After a hard-fought election and the largest turnout to a central committee meeting in years, Orange County Democrats on Monday night elected Henry Vandermeir as their party chairman.
Vandermeir, 54, also works as executive director for the Orange County Democratic Foundation and comes to the local party after working for the past five years with the California Democratic Council assisting local Democratic Clubs across the state as well as running a host of local and congressional campaigns.
On Monday night after being elected by a 36-21 vote, Vandermeir stood on the floor of the carpenters’ union hall reflecting on a campaign that was “very hard fought.”
Vandermeir faced off against Jeff LaTourneau, 56, a well-liked party regular, labor organizer in the local hotel workers union and activist in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
The race between Vandermeir and LaTourneau quickly developed the flavor of most of recent high-profile Democratic Party elections — such as last November’s Anaheim city elections and the race for the 69th Assembly District — with progressive elements within the local labor movement actively challenging the party’s business-friendly wing.
Vandermeir takes over from Frank Barbaro, a prominent trial attorney who led the party over the past decade but stepped down last month amidst the intensified warfare between the party’s labor and business factions during the past year’s election.
On Monday night, Vandermeir said he would now focus on the party’s operational challenges, principally fundraising to implement an ambitious two-year agenda with a budget of $250,000 annually that would significantly boost the party’s voter registration and outreach efforts.
Vandemeir said he’s ready to meet that fundraising challenge.
“I look forward to getting even more than that,” he said.
Vandemeir announced on Monday night that he had already raised more than $80,000 toward that goal and that the costs for the party’s annual Truman dinner, a principal fundraising event, is already covered.
Statewide Democratic Party officials, who favored Vandemeir, were on hand Monday night to observe the vote and remind the local party that defending the Assembly seat of Sharon Quirk Silva is key to preserving the state Democratic Party’s supermajority in the statehouse.
“Stay focused, because 2014 will be tougher,” said Eric Bauman, chairman of the Los Angeles Democratic Party and a state vice chairman, who was on hand to observe the vote.
Vandemeir said he also plans to move forward with the party’s factions, working to reach out, hear concerns and address challenges.
“Everyone along the way has always said regardless of what happens were going to work together, and I’m going to hold them to that,” he said. “People know we have a lot of work to do here in Orange County, and if we keep the separations we had before, we’re just going to be hurting ourselves.”
Vandermeir said that for now he’ll take a page out of the statewide tour of Democratic clubs he’s made for the past five years and take a listening road trip across Orange County’s progressive community to ask, “What do you want out of the Democratic Party?”
Correction: An earlier version of this incorrectly reported the vote tally, which was 36-21.