January 06, 2015

Last year Fort Lauderdale mayor Jack Seiler voted against resolution on same sex marriage but now extends 'best wishes' to newlyweds

While many Broward pols celebrated the start of gay marriage this week, one key Democratic politician was quiet: Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler.

A former Wilton Manors mayor and state representative, Seiler is a rare breed for a Broward Democratic politician: he has attempted to sit on the sidelines of the same-sex marriage debate. A married Catholic father, with four children, Seiler told the Miami Herald in 2013 that he had no position on the issue but supported civil unions and domestic partner benefits for city employees. In June, Seiler voted against a city resolution in support of same sex marriage.

The Miami Herald asked Seiler for his position in the wake of same-sex couples now being allowed to wed in Florida.

“The City does not regulate -- and has never regulated -- marriage. In fact, as I repeatedly pointed out, the City does not have, and did not have, any authority over marriage or marriage rights,” Seiler wrote in an email Monday night.  

“Further, as I also stated numerous times, the marriage issue would and should be resolved at the State level (where it is regulated), at the Federal level (where it can be regulated), or in the Courts.  In this instance, the Courts have ruled, and the rulings have been consistently and overwhelmingly in support of same-sex marriage.  As such, the Courts have now resolved the marriage issue.

As a City, we will absolutely and unconditionally treat all marriages as equal, and, where applicable, we will update our codes, ordinances, and laws to implement and enforce marriage equality.  As to any newlyweds, we extend our best wishes for many joyous years of good health, happiness, and love.”

Seiler, who has never lost a race since he first ran in Wilton Manors in the 1990s, has qualified to run for re-election in February. (The city’s qualifying period for mayoral candidates ends Jan. 9th. The city’s website does not show who has qualified but we haven’t heard of anyone planning to challenge Seiler. Technically the race is nonpartisan.)

Seiler is one of a few big-city Democratic mayors who have been mentioned as possible future statewide candidates. Again, his position on marriage puts him at odds in that camp, too.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, also a Catholic Democrat, came out in support of same sex marriage in September, which was somewhat of a change of position.

When President Obama announced his support for gay marriage in 2012, Buckhorn told the Tampa Bay Times “I'm not sure I'm entirely there yet," though he was on that path.

Buckhorn told the Times in September after he announced his new stance that his position as mayor "will put me at odds with some of the teachings of the Catholic Church," but "my faith and my job are two separate things."

On Tuesday, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer hosted a wedding ceremony for 44 couples at City Hall Tuesday.


Raucous midnight marriages make way for quieter Florida same-sex weddings Tuesday

@PatriciaMazzei @AmySherman1 @MarthaBrannigan @kmcgrory

The festive courthouse weddings for same-sex couples began in earnest Tuesday when their marriages became legal across Florida, drawing crowds shortly after midnight and sustained interest throughout the day from gays and lesbians eager to be among the first in the state to wed.

Miami-Dade County got an early start to same-sex marriages Monday afternoon, but other South Florida counties with large gay populations celebrated couples’ unions Tuesday, with all the pomp that could be mustered in cramped bureaucratic spaces. Clerks festooned their bare offices with dainty arches and accepted donated cakes and coffee to welcome jittery brides and grooms.

For some, the occasion was a planned affair involving friends, family and natty wedding attire. Others went to apply for a marriage license dressed in shorts and jeans, now that they could.

“We had been together so long, we hadn’t put a lot of importance in it,” Cory Morton of Oakland Park said of getting married. “It seemed so far-fetched.” 

More here.

South Florida gay couples marry in midnight ceremonies

By David Smiley, Anthony Cave, Steve Rothaus and Michael Vasquez

Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones waited for more than a decade for this moment.

The two Duval Street bartenders stood on the steps of the historic Monroe County Courthouse at 12:18 a.m. Tuesday and, as a crowd of hundreds watched, exchanged rings and then vows during a ceremony led by a police chaplain. And then, while onlookers pelted their black tuxedos with rice, they shared a lingering, tender kiss, their first as spouses.

In a historic and emotional night for South Florida -- one many thought might never come -- the newlyweds from Key West were the first gay couple to marry in Monroe County and among the first in the entire state after Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage was lifted at midnight. The same courthouses would be open again after dawn, but for many gay and lesbian couples, waiting any longer wasn’t an option.

