INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Indian River County Republican Party Chairman Tom Lockwood laid down the law at the party’s September meeting, telling some 200 members of the executive committee they will be forced to resign their committee positions if they publicly support Anthony Donadio in his contest with Tim Zorc for the District 3 County Commission seat.
Zorc won the August Republican primary while Donadio, also a registered Republican, is running as an unaffiliated candidate.
“There is a loyalty oath executive board members are required to sign,” says Lockwood. “It states they will only support Republican candidates. As far as Mr. Donadio goes, he is not considered a Republican candidate by our definition. It is our position all support should go to Tim Zorc, who won the Republican primary.”
On one hand, Lockwood’s action is not shocking.
“I think that was a foregone conclusion; it was something we expected,” says Karl Zimmermann, an executive committee member. “It is pursuant to party rules. If someone is interested in publicly supporting Mr. Donadio, sending in money or putting bumper stickers on their car, they have to withdraw.”
On the other hand, the bare-knuckle enforcement of party loyalty highlights a split in Republican ranks that became inevitable when Donadio entered the race unaffiliated, a split some see as traditional GOP vs. tea party members.
“I am sure there will be some resignations,” says Lockwood. “Mr. Donadio is well-respected and well-liked in the community and he will garner some Republican support.”
“I know there are many on the committee who support Tony,” says Pointe West developer Chuck Mechling, a member of the Indian River Tea Party board of directors who encouraged Donadio to run.
He says more may be involved in Lockwood’s enforcement action than simply following standard procedure, suggesting the possibility “someone with Zorc called Tallahassee to complain and they called Tom Lockwood and read him the riot act.”
“It was just a normal business item on the agenda so everyone understood the rules,” says Zorc, who attended the meeting. “It applies to Carole Jean Jordan and Congressman Posey, too. All three of us have unaffiliated candidates running against us.”
The announcement was met with applause.
“Some people don’t want to go through the primary process and party support should go to whomever prevails in the primary. I think it important that the party is unified behind all of its candidates, from Romney/Ryan on down.”
Donadio was a registered Democrat until April when he switched parties.
He wasn’t able to run in the GOP primary, according to Mechling, because a recent change in state law requires a candidate to change registration at least one year prior to the qualifying period for the general election in order to run in his new party’s primary.
Donadio, 59, a recent widower and father of three boys, says his Democrat roots go back to a different time, a different place and to his own father.
“I come from a small, Italian Catholic community in Ohio and when your father takes you down to register to vote, that’s how you register,” he says. “The Democratic Party was much more conservative back then, I guess.”
Zorc, 51, a construction consultant who has worked with Charlie Wilson to get impact fee refunds for property owners, gains significant advantage over his fellow Republican from the exclusive backing of the party organization.
Republican groups and the local party will donate to his campaign and he says events such as the recent monthly meeting are an “opportunity to get everything from sign locations to volunteers for phone banks.”
Donadio, president of Donadio and Associates, Architects, P.A. since 1990, believes he can overcome the lack of party backing.
“I will just have to work that much harder. Even though committee members can’t support me publicly, that doesn’t stop them from voting for me.”
Donadio serves on the boards of the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce, the Indian River Medical Center and the Children’s Home Society.
He also participates in other civic and charity organizations and has a natural constituency among people he has worked with in the non-profit world.
“They have said they support me one hundred percent,” Donadio says.
“I know Tony from serving with him on the chamber board,” says Mechling. “He is not a politician. He is a businessman and philanthropist who knows our community and is the right person to help plan our future.”
Zorc and Donadio both say they are uncertain if their race will become a clear-cut struggle between tea party members and the official Republican Party.
“I don’t know if that is the case,” says Donadio. “I don’t think it is. The tea party isn’t just for Republicans and the race isn’t just about parties. It is about the people of Indian River County.”
“I have met with the Tea Party leaders and I think we have a lot of common positions,” says Zorc. “We will have to see how it plays out.”