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Date of Issue: March 12, 2008

Island Democratic Club turns 15

The Anna Maria Island Democratic Club is engaged in a campaign this election year.

The campaign involves welcoming newly registered Democrats in Manatee County. The voters might be new to the area or new to the party, and they receive an enthusiastic “hello” from Anna Maria Island.

“We are very proud of the work this club is doing in contacting newly registered Democrats in the county, finding interesting and thought-provoking speakers for their monthly meetings and helping out the local party,” said Vicki Waters, executive director of the Manatee Democratic Party.

“We thought it was an important thing to do,” said club president Dale de Haan.

The Island club will mark its 15th year with a party at 5:30 p.m. Monday, March 17, at the BeachHouse Restaurant, 200 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach.

The location of the celebration is also the meeting place for club members, who gather on the third Monday of the month for lunch, debate and a speaker.

The location also is owned by Islander Ed Chiles, whom members agree was instrumental in the formation of the club as an advisor.

Chiles remains active in local Democratic politics, including serving as treasurer of Christine Jennings’ campaign for U.S. Congress. She is planning to again run against incumbent Republican Vern Buchanan.

“It’s Vern and I headed to the finish line,” Jennings said last week, adding that the campaign is going well.

Jennings frequently attends the Island club’s lunches as a member and plans to attend the anniversary celebration, along with other Democratic candidates and officeholders.

“The clubs play a huge role in helping a candidate,” Jennings said. “So many members contribute to you. They host meet-and-greets in their homes for two purposes - to meet knew voters and to raise money. Many members are also precinct captains. So they are constantly out there working for you, getting votes on your behalf. The club support is huge.”

Over the years, a number of people have served on the club board and these officers and founders also will be recognized at the anniversary party, de Haan said.

When de Haan began his seasonal stays on Anna Maria Island in the 1970s, the area was considered a “Democratic stronghold.”

The partisan power shifted in the 1980s, with influence of Ronald Reagan in the White House and the rise of the “Reagan Democrat.”

“All during the 1980s everything kind of deteriorated for the Democrats, not just here but statewide,” said de Haan, who has served as an aide to three Kennedys. “Forty years ago, I was working for Robert Kennedy at this point,” he noted.

Democratic organizers were talking about a comeback by the early-1990s, but at the local, state and national level, the party continued to struggle. In 1994, the GOP captured Congress with Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America campaign.

“People kind of forget the climate,” de Haan said. “But it was in that context that the club really came together.”

Early club participants included Holmes Beach City Commissioner Pat Geyer, Frankie Smith Williams, Bob and Mary Ann Jones, Harriet Jenkins and Wilma Warren and her late husband, Bill.

Warren remembered an Island club that came before the current organization. “But it really got started up again in 1992, 1993,” she said. “My husband, probably the greatest Democrat I’ve ever known, was dedicated to it and the Island club has a special place in my heart.”

Over the years the club grew “by leaps and bounds and became a great group,” Warren said.

“It’s become such a strong club that I joined it and I don’t live on the Island,” said Manatee County Executive Committee vice chair Mitch Mallett.

During the summer months, the club meetings may draw about 60 people. During the winter months, more than 100 people typically attend meetings.

The club’s membership - consisting of those who pay dues of $15 a year - is about 100 people, according to de Haan.

The club’s current officers include de Haan, Geyer, Warren, Harry Kamberis, Nancy Ambrose, Sue Maddox, Ernest Clay, Sue Dickie, Bill McGrath, Francine Slack and David Zaccagnino.

“When you get down to the local level, the club plays a very important role. The club stands for outreach and we are very open - anyone is welcome, even Republicans,” de Haan offered with a smile. “Today, here in Manatee County, on the Island, we are rather organized. We stress the issues. We have the precincts covered. We make a lot of telephone calls.”

“It’s a very active club,” Mallett said. “They do fundraising for our executive committee and for Democratic candidates. They provide a pool of volunteers to go out and put up signs and man the phones. They are very important to us.”