad time with the blow-back from 8yrs of Obama and the A-plus messaging job on Hillary these past 25 yrs. Watch Oliver Stone’s “The Untold History of the United States” and you will see what I’m talking about. It’s about framing the idea/story/argument correctly. It’s also about having the same unified front and sticking to it. ” Love Trumps Hate was a double negative. Reminding everyone about Trump and two unrelatable words like love and hate. WTF – make love not war???

  20. Sheila Zinkerman says:

    I am the Acting President of All Flagler Democratic Club. Our Club follows the Order of the Day (Agenda.) Any deviation requires suspending the rules. Our Agenda on 11/22/16 did not include a line item with Flagler County Democratic Long Range Strategic Planning. It appears some attendees hoped it would. Therefore the issue should not have been brought up or discussed by attendees. But it made for a good story. Note to Self: I need a larger gavel.

    Ralph Lightfoot, Chair of the Democratic Executive Committee was on the Agenda to give a report on committee activity. He was our guest and he gave his report. He was not there to discuss Long Range Strategic Planning since it was not on the Agenda. Spoiler Alert: DEMS are working on Long Range Strategic Planning.

    By the way – all the hoop-la about fracking – that was a 3.5-4.0 minute exchange by a steering committee member who was following our Agenda rules and discussing fracking with an attentive, engaged attendee. Thumb Up! Looking forward to our next meeting 12/20/16 Community Center 7:00 – 8:30 PM.

  21. Knightwatch says:

    Well, DRedder, we lost, so I can’t argue. But, we’ll be back!

  22. Edith Campins says:

    We will regroup and we will win again. No we are not old and corrupt, you must have us confused with the Republicans.

    Trump has already backtracked on many of his lies and regardless of how Trumpians blather on about “fake news”, he will show himself to be the egocentric, incompetent that he is. He has surrounded himself with people loyal to him, not our country.

    Where is his health plan?
    What will you do when your Medicare “voucher” doesn’t cover the cost of your healthcare?
    How do you fel about a “fence”, not a wall? (He doesn’t know it is already there)
    Don’t you feel stupid after chanting ” lock her up” and now he “decides” not to go after Hilary?
    How abou his new found liking for Obamacare?
    Are you part of his white supremacist support force?
    How about gay marriage?
    How do you like his children running the White House?
    And on and on.

  23. Melissa says:

    Recommend adding what-went-wrong to next meeting’s agenda. The statement that “we did everything we could” is obviously flawed. More can be done.

    Suggest gathering with NPA/Independents. The Democrats have long had the issue of not finding cohesive ground together due to a wide variety of social issues. The Reps drive a straight line that their followers buy into with blind faith. Dems need to expand the canvas and show up in large numbers to be heard, seen and persuade.

  24. Steve says:

    Knightwatch, don’t think the dems will be back. The dems and liberals already ruined it for themselves and don’t have a clue as to how to handle Trump. Four years from now, I don’t even think there will be a democratric party and if there still is, they won’t have any power, they way they don’t now.

  25. Steve says:

    Edith, see my comment to Knightwatch. Trump isnt even in the WH yet and you are complaining about his performance. GIVE THE GUY A CHANCE. If you had a business and hired someone who hasn’t started to work yet, would you criticize his performance? Stop it and let him do his job. Criticize in four years, not now.

  26. AL says:

    Sheila Zinkerman,

    “Under no circumstances should “undue strictness” be allowed to intimidate members or limit full participation. ”

  27. Flagler Democrat says:

    The club needs to be organized to get going–before it can have agenda items and mark them off. It also definitely needs new blood. People need to get involved, from all sections of the county. If you’re a Democrat and you’re reading this, and you’re worried about what this means for 2018, then join it. Get involved. Shake things up.

  28. Layla says:

    Well, apparently no lessons learned in this election… The hate marches on.

  29. Chris says:

    I did volunteer work for the Trump campaign and I will tell you that the technology behind it is amazing! Looks like her friends in Silicon Valley kind of let her down. We really worked much harder than the Democrats. Personally, I love the cockiness and arrogance the Democrats displayed pre-election. It helped put them where they are today. There is such a thing as Karma, after all. It’s a new day!

  30. Makeitso1701 says:

    Democrats did everything they could, and the results should have been different.Maybe the Chumpster was right when he said the system is rigged, only it was rigged to benefit him.

  31. DaveT says:

    Is now written in the press. “”Only to Expose the Dysfunctions At Their Core”.
    So we had the Democrat Dysfunctional’s vs the Deplorable’s. And look whom lost.

  32. William Moya says:

    Hey, guys get a grip, in any other true democracy Clinton would be president. During a period of the last 6 years I went from a neo-con to a liberal/progressive and by default a Democrat, let’s take the fight to the fascists and not try to emulate their “Let’s make America white again!”.

  33. JimB says:

    WOW… what a bunch of butthurt liberals. You lost because you had bad candidates, it’s just that simple. The people of our country have had enough of the loser Democrats that can’t and don’t solve problems.
    As for Trump winning… in the words of your illustrious Nancy Pelosi when Obama won… “HE WON, GET OVER IT”.

  34. the truth says:

    the problem is that Democrats cater to intelligent people and we are becoming a more and more uneducated and ignorant society. 90% of the comments posted here continue on falsehoods and propaganda this is accepted as fact- truth no longer exists to those in charge.

  35. the truth says:

    republicans destroy the country and american values and blame it on the democrats, they control the media so people believe the propaganda. whats so hard to understand?

  36. Chris says:

    Glad to see that you are so superior. Yet, you were utterly defeated across the country and it happened in part because of your own arrogance. Must be humbling to be trounced by such deplorables. It’s a new day. Get used to it.

  37. Cs says:

    During the whole year I often talked to republicans who did not like any of the Republican selections but would voted for Bernie Sanders over Hillary. Too bad the local democratic club didn’t push more for him and his programs which would have saved these United States over several trillion within a decade. He was the only truly viable one against trump. Too many people disliked clinton, especially on the Republican side.

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