State Democratic chairman steps down amid scandal

Mike Berlon’s resignation save his party yet another embarrassment

That whooshing sound you hear is a collective sigh of relief from many Democrats over today’s announcement that state party Chairman Mike Berlon will soon be stepping down.

Even for the party faithful who didn’t hold Berlon in active contempt—a minority, from what I could tell—the Democratic Party of Georgia Chairman had become an embarrassment in recent weeks over the temporary suspension of his law license by the State Bar of Georgia and his reprimand by the Georgia Supreme Court for ethics violations in his duties as an attorney. Keep in mind that these very public wrist-slaps stemmed from two different cases the Grayson, Georgia, lawyer had apparently mishandled.

Berlon’s travails of the past month were, of course, only the latest episodes of unwanted publicity for the donkey party. Early last year, the DPG’s executive director, Paige Gleason, was forced out after it was revealed that the party was nearly broke. There were vocal calls for Berlon’s ouster then, but instead he assumed many of Gleason’s duties. Not long after that, a conservative blogger revealed that Rashad Richey, the DPG’s political director, had a rap sheet with two criminal misdemeanors and a felony conviction.

Even apart from the unwelcome headlines, it was clear that Berlon’s personal style rubbed many Democrats the wrong way. In conversations with political operatives, party leaders and state legislators, I’ve been told Berlon isn’t well-liked; that he’s driven people out of the party; and that he’s effectively been ostracized by the Democrat National Committee. Some of that is conjecture, of course, and the rest is opinion. But when many of the people you should be working with say those kinds of things about you, it’s a good guess that you aren’t inspiring confidence.

In the past couple of weeks, the calls for Berlon’s head had gone from behind-the-scenes grumbling to open-letter demands for his resignation, most prominently from ex-party chairman David Worley, who said he planned to push for a no-confidence vote at a June 6 meeting of the DPG’s executive committee. At the very least, Berlon’s departure spares the party the indignity of having to remove its chairman.

While the party regroups, the chairmanship will be assumed on an interim basis by the DPG First Vice Chair Nikema Williams, whose day job is as vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood Southeast. My advice would be to look for the party’s new leadership structure to include former state Sen. Doug Stoner, a Smyrna Democrat who lost his seat in a tight race last year after Republicans redrew his district to include much of Buckhead.