It’s time Florida Democrats stopped blowing off outspoken, pot-stirring Leslie Wimes as a “Republican plant” and started recognizing her as the savant they’ve been waiting for.
For the past three years Wimes, founder of the Democratic African American Woman’s Caucus, has been getting up Dems’ noses by spreading a single message: the path to victory is through energizing African-American communities.
Never mind that she writes occasional — admittedly, biting — columns for right-of-center Sunshine State News. She is a Democrat through and through — even showed up in Orlando to vote during the FDP central committee meeting and casting a vote for party chair. She is committed as deeply as anybody I know to lifting her community.
And guess what? She was right.
Right in Virginia last month where Democrats “are showering love on African Americans, especially African American women, who were fundamental to … the victory of Virginia Gov.-elect’s Ralph Northam over Ed Gillespie.” Right in the circus senatorial race in Alabama, where Democrat Doug Jones won 98 percent of the votes among black women and 93 percent among black men.
Suddenly Wimes’ message to increase outreach, mobilization and investment in minority communities made its way up the party ladder. OK, it wasn’t because they were listening to her specifically — it’s because the penny finally dropped for enough Democratic National Committee leaders that they finally figured it out for themselves.
“It’s undeniable that over the course of a number of years, the Democratic Party fell short in our outreach and engagement in communities of color,” said Tom Perez, chairman of the DNC, said after the Alabama results came in. “We, frankly, all too frequently took them for granted. We’ve really worked hard to make sure we’re mobilizing with people who know the various communities. That is a really important part of what we’re doing.”
Here are a few of the things Wimes said months, even years, before pundits around the country and the DNC did:
— “The major national Democratic Party committees have spent the overwhelming majority of their dollars on white political consultants” over past election cycles. That hasn’t worked, it’s even insulting.
— “It’s time for them to get off their ass and start making life better for black folks and people who are poor,” Alabaman and former NBA star Charles Barkley said of Democrats who may or may not have been listening. “They’ve always had our votes, and they have abused our votes, and this is a wake-up call. We’ve got them in a great position now, but this is a wake-up call for Democrats to do better for black people …”
— “So, what kept me and countless other black voters from rallying behind the Hillary train once voting day came on Nov. 8? She is tied to Bill Clinton’s crime crackdown that resulted in the over-incarceration of young African-Americans” — Jack Brewer, CEO of the Brewer Group, former NFL safety.
— “The people thought … the national Democratic Party cared more about where someone went to the bathroom than whether or not these people had a job,” said David Betras, chairman of the Mahoning County (Ohio) Democratic Party. “And so, we’re off-message.”
Come on, Democrats: Somebody apologize to Wimes. Like I said, she was right. She is right: Engage African-American communities between elections, show them you hear their issues and you’re working to solve them and make their life better — then you will deserve and get their vote.
Wimes still believes Republican Rick Baker did more, felt more, for the black community in St. Petersburg than Democrat Rick Kriseman. But Kriseman played a strong anti-Trump hand and touted endorsements from Barack Obama and Joe Biden to St. Pete’s black neighborhoods. He won because, even in a nonpartisan race, Baker couldn’t overcome his identity as a same-party-as-Trump politician.
Nevertheless, just as Wimes said, Kriseman couldn’t have won without African-American women.
From an outsider’s point of view, what happened with Leslie over the past couple of years has been a recurring problem with the churlish Florida Democratic Party — demonizing some of their most talented people, crushing rising stars because they don’t embrace every inch of the party line du jour.
As a Republican, I’m delighted with their poor eyesight. I would be scared to death, for example, to see any Republican having to run against Democratic Rep. Katie Edwards if the Dems actually backed her on a run for agriculture commissioner. Lucky for us, her party is basically throwing her away — remember a couple of years ago when FDP leaders threatened to primary her?
Leslie, by the way, has no idea I’m writing this. I didn’t tell her, haven’t asked her for a comment. She probably would have told me she doesn’t need any acknowledgement she’s been right all along because she never doubted it.
I just thought with new leadership in the FDP, it might a good time to recognize and finally lay to rest the party’s anti-Leslie snit.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith.