Updated: Nov 10
The dinner also brings in over $47,000 for Pinellas party’s grass-roots efforts to win in 2024
By Kurt Loft
The shoutout is clear: Stick to a long-term plan and a winning message.
These words echoed through the room during the Truth & Justice fundraiser for the Pinellas County Democratic Party at the Carillon Park Hilton in St. Petersburg, where about 300 people listened to politicians ramping up for the big fight of 2024. The event raised over $47,000 in cash and pledges for the local party.
The conversations were often passionate, as Democratic leaders urged unity − and tenacity − to avoid putting America in peril a year from now. The emphasis wasn’t just the possibility of an agent of chaos returning to the White House, but the need for strength on the local level, of boots on the ground in Pinellas County.
“Republicans have controlled Florida on the executive level for more than 20 years, and I don't know about you, but I’m over it,’’ said former St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman. “Republicans have put their interests over the people of Florida and instead of serving them, they serve themselves and those who line their pocketbooks.’’
Kriseman put pressure squarely on Democrats, saying they need to hone their swords if they hope to combat the Republican party’s onslaught of lies, fraud and indifference to basic human rights.
“The lack of messaging and party cohesiveness have cost us, and it must end if we are to save our state,’’ he added. “We haven’t been clear enough in our words that most Republicans refuse to address the issues that affect everyone in Florida.’’
State Representative Anna Eskamani of Orlando followed with an animated plea for building a bigger “we’’ as Democrats, and Congresswoman Kathy Castor stressed how Republicans are incrementally and shamelessly “rolling back the rights and freedoms’’ of Americans. But the answer to the challenge, she said, “is not about agonizing, it’s about organizing.’’ Castor also emphasized the importance of supporting our military and its veterans – an inconsistent theme among Republican leaders − and asked those in the audience who served their country to stand and be acknowledged.
Congressman Maxwell Frost took the stage next and talked about the dysfunction of the House of Representatives and its members’ inability to even agree with one another. He said it’s time for voters to choose their politicians, and not the other way around.
“We have to assess the battlefield and be honest about what’s going on in our state and what it will take to win,’’ Frost said. “We have a Republican-led state legislature that conducts bigoted, unethical gerrymandering, and they thrive in the ambiguity of politics. That’s why our governor uses words we don’t understand, like ‘culture wars’ and ‘woke,’ and signed a ban on abortion in the dead of night behind closed doors because he knows people don’t want his radical agenda.’’
Florida is not a red state, Frost added: “It’s an under-organized state. Our job as Democrats is to connect the policy that we believe is right for the people we are fighting for and sticking to it.’’
The evening’s organizers honored former Pinellas County School Board member Linda Lerner with the Morganstein Lifetime Achievement Award. She agreed with her colleagues in a need for more direct, impactful language in every Democratic campaign.
“I’m an optimist, but it’s been hard lately,’’ she said. “Our effort will take a lot of optimism − and a message people can understand.’’