Members of ‘New Direction Team’ running for leadership positions in Sarasota County Democratic Party

Party elections set for Dec. 14

Four members of the Sarasota County Democratic Party (SCDP) have announced that they are running as a “New Direction Team” in the Dec. 14 party elections, “to offer Sarasota Democrats new leadership and new strategies for winning at the polls.”

The slate consists of Linda Spoolstra, who is running for chair; Johannes Werner, who hopes to serve as the new vice chair; DeeAnna Dowdle, who is seeking the treasurer’s post; and Andrew L. Lluberes, who hopes to win one of the at-large vice chair positions, a news release notes.

“We commit to turning Sarasota blue or at least purple after losing too many elections,” Spoolstra said in the release. “We intend to do that by being inclusive, transparent and proactive in all that we do,” she added.

“We will establish a professional communications operation that informs Sarasota Democrats and all other voters interested in unifying behind an agenda that makes life better for everyday Americans from all walks of life,” Spoolstra continued in the release. “We also will choose and train outstanding candidates and then work hand-in-hand with them to end 50 years of Republican domination in Sarasota County,” she added in the release.

All of the county commissioners have been Republicans for slightly more than 50 years, Democratic activists have pointed out

“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,” the release says.

An ordained American Baptist USA minister and life-long Democrat, Spoolstra “raised millions of dollars for her church’s mission over a 37-year career and threw herself into the work of the SCDP” after moving to Sarasota in 2011,” the release points out. She became a captain of Precinct 409 in 2018 and serves as an area leader and chair of the party’s Training Committee and Messaging Task Force, the release notes.

A native of Germany and an economic journalist, Werner is a captain of Precinct 109, chair of the party’s Issues Committee, and a member of the Hispanic Caucus, the release adds.

He also organized the party’s support for the Keep the Country Country effort “to save rural Old Miakka from urban sprawl, the release notes.

Werner has addressed the Sarasota County Commission during several public hearings over the past two years. On Oct. 25, he was among the opponents of a county Comprehensive Plan amendment that was crafted to amend the county’s 2050 Plan for development east of Interstate 75. That effort, launched by Rex Jensen, president of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch — the developer of Lakewood Ranch — was designed to enable expansion of Lakewood Ranch into northeastern Sarasota County.

Critics of the amendment say it not only will result in urban sprawl but also degradation of the environment and exacerbation of traffic problems in that part of the county. (See the related article in this issue.)

Werner also spoke out against the county’s redistricting effort in late 2021, which followed the release of the results of the 2020 Census, and he has been an advocate of the Single-Member Districts voting system that county citizens approved in the 2018 General Election.

Dowdle is president of the Sarasota County Democratic Party’s Progressive Caucus, the release continues. She “earned her financial acumen during 30 years as a mortgage banker,” the release adds. She will be at the heart of the team’s intention to raise funds “on a continuous basis,” the release points out.

Dowdle is a captain in Precinct 225.

Sarasota News Leader research also found that Dowdle has served as a member of the board of the Arlington Park Neighborhood Association in Sarasota.

Lluberes is a retired journalist, the release notes. As a U.S. government spokesman during the administrations of four presidents, including Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, he designed and implemented communications programs for audiences worldwide, the release says.

His LinkedIn account notes that he also served as a senior adviser in the Office of Public Affairs for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from April 2012 through December 2014.

He is a captain in Precinct 417 and a member of the party’s Messaging Task Force, the release adds.

Current party leadership and activities

The current chair of the Sarasota Democratic Party — JoAnne DeVries — has held that position since December 2016, her LinkedIn account says.

The party’s website shows that Mirella Martinelli and Greg Marshall are the at-large vice chairs; Daniel Kuether — who was a candidate for the District 4 County Commission seat this year, losing to Nokomis chiropractor Joe Neunder — is first vice chair; and Barbara Katz is treasurer.

The other party leaders are Jerry Fleisher and Mary Clupper, state committeemen; and Gretchen Lienhop, secretary.

The number of registered Democrats in the county has been falling over the past few years, as shown on the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office website.

As of Dec. 8, the county had 101,365 registered Democrats, compared to 155,553 registered Republicans and 99,141 voters who belong to other parties or have no party affiliation.

Ahead of the November 2020 General Election, Democratic voters numbered 106,151, with Republicans totaling 144,775, the Supervisor of Elections Office says.

Over the past couple of weeks, the Sarasota County Democratic Party has sent out four news releases on various topics. One of them decried the County Commission’s recent vote to raise transit fares, while another criticized U.S. Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, for voting against the awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal to the U.S. Capitol Police in recognition of officers’ heroism on Jan. 6, 2021.

Earlier news releases this year focused on the Lakewood Ranch Southeast issue that Werner addressed in public comments, as well as the politicization of the Sarasota County School Board races, which officially are non-partisan.

Gov. Ron DeSantis held a rally in Sarasota prior to the Aug. 23 Primary Election. During that event, he urged attendees to vote for School Board incumbent Bridget Ziegler, wife of Christian Ziegler, who is vice chair of the Republican Party of Florida; and candidates Robyn Marinelli and Tim Enos. All three won their races.

As news media members have pointed out, DeSantis not only endorsed School Board candidates statewide, but his political action committee Friends of Ron DeSantis paid for mailers to support them.