PBC Republican Party meeting degenerates into brawl

West Sabin
Palm Beach County GOP Chairman Ira Sabin with new “Interim Director of Marketing and Finance” Angela West.
Photo: Michael Dorstewitz

Fireworks erupted early at the anxiously awaited Palm Beach County Republican Executive Committee meeting Wednesday night, when Chairman Ira Sabin took the microphone after days under fire for failing to raise the funds needed to keep the party afloat.

A blame game erupted between Sabin and former chairman of the party Sid Dinerstein, with Dinerstein saying he wasn’t going to be the George Bush to Sabin’s Barack Obama. Sabin’s daughter became so enraged, she screamed at Dinerstein to “shut up,” which prompted Sabin to publicly chastise his adult daughter. And, in an example of why the party may be out of money, a longtime big donor vowed to never give the party another dime while Sabin was chairman.

The cash-strapped Republican Party of Palm Beach County had abruptly closed its West Palm Beach office days earlier, laying off its two full-time employees, Political Director Mark Hoch and Executive Director Cathy Brandenburg.

Sabin opened the meeting by saying he recognizes he is “abrasive” at times, then offered his “deepest and sincerest apologies to those [he] offended.” He promised to change, saying, “My first six months were a bit rocky, but I will get better.” His effort didn’t last long before he became abrasive again, snapping at members who asked him questions.

Sabin appointed Dr. Angela West to help fundraise as the new “interim director of marketing and finance.” West, who spoke only for a moment, supposedly met with Sabin earlier Wednesday to discuss her new role, sources told BizPac Review.

As the circus-like meeting progressed, West looked a bit overwhelmed, and rumors were already swirling by the end of the evening that West was stunned by the level of hostility and divisiveness she witnessed.

Sabin was asked why he didn’t attend Monday’s breakfast with Gov. Rick Scott, who addressed members of the newly launched Independent Conservative Action Network in Boca Raton. Three times Sabin maintained he was “not invited” before changing his story to say the governor’s visit was so last minute, he had other “commitments.”

That answer didn’t sit well with some of the REC members, including someone who shouted out, “disgraceful,” and another who told Sabin it didn’t look good that the chairman of the county party wasn’t there to greet the governor.

“I was astonished that Ira Sabin said he was not invited,” ICAN President Margi Helschien, former county GOP vice chair, told BizPac Review Wednesday.

“All Republicans were invited. It was even included in the countywide GOP newsletter,” she said. “Former Chairman Sid Dinerstein and the county’s Republican State Committeeman, Peter Feaman, and Committeewoman Cindy Tindell attended. I do know that the first thing [the Republican Party of Florida] asked me was where was the chairman of the party?”

Sabin’s daughter, Leah, told REC members that her organization, the Republican Jewish Coalition, was first approached by Scott’s office to host Monday’s event:

“We were told that they did not want the party involved. They only wanted the Jewish activists involved.  We were specifically told by the [Republican Party of Florida] and Gov. Scott’s office that they did not want us extending the invitation.”

Sid Dinerstein
Former Palm Beach County GOP Chairman Sid Dinerstein
Photo: Michael Dorstewitz

Dinerstein, who served as chairman for 10 years, took the microphone to clarify some of what he said were “lies” by Sabin.  Sabin had blamed Dinerstein for leaving the party broke, but Dinerstein said a party never has money after an election year.

“I am not going to be the George Bush to Barack Obama,” Dinerstein said, pointing to Sabin, which prompted Sabin’s daughter to scream, “shut up,” to Dinerstein.

Phil Nicozisis, a longtime donor, former GOP board member and former party fundraiser, also came up to the podium to respond to Sabin’s accusation that he “never raised a penny” for the party. Nicozisis reminded Sabin that he wrote a personal check to the party for $6,000 this year. Sabin stunned many with his retort that writing a $6,000 check was “not fundraising.”

Nicozisis, like so many other longtime donors who said they have been put off by Sabin’s unpleasant attitude in the past six months, told Sabin he would never “see the color of his money again.”

“Ira Sabin has failed us. He must resign,” Nicozisis told BizPac Review after Wednesday’s meeting.

Feaman, who is also Florida’s Republican National Committeeman, proposed an ad hoc special audit committee to examine the books over the past 18 months, 12 of which were under Sabin’s position as treasurer.

The ad hoc special audit committee consists of Tindell and REC Committeemen George Blumel, Neil Haynie and Michael Walsh.

Sabin did say the West Palm Beach office will reopen Monday with a volunteer staff. Lobsterfest will go on and is being organized by REC Members Linda Stoch and Steven Ledowitz, who have underwritten the deposit as well.

And the GOP website will be redesigned and more user-friendly, thanks to an $8,000 to $10,000 in-kind donation by Steven Alembik, West’s friend and a “political operative” from Boca Raton.

Board member Marie Hope Davis, who was narrowly defeated by Sabin for the chairmanship in December, attempted to soothe the anger and address the division within the party, reminding the REC that all “must work together and must defeat Democrats.”

After witnessing the vitriol of the meeting, that’s going to be a long, hard row to hoe.

Read more: “Palm Beach County GOP runs out of money, staff laid off”

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