Kuether elected chair of Sarasota County Democratic Party on Dec. 14

New Direction Team candidates for leadership positions get one-third of votes cast

Sarasota resident Daniel Kuether, a County Commission candidate this year, has been elected the new chair of the Sarasota County Democratic Party, he announced in an email distributed on Dec. 17.

He previously served as first vice chair.

None of the individuals who identified themselves as a “New Direction Team” seeking officers’ positions for the party was elected, that email indicated.

Kuether replaces JoAnne DeVries, who had held the chairmanship since December 2016.

During the Nov. 8 General Election, Kuether lost the District 4 County Commission race to Nokomis chiropractor Joe Neunder, who had significant financial support from developers in the community, as The Sarasota News Leader reported earlier this year.

The other new Sarasota County Democratic Party leaders are as follows:

  • First vice chair — Barbara Katz, who previously served as treasurer.
  • Vice chairs at large — Rita Major-Hallerdin and Brian Goncalo. Before the Dec. 14 election, Mirella Martinelli and Greg Marshall held those positions.
  • Secretary — Louise Machinist. The previous secretary was Gretchen Lienhop.
  • Treasurer — Rose La Chapelle.

Two board members were elected to four-year terms in 2020 and will continue in their positions, the announcement continued. They are State Committeewoman Mary Clupper and State Committeeman Cramer Verde.

In the announcement, Kuether explained that the Florida Democratic Party requires that an organizing meeting for a county party be held every two years. That was conducted on Dec. 14, he added.

Referring to himself and his fellow county party leaders, Kuether continued, “We have been elected in a time where Democrats in Sarasota County are encountering complex challenges. Many of us look back on the November election in Florida and see concerning evidence of right-wing extremism and foreboding shifts in the political climate. We have our work cut out for us.”

“Still,” Kuether pointed out, “I want to highlight some achievements over the past year. In March, voters upheld single-member districts in Sarasota County. In November, Democratic-supported candidates Jen Ahearn-Koch and Debbie Trice were elected” to the Sarasota City Commission. “And the Sarasota County Democratic Party produced the fourth-highest Democratic turnout in Florida in the midterm elections.”

He added, “While we can feel good about these achievements, we know we must find new ways to re-energize, re-organize, and re-establish ourselves in the community.”

“Over the next two years,” Kuether wrote, the Sarasota County Democratic Party will focus on connecting with our community, improving communication, and effectively strengthening our operations to be the most influential political party possible.”

In announcing his run for County Commission this year, Kuether said he moved to Florida in 2018. He works as a UX/UI designer for a real estate tech company.

From February 2019 to March 2021, Kuether served as Schroeder-Manatee Ranch’s liaison to Realtors, facilitating sales of new homes in Lakewood Ranch, which the Schroeder-Manatee Ranch developed.

Kuether’s LinkedIn account says, “During a decade in the Real Estate industry, I opened hundreds of new apartments and helped Realtors sell thousands of new single-family homes.”

During a July campaign forum hosted by organizations on Siesta Key, Kuether told the audience that he left his position with Schroeder-Manatee Ranch shortly after he learned that “[CEO Rex] Jensen cheated the system” last year to get a vaccine against COVID-19 during a VIP event that Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh had organized with state leaders.

Schroeder-Manatee Ranch certainly had not approached him, Kuether added, to provide him any campaign financial support, and he did not expect it would. Even if Jensen offered him a contribution, Kuether said, he would not take it.

The New Direction Team members who were vying for Sarasota County Democratic Party leadership positions were Linda Spoolstra, who sought to serve as chair; Johannes Werner, who hoped to be the new vice chair; DeeAnna Dowdle, who was seeking the treasurer’s post; and Andrew L. Lluberes, who hoped to win one of the at-large vice chair positions, a news release said.

“The New Direction Team brings decades of experience in organizing and fundraising for nonprofit organizations such as the SCDP, along with expertise in financial transparency, accountability, communications and public affairs,” their release added.

In response to a News Leader request for comment about the Dec. 14 elections, Spoolstra provided the following statement on behalf of the group:

“We are, of course, disappointed that no member of the New Direction Team was elected by the DEC [Democratic Executive Committee]. However, one-third of the voters preferred our slate. We campaigned on taking the party in a new direction. We have lost too many races. Our reason for running for four of the offices was to introduce ideas for governing that would involve more participation by DEC members, greater transparency, and more openness to new ideas. While we congratulate the new officers and wish them success, we are continuing to advocate for the changes we envisioned. We see the one-third of the DEC who voted for us as a group which wants change. The shocking loss of our endorsed candidates to the School Board are a striking example of what happens when our party cannot get candidates elected. Sarasota needs a vibrant, exciting, and visible party with candidates who can speak to the needs of all of our citizens.”