Nov. 20–After a disastrous election season, the Republican parties in Broward and Palm Beach counties are both looking for new leadership.
Chairman Richard DeNapoli said Monday he won’t seek a second term running the Broward Republican party, and his deputy, vice chairwoman Colleen Stolberg, also won’t run again. Their decisions follow similar announcements by Palm Beach County Republican Chairman Sid Dinerstein and vice chairwoman Margi Helschien.
The departing party chiefs both said family or business obligations were the motivating factors — not the 2012 election blowout in which Republicans lost all the hotly contested local races including the congressional defeats of Adam Hasner and U.S. Rep. Allen West, the ouster of state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, and the stunning defeat of Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti.
DeNapoli, who served two years in the Broward job, billed his decision as the result of a career move that will take him out of the area. Dinerstein said it was time for a change after serving 10 years in the Palm Beach County post.
“My wife and I had this discussion for two years. And Richard has a wife that he didn’t have two years ago and a baby he didn’t have six months ago,” Dinerstein said.
Despite the series of losses on Election Day, DeNapoli said party members made many phone calls, knocked on doors, prepared palm cards for voters and sent out mailers. Dinerstein said 2012 wasn’t as bad as it looks. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney performed better in South Florida than John McCain in 2008.
Romney did 9 percent better in Palm Beach County and 3 percent better in Broward compared to McCain in 2008. Statewide, Romney received 3 percent more votes than McCain.
Still, Helschien said, “we lost everything.” She said she never planned to serve longer than one term and is taking on a new role as president of the Independent Conservative Action Network, a national group.
Leading the county party isn’t easy in Broward, where Republicans are 23 percent of the registered voters or in Palm Beach County, where they’re just 29 percent.
“They’re unpaid. All people do is holler at you. You don’t get credit when you win. You just get blamed when you lose,” said Kevin Hill, a political science professor at Florida International University.
Still, there’s no shortage of candidates.
In Broward, two candidates announced their intentions within hours of DeNapoli’s decision. Karen Harrington, who’s twice lost her attempts to unseat U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, is seeking the post.
Another candidate is Rico Petrocelli. The former Plantation councilman and current member of the Broward County Housing Authority is the party executive director, hired by DeNapoli. “I really believe I can bring consensus without division,” Petrocelli said.
DeNapoli can have a big impact on the next chairman. It’s up to him to decide when in December the election will take place. And on Monday he said he hasn’t made up his mind when he’ll schedule the vote.
In Palm Beach County, at least five Republicans are being talked about as potential candidates for chairman.
Ira Sabin, the party treasurer, is already in the running. Other possible candidates are Tami Donnally, who twice lost campaigns for state representative; Marie Hope Davis, president of the Palm Beach Republican Club; Joe Budd, who’s unsuccessfully run for Congress; and Linda Gore, a Republican club leader.
Dinerstein said his successor would be elected on Dec. 12.
The outgoing chairmen said Republicans shouldn’t despair.
“This year’s elections were not a defeat of our core Republican principles. If Republicans nationally can articulate an optimistic vision for our country’s future that appeals to people across all walks of life, we will see future successes at the polls,” DeNapoli said by email.
Dinerstein said this year’s loses don’t signal long-term problems for South Florida Republicans. “Two years from now, we’ll be back.”
Harrington and Petrocelli pitch their candidacies at SunSentinel.com/BrowardPolitics.