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Donadio switches parties to bid for commission seat

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER, (Week of May 24, 2012)
Photo of Architect Anthony Donadio

Architect Anthony Donadio’s entry into the District 3 County Commission race May 15 definitely made the field more interesting, but his decision to run as a “no party affiliation” candidate instead of as a Republican shut about 46,000 independent and Democratic voters out of the Aug. 14 Republican primary.

If Donadio had filed to run as a Republican, he would have squared off with Tim Zorc and Bea Gardner in the GOP primary – and all Indian River County residents would have gotten to choose which of the three would be the new County Commissioner since no Democratic or “no party affiliation” candidate would have been on the ballot for that seat in November.

Now, Republicans will choose either Zorc or Gardner to run in November against Donadio, ostensibly another Republican.  So what’s going on here?

Turns out that prior to April 30, when he switched parties, Donadio had been registered as a Democrat in Indian River County since Jan. 24, 1990, according to public records. A recent change in state law, according to Elections Supervisor Leslie Swan, requires a candidate to switch his 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, 58, a recent widower and father of three boys, said 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 said. “The Democratic Party was much more conservative back then, I guess.”

Since moving to Indian River County in 1990, he said, he never thought to change his party affiliation, though being registered as a Democrat kept him from voting in GOP primaries which decide most local races. He said he’s always given contributions to Republicans for local and state office “because my philosophy aligns with that of the Republican Party..

“I’ve always supported the person really, not the party, and I pretty much always was aligning myself with those values,” he said. “This area is mainly Republican and that’s what I happen to align myself with.  Seeking public office you have to share those values.”

The question of party won’t be a problem with people who know him personally, Donadio said.

“For people that know me and people I’ve worked with on nonprofits it hasn’t been an issue; they said I’ll support you 100 percent,” he said.

He told the whole story to a group of 77 supporters at a kick-off party last week held in the boathouse at Quail Valley River Club.

“I wanted to make sure everyone understood, so I had a core group of people I met with at Quail Valley and I had a good response,” he said. “I talked about it at the event because I didn’t want them to just read about it in the paper.”

But he’s realistic, and knows that the fact that he’s not a lifelong Republican could be an obstacle to overcome with some voters.

“That was a core group that I met with and I know we need to go beyond that in the community and, through grassroots efforts touch the people in Indian River County.”

Prior to Donadio’s filing to run, rumors had swirled for more than two weeks that the former Chamber of Commerce president would be running as a Republican against Zorc and political blogger Gardner in the August primary.

Two days after Donadio filed, we got a very basic, 547-word press release announcing his candidacy.  Nowhere did it mention that Donadio had until several weeks ago been a Democrat or even that he’s running without party affiliation.

Though Donadio has an impressive resume of community service and leadership on various nonprofit committees and boards related to his trade as an architect, the party-hopping still seems certain to raise eyebrows in some quarters.  But Donadio thinks he can deal with it.

Donadio said long-time Vero Beach resident Gene Waddell is his campaign chair. Donadio’s oldest son, also named Anthony, serves as campaign treasurer.

“I don’t consider this a political job,” Donadio said. “I consider it a continuation of community service. I don’t proclaim to be a politician. It’s about quality of life, jobs and responsible taxes.”