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State Democratic chairman plans to resign position

By M.J. Ellington
DAILY Staff Writer (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Alabama Democratic Party Chairman Redding Pitt said Wednesday that he will step down from the position later this year, but not before he helps put into place steps to make the party more financially secure in Alabama.

Decatur native Pitt announced his intentions to a group of party leaders at the Democratic Executive Board meeting in Montgomery on July 8. Pitt said he will call a meeting of the 240-member state Democratic Executive Committee in early fall to choose a new chairman.

"They needed to hear it first from me," Pitt said Wednesday of his talk to the executive board. "I knew it would get out, but these are the party leaders, and I wanted them to have time to think about what the party needs in a chairman. It is time for a new chair and a jump-start on 2006. It is going to be a very good year."

One reason for Pitt's optimism is that 2006 will be an election year focused on state issues and an opportunity for Alabama Democrats to define what they stand for. "All the stars are aligned to make it a very good year," Pitt said.

Pitt said Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley will be a strong candidate for governor, as would former Gov. Don Siegelman if he decides to run. Former Gov. Jim Folsom is considering a run for lieutenant governor, and John Tyson may run for attorney general, Pitt added.

Under fire

Pitt came under fire because of the party's performance during the 2004 elections, when Republican candidates swept many races. Five of Alabama's top Democratic elected officials called for his resignation and accused him of spending too much time on the presidential race and not enough time helping state candidates.

At the time, Pitt vowed to continue as party chairman until his term ends in 2007, but Wednesday he said it's time to practice law full time again.

Now an attorney in Birmingham and part-time party chairman, Pitt said he stayed on to work on agreements with the Democratic National Committee to help finance campaigns in Alabama and several other states that had Republican sweeps in recent elections. "It won't be complete when I leave, but it is started," Pitt said.

Executive Committee Vice Chairman Amy Burks of Decatur said the full executive committee will decide whether the chairman's position will be full time, part time or unpaid. The committee will then vote on candidates who express interest in the job. "We are a big tent and open to everyone," Burks said.

Strong defender

Joe L. Reed, the party's most influential black leader, is a former Democratic National Committee member and strong defender of Pitt during the political fallout last November.

"I tip my hat to Redding Pitt. His heart is in the right place," Reed said. While Pitt was a part-time paid chairman, Reed said it is time for a full-time person in the job.

"The chairman needs to be the first person to see the sun in the morning and the last to see the moon at night," Reed said. "We need someone who can articulate the party philosophy to the average Alabamian. This is the party of John Sparkman, who brought us the space program in Huntsville, of Carl Elliott, who began the national defense loans for students, and of Lister Hill, who helped build hospitals all over the country through the Hill-Burton Act. The average Alabamian does not know these things."

"We have got to have somebody to can respond to the needs of the South," Reed stressed. "This is the party of the working man."

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