VERO BEACH — About 100 of Indian River County’s Democrats welcomed a visit by County Commission Dist. 3 candidate Tony Donadio Tuesday night, but he didn’t tell them why he left their party after more than three decades.
The monthly potluck event, billed as “Dining With the Democrats,” gathers local residents at the River House on Acacia Road in Vero’s Central Beach neighborhood to discuss current events. Donadio was invited because he is running as a non-party-affiliated candidate for county commission.
The event drew a larger crowd than usual, according to organizers. Donadio and Tax Collector candidate Barry Barnard were both introduced to the crowd, but only Donadio was on the agenda to speak from the podium. Barnard and Donadio are both registered Republicans running with no party affiliation. This places them in the Nov. 6 general election instead of the August primaries.
“Both of them are non-party-affiliated candidates that are here today, but I want to believe that they are Democrats at heart, no matter what they say,” said Horace Lindsay, chair of the Indian River Democrats, who introduced the guests.
Republican incumbent Tax Collector Carole Jean Jordan won her party’s nomination for her race, and Republican Tim Zorc beat out Bea Gardner to cinch the Republican nomination for the Dist. 3 seat in August. The seat is open, as it’s being vacated by Republican Gary Wheeler.
Donadio switched his voter registration from Democrat to Republican earlier this year, but not in time to run for office as a Republican. This drew a few questions from the crowd, one from Steve Lapointe about Donadio’s campaign literature, which touts his “conservative values.” Lapointe asked for clarification on exactly what Donadio means by that.
Donadio said he believes in being fiscally responsible with the budget and in looking for ways to save taxpayer dollars.
“My political aspirations transcend the traditional political model,” Donadio said. “As a commissioner, sitting on the dais, I’m there to represent everybody.”
Donadio said of the Republican Party establishment, “They’re not endorsing me.”
His complex partisan allegiances have caused Donadio to come under fire from all directions over the past few months, but he has generally handled it graciously, by simply laying out his message of who he is and what he intends to do.
An architect who moved to Florida in 1979 from Ohio, Donadio has been active in many nonprofits and in the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce. He said he wants to “give back” to the community.
“I’m in this race to make a difference,” he said.
Donadio was recruited by and is being backed by key players in the local Tea Party organization, including Pointe West developer Chuck Mechling. Donadio was asked to clarify his relationship to the Tea Party.
“I have friends involved in the Tea Party and they’re supporting me just like everybody in the community,” Donadio said.
But the question that went too far was when a couple of people shouted out “Why did you leave?” and “Why did you switch?” to get an explanation about why Donadio was no longer one of them, a Democrat, after so many years.
“That’s a good question,” Donadio said.
At that point, Lindsay stepped in. He began to applaud, took the microphone from Donadio and announced that the candidate had to leave. Donadio quickly picked up his things and exited the hall, stopping to shake a few hands on his way out.
In the end, no answer was given to the question, though Donadio has previously stated that he’d experienced a gradual change to a more conservative philosophy, and that he’d already aligned himself with Republicans prior to the recent switch.
Earlier in the evening, when asked if the fact that Donadio had left the Democratic Party bothered him, Lindsay defended the choice, saying, “He’s independent, it’s very difficult to run as a Democrat for office here.”