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Miami-Dade Democratic committeeman resigns, making way for new party election

@PatriciaMazzei

In a move to make way for a major donor to run for Florida Democratic Party chairman, a top Miami-Dade County Democratic Party official resigned Saturday, just four days after winning reelection.

Miami-Dade Committeeman Bret Berlin emailed Democratic Executive Committee members his resignation Saturday afternoon. The local party will now call a new election, which will allow several candidates to seek the position -- and later the state party chairmanship.

Among those candidates is expected to be Coconut Grove developer and party fundraiser Stephen Bittel, who wants to head the state party but was ineligible to run for a county party seat earlier this week. He's now eligible to vie for the vacancy left by Berlin. Candidates for state party chair must hold a position with a county party.

In his resignation, Berlin did not endorse Bittel or any other candidate. Three other Miami-Dade Democrats -- former local party chairs Annette Taddeo Goldstein and Dwight Bullard, and former state Sen. Dan Gelber -- had also expressed interest in the job. Bullard, an outgoing state senator, and Taddeo Goldstein lost their bids for Miami-Dade committeeman and vice-chair, respectively, on Tuesday.

Taddeo Goldstein will be ineligible to try to fill Berlin's post because party rules require a male Democrat to serve as committeeman. (There's also a committeewoman.) And Gelber may be uninterested in challenging Bittel, who seems to have the quiet backing of Florida's only Democrat elected statewide, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

"My service to the Party has never been about me," wrote Berlin, who's been committeeman for 12 years. "We have four capable candidates in Miami-Dade who could each do an amazing job as FDP Chair, and I will gladly work beside any one of them as they run for State Chair."

Berlin began his letter by invoking the Nov. 8 presidential election of Donald Trump. "These are frightening times," Berlin said, adding that Miami-Dade Democrats "haven't built the support network" to help their newly elected state legislators to succeed in office.

"That takes leadership. That takes vision. And how do we as Democrats respond to the call? We shoot our own," Berlin wrote.

"Two weeks ago, there were six people who indicated they were running for State Chair. FOUR of them are from Miami-Dade County. Today each of the six candidates has been rendered ineligible, blocked by their own party!!! It is time to step up."

The other two candidates Berlin referred to, activists Alan Clendenin of Tampa and Susannah Randolph of Orlando, were unable to secure party positions in their own counties.

The new Miami-Dade committeeman election will take place Dec. 20, according to Chairman Juan Cuba.

Miami Herald staff writer Amy Sherman contributed to this report.

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