Palm Beach County Commissioner Shelley Vana, who got only 29.7 percent Tuesday in the nonpartisan race for county property appraiser, has left the Democratic Party because local party leaders didn’t weigh in against a write-in candidate whose entrance shifted the date of the election.
Vana signed paperwork Thursday to switch her voter registration from Democrat to no party affiliation. Her county commission term runs through November.
Vana lost Tuesday to Dorothy Jacks, the deputy appraiser under longtime incumbent Gary Nikolits. Jacks is also a registered Democrat. The nonpartisan race would have been held in November if Vana and Jacks were the only candidates. But Nikolits recruited his friend Charles Stahman to run as a write-in. Because the race had three candidates, the Palm Beach County Charter required it to coincide with the lower-turnout primary.
Vana today said party leaders should have spoken out against the write-in ploy because Stahman resigned from the appraiser&8217;s office in 1994 after being accused of making a racially insensitive remark to a co-worker. Stahman was rehired in 1995 — with a two-thirds cut in pay &8212; and took a daylong sensitivity training class. He has since retired.
&8220;Of all the 1.4 million people in Palm Beach County, they couldn’t have found a different one to run in this race? Really? Maybe the man has reformed, but it’s out there,&8221; Vana said. &8220;The party should have stood up and said we really don’t agree with this.&8221;
Vana said the write-in flap was merely the last straw for her in her dealings with the county Democratic Party. She said the party should have come to her defense when she was attacked for voting to put a sales tax increase on the November ballot &8212; a position the party supported. And she said she got harsh criticism from unions and some party activists for not supporting a union-backed &8220;wage theft&8221; proposal.
In a Facebook post that was making the rounds at Thursday night&8217;s county Democratic Party meeting, Vana wrote: &8220;For those of you who have heard that I left the Democrat Party, that is true. However, in actuality the party left me.&8221;
Vana wrote that Democratic Party leaders &8220;all remained silent. I must believe this relationship with Stahman and his use by Dorothy&8217;s campaign was sanctioned by the Party many of whom continued to support Dorothy in spite of their knowledge. I am a person who is passionate about the ideals the Party has said it stands for. I now know that to many of our leaders, the ideals are merely words designed to placate. I still believe in the ideals, just not the Democratic Party.&8221;
Vana, a former president of the county teachers union and a former state House member, said she&8217;ll &8220;probably&8221; vote for Hillary Clinton in November &8220;because I don&8217;t think the alternative is good.&8221;
Vana said she made thousands of phone calls to voters during her run for appraiser and &8220;the disgust with which they talked about the presidential campaign was really disheartening. They were really distraught over what was going on on the national level and they weren’t happy with either candidate.&8221;