Ga. Dems regroup amid dwindling funds

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ATLANTA — Georgia’s Democratic Par­ty is regrouping to deal with the departure of its executive director and dwindling financial resources as it gears up to mobilize voters.

Chairman Mike Berlon said Monday that the party was recently down to about a month’s worth of operating expenses but has made adjustments that will keep it in business through the spring.

Berlon confirmed that the executive director resigned over the weekend over concerns about finances but that he was not fully informed about the fiscal picture.

Berlon said revenues expected from the party’s upcoming Jefferson-Jackson Din­ner and staff cuts will provide about three months’ worth of operating funds.

He dismissed talk that the party’s finances will be a distraction during election season.

“I was concerned that the numbers got down as far as they did before I was aware of it,” Berlon said. “I feel pretty good about where we are at this point.”

Though he declined to discuss the party’s finances, Berlon said he cut about $160,000 out of the budget Monday. In addition to the departure of the executive director, Berlon slashed the party’s fundraising department from four people to two. Expected revenues from the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner on April 28, which will feature former New Mexico
Gov. Bill Richardson, will also help.

Should the Obama campaign decide Geor­gia is in play this year, Berlon said the state party will get help from the national organization. That decision isn’t expected to come until at least next month.

Berlon said he hopes to identify a new executive director by May and will put together a search committee with House and Senate Democratic lawmakers
over the next week to find a successor.

State Rep. Pedro Marin, the party’s vice chairman of constituency services, said the situation is worrying for him as an officer but that the party has undergone positive changes in the past year.

“Maybe for some folks we’re not doing that well, but I think that what I have been involved with ... we’re going to do okay,” he said.

Berlon took over as chairman in 2010, and the party has moved to expand its presence in the state in recent months. In addition to opening a new office in west Atlanta, the party also opened satellite offices in Augusta and Savannah. Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz paid a visit to the Atlanta headquarters last fall.

Still, Democrats hold no statewide offices and are in the minority party in the Legislature.

University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock said Democrats got too comfortable during their decades-old reign in Georgia, and now find themselves scrambling to organize as the minority.

“What it points to is that the Democratic Party needs a major reorganization,” Bullock asid. “For generations, they haven’t had to worry about an organization, raising money, recruiting candidates, because they were winning. One might argue that rather than paying the rent on a shiny new office, maybe they should’ve been hiring grass-roots activists.”

Berlon acknowledged that Democrats did not do enough to shore up the party in better political times.

“No effort was really made to put money aside to build on the future with,” he said. “When you do lose and you’re the party out of power, the money dries up pretty considerably and it becomes very difficult to raise it, especially when you’re in an economy like this one. It’s unfortunate that nothing was planned out earlier, but we’re hoping not to make those same mistakes in the future.”


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