“I’m glad it’s finally legal,” said a teary-eyed Jones, who along with Huntsman successfully sued Monroe County’s clerk of court to demand they be allowed to marry.

Their lawsuit and several others fought and won around the state led to the unprecedented festivities in the early morning hours of Jan. 6, 2015 and the preceding afternoon. In Miami-Dade, the state’s first ever gay couple wed before 2 p.m. Monday during a courthouse ceremony. And some 12 hours later, Huntsman and Jones were married in Key West, and clerks in Palm Beach and Broward counties held mass wedding ceremonies in their courthouses after signing marriage licenses.

Broward Clerk of Courts Howard Forman officiated the first of two mass ceremonies around 2 a.m. in Fort Lauderdale. Dozens of couples participated and the shutter sound of photographs continued nonstop.

“Never forget that love brought you here today,” Forman told them.

More here.

December 01, 2014

Online hacker group Anonymous leads to Fort Lauderdale's website being shut down

The online hacking group Anonymous made threats to the city of Fort Lauderdale, resulting in the city taking down it's website this afternoon.

By 6:18 p.m., the city's website was back up.

The FBI is responding to inquiries from Fort Lauderdale officials regarding the hacking threat.

Anonymous made the threats related to the city’s controversial laws about feeding the homeless outdoors.

“Fellow citizens of the world and Fort Lauderdale,” says the computer generated voice in the video. “We are anonymous. It has come to our attention that Mayor John P. Seiler has become an embarrassment to the good law-abiding citizens of the city of Fort Lauderdale and arresting Arnold Abbott who is 90 and served our country for feeding the homeless. You are a disgrace Mayor John Seiler there we have a list of demands if not met then we shall shut down the main site of Fort Lauderdale.”

The group, calling it's mission OperationLifttheBans, demands that the city lift the ordinances that ban panhandling at busy intersections, sleeping in downtown area and prohibits handing out food unless certain requirements are met. “You have 24 hours or less. ... 24 hours to comply with our demands or the site will be shut down along with other sites belonging to Fort Lauderdale.”

Mayor Seiler told the Miami Herald at about 5 p.m. that he didn't have an estimate regarding when the website will be back up.

“We are upgrading and updating our website to address some threats that were made,” Seiler said.

Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Dean Trantalis said that the city manager sent an email to commissioners at about 6 p.m. that stated: “it appears a group has sought to create a denial of service on our website through our internet service provider. We are working with our provider to restore service at this time.”

City spokesman Matt Little told the Herald that he received an email from IT at 4:04 p.m. that city officials were working on the website.

The city of Fort Lauderdale’s latest attempt to regulate outdoor homeless feedings made international news when police nabbed "Chef Arnold" -- a 90-year-old caught in the act of such a public feeding.

"One of the police officers said, 'Drop that plate right now,' as if I were carrying a weapon," Arnold Abbott said, recalling his early November arrest for the Associated Press.

Miami Heralds federal courts reporter Jay Weaver contributed to this blog.

(This blog post was updated after interviews including with Mayor Seiler and Commissioner Trantalis.)


Broward GOP to elect new chair

The Broward GOP will take the first key step toward setting the course toward the 2016 presidential election when activists elect a new chair Dec. 8.

Former Davie mayor Tom Truex decided not to run again after serving about a year as the chair of the Broward Republican Executive Committee. The next chair will serve for two years.

Though Republicans had statewide victories in November and Broward’s lone Republican county commissioner, Chip LaMarca, held on to his seat that’s a testament to their campaigns -- not BREC. Local activists would like to see their party group play a more prominent role in fundraising and in 2016 campaigns.

In recent years BREC has suffered from frequent turnover of chairs and infighting that represents the span of beliefs in the party, including a tussle over gay marriage. BREC has drawn attention for a couple of speakers from the fringe including a conspiracy theorist and for being parodied on The Daily Show.

It’s tricky to predict who will win a race that involves behind the scenes politicking, but lawyer Christine Butler could have the leg up. Butler is currently the vice chair and head of membership and therefore has read on many of the new members in recent months. Both Butler and another candidate, civil rights lawyer Levi Williams, lost the BREC race in 2013.

Williams, who was born in Jamaica, would be the first black BREC leader if he won. Blacks represent about one quarter of Broward’s voters but the majority are Democrats.

Karin Hoffman, a travel agent and tea party activist, is also running. She helped organize a meeting with tea party leaders across the nation and the Republican National Committee in 2010. Activist Chris Leggatt also plans to run.

About 280 committee men and women are eligible to vote.


November 19, 2014

South Florida Dems to Obama: Venezuelans should be part of executive action on immigration


Two South Florida Democratic members of Congress have penned a letter to President Obama asking him to specifically include Venezuelans in his planned executive action on immigration.

U.S. Reps. Joe Garcia of Miami and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, wrote in the letter Tuesday that Obama should provide "administrative relief protections for thousands of Venezuelans who have fled Venezuela and are fearful of returning."

"Political and economic conditions in Venezuela have been declining for years, but now the Venezuelan people are facing a government that would rather repress and demonize its own citizens than engage in dialogue to address the serious problems facing the country," they said.

Any action could apply to Venezuelans who arrived in the U.S. before December 2011, the cutoff date for the Senate immigration-reform bill yet to be taken up by the House of Representatives, the letter says. Or Obama could authorize "delayed enforced departure," a protection similar to the one granted to people with Temporary Protected Status, or TPS.

"Their inclusion in administrative relief falls in line with the purpose of such action which should be to provide relief from deportation to those who have established lives and families in the U.S. and whose deportations would rip apart communities."

South Florida is home to the largest number of Venezuelans outside of the South American country -- including a large contingent in Wasserman Schultz's hometown, which is known as Westonzuela. Garcia, who lost reelection earlier this month to Republican Carlos Curbelo, has filed legislation to give Venezuelans special immigration status, but it has gone nowhere.

November 17, 2014

Fact-checking Jack Seiler's claim about Arnold Abbott

The city of Fort Lauderdale’s latest attempt to regulate outdoor homeless feedings made international news when police nabbed "Chef Arnold" -- a 90-year-old caught in the act of such a public feeding.

"One of the police officers said, 'Drop that plate right now,' as if I were carrying a weapon," Arnold Abbott said, recalling his early November arrest for the Associated Press.

Multiple news reports -- and Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report -- recounted the tale of Abbott’s arrest, which reignited a long-running debate about how the city should handle the homeless population downtown and at the beach.

On Nov. 5, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler issued a statement in which he said he wanted to "set the record straight" about the city’s services for homeless. He said that the media had misrepresented the facts.

"Contrary to reports," Seiler wrote, "the City of Fort Lauderdale is not banning groups from feeding the homeless."

Seiler said outdoor feeding is legal, but added that a new city law regulates the activity.

Then Seiler addressed the situation regarding Abbott:

"At two recent outdoor food distributions, citations were rightly issued for non-compliance with the process enacted to ensure public health and safety. Contrary to what was reported in the media, no one was taken into custody. ..."

As the public-relations crisis escalated, Seiler gave multiple interviews to the media.

On CNN Nov. 11, Seiler said Abbott "was not arrested and taken into custody."

At PolitiFact Florida we agree with Seiler’s goal of setting the record straight. Was Abbott taken into custody? Turn to PolitiFact Florida to read more.

With Texas Gov. Rick Perry leading the way, GOP pres contenders could make Tripp Scott law firm an early pit stop

Texas Gov. Rick Perry kicked off a new “Politics in Sunshine” speaking series at the politically-connected Tripp Scott law firm in Fort Lauderdale this morning.

Expect Perry to potentially be the first of GOP presidential contenders to speak at the law firm. Perry is in South Florida to attend the Republican Governors Association meeting in Boca Raton later this week where other speakers include Gov. Rick Scott, Texas Gov. elect Greg Abbott, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Ed Pozzuoli, a partner at the firm and former Broward GOP chair, said that Perry talked about his experience running for president and that he will likely announce whether he will run again in the spring. He also talked about job creation, education and immigration.

Pozzuoli said that his law firm doesn’t plan on limiting speakers to the Republican Party, but Tripp Scott is known as a prominent GOP law firm. The law firm itself has donated about $309,000 since the 1990s mostly to GOP candidates or entities, with one of the largest benefactors being the Republican Party of Florida, according to the state Division of Elections. The law firm gave about $16,000 to Gov. Scott’s Let’s Get to Work committee in 2012.

Other Republicans involved in the speaker series include former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux; Jim Scott, former state senate president/county commissioner/Tripp Scott partner; Ben Porritt, McCain-Palin spokesman; Shane Strum, former Broward GOP chair and lawyer; Norman Tripp, law firm name partner; Dennis Smith, vice chairman at Tripp Scott and Shari McCartney, Oakland Park mayor and a director at Tripp Scott.

“It’s an opportunity for national folks to come in and have a stop,” Pozzuoli said. “We are trying to make sure South Florida is not ignored in the political debate and discussion. New Hampshire and Iowa -- they have their typical diners and pancake fest, that kind of thing. We thought this was a good idea to bring to bear the access we have.”


November 12, 2014

Arnold Abbott, the 90-year-old chef to the homeless, may be headed back to court in battle with Fort Lauderdale

Looks like the case of Arnold Abbott, the 90-year-old who ran afoul of Fort Lauderdale’s laws about feeding the homeless, is headed back to Broward court.

More than a decade ago the city tried to ban Abbott from holding picnics for the homeless at the beach, offering him an alternative site miles away from downtown. But Abbott prevailed when a judge ruled in 2000 that the city had violated his religious rights and that the city’s new location was too remote. Abbott resumed his feedings, and in October and November was arrested three times for feeding the homeless outdoors in violation of city ordinances that set certain rules for such feedings.

On Wednesday, Abbott’s lawyer who handled that previous case, John David, filed a motion in Broward Circuit Court asking a judge to enforce the injunction or show cause for why the city should not be held in contempt of court for violating the injunction.

David wrote that city officials have “once again substantially burden[ed], harassed, threatened and prevented plaintiffs from continuing their religiously motivated feedings by preventing them from feeding the homeless in the South Beach picnic area of Fort Lauderdale beach.”  

The arrests have attracted nationwide attention and scrutiny and the city was lampooned on Colbert. Activists protested in front of Mayor Jack Seiler’s home today.

Seiler has defended the city’s record on serving the homeless.

“Contrary to reports, the City of Fort Lauderdale is not banning groups from feeding the homeless,” Seiler wrote.

Seiler said that the city had established an outdoor food distribution ordinance that “regulates the activity in order to ensure it is carried out in an appropriate, organized, clean and healthy manner.”

But in reality the rules -- such as getting consent of the property owner, and having bathrooms and handwashing stations -- make it extremely difficult for a group to hold outdoor feedings. Abbott’s feedings take place at visible spots along the beach and in downtown close to the county’s main library and businesses. The city’s ordinance allows indoor feedings at houses of worship.

The city has offered Abbott two alternative sites: one at at the city’s aquatic complex and the other at Church by the Sea. Abbott rejected both sites today, according to the city.

Abbott was not taken into custody but was given notices to appear in court. He faces fines plus 60 days in jail if convicted of the violations. No court dates have been set.

Seiler, a lawyer, faces re-election in March and no opponents have filed so far. He has been mentioned as a potential future statewide candidate for the Democrats.

This blog was updated to include more information about the city offering alternative sites. 

November 06, 2014

Broward Dem chair tries to point to some wins

After Florida Democrats took a beating on election day, Broward Democratic chairman Mitch Ceasar posted a message on Facebook trying to find some silver linings.

“The Crist Campaign had informed me that they needed a Broward margin of approximately 175 thousand votes. Broward delivered 176 thousand. This is a substantial increase over 2010,” he wrote. "That was accomplished even through many of our senior super voters have been lost over the last four years. We spent advertising dollars in the minority community."

Broward voted for Democrat Charlie Crist but the 44 percent turnout lagged behind the statewide average, helping Republican Gov. Rick Scott keep his seat.

The solid base of senior Democratic voters has been waning for years so the challenge for Broward Democrats in 2016 will be to find ways to reach an increasingly diverse electorate. It's possible that 2014 will be Broward's last countywide election with a white voter majority: whites account for about 51 percent of Broward's voters while blacks equal 23 percent and Hispanics 18 percent.

Ceasar tried