BRATTLEBORO—Change is in the air at the Vermont Democratic Party (VDP), and part of that change is the election of a Brattleboro man to the party’s executive committee.
James Valente was unanimously elected as the VDP Exceutive Committee’s secretary, and becomes the only member from Windham or Bennington counties on the board. He also becomes one of the youngest members of the panel. He was elected on Jan. 29.
Valente, 26, is currently a clerk for Brattleboro attorney Thomas Costello and says he is preparing to take his bar exam in May. He has been active in Democratic politics as a member of the county committee, and was deeply involved in the 2010 election effort in Windham County.
“My job is not just taking the meeting minutes, but also disseminating information from the chairman to party members,” said Valente. “But mostly, I wanted to have a seat on the committee. Whether it’s state government or party politics, southern Vermont is usually underrepresented. The Democratic Party leadership sometimes takes us for granted, since we always turn out strong at election time, and they’re more concerned about the battleground counties like Chittenden or Rutland than in Windham County.”
Why so much change now? Gov. Peter Shumlin is setting the groundwork for the next election cycle, sources say.
Alex MacLean, the governor’s secretary of civil and military affairs, has been attending recent executive committee meetings. That’s not unusual, as she represents the governor, VDP chair Judy Bevans says, just as Carolyn Dwyer stands in for Sen. Patrick Leahy and Jon Copans attends VDP meetings for Rep. Peter Welch.
“I think it’s naïve to think he has no input; he certainly does — he was our goal,” Bevans told VTDigger.org. “Alex is there because she is the representative of the highest elected official. We’re part of the Democratic family, and we’re going to work toward common goals.”
With a new governor from southern Vermont, some believe that the traditional bias toward the northern counties in filling party positions may slowly be receding. As Shumlin puts his stamp on the Democratic Party, other changes are coming.
Robert Dempsey is stepping down as executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party in March. In his one year on the job, he helped to organize support for the five-way Democratic gubernatorial primary, gain backing for the slate of candidates in the general election campaign and mobilize resources for local House and Senate races.
In addition, Dempsey sorted out the party’s financial mess last year, which he compared to “untangling a spool of Christmas lights.” In the end, the party paid a $5,000 fine to the Federal Election Commission for sloppy bookkeeping records. VDP is required to hire an accountant to ensure the organization is reporting income and expenditures properly to the FEC.
Under Dempsey’s brief tenure, the party’s financial fortunes improved dramatically. After several years in which the VDP’s annual budget hovered around $200,000, party coffers are projected to refill with more rapidity post-election. The budget for this year was $365,000; for fiscal year 2011, it’s slated to come in at around $300,000.
Dempsey was the party’s fourth executive director in the past three years. As of now, there is no word as to who will replace Dempsey, though speculation is running rampant. Several names that have been bandied about include Paul Tencher, Shumlin’s inauguration committee executive director and the coordinated campaign manager for the Democrats in the last election cycle and Deb Markowitz’s Democratic primary campaign manager.
Also mentioned is Jesse Bragg, a University of Vermont graduate, who served as field manager for the coordinated campaign for the VDP and as director for the Vermont Organization for America (OFA), President Barack Obama’s re-election organization. The Vermont OFA recently decided to pull out of the state until 2012, the presidential election year, according to a memo from the VDP.
Valente has also been mentioned, but he said he believes just making it onto the executive committee is a major accomplishment, particularly in light of the ongoing tensions between the baby boomers who still dominate the Democratic leadership, and younger party members who cut their political teeth during the Howard Dean presidential campaign in 2004.
“There is still some ill will between the generations, but [Dempsey] did a lot to build up my credibility among the other members,” said Valente.
As for Bevans, there is speculation that she is leaving this year — perhaps long before her term is up in November. However, Bevans told VTDigger.org that “I have gotten some interesting calls about my resignation, [but] I have not resigned. I’m planning to do the work that I need to do, and I have some goals, and I have some ideas, and I am planning to see them through, and I always did, whether that goes into next year.”
Also elected to new executive committee positions on Saturday was Linda Weiss of Corinth, who is the new treasurer and replaces Ed Clark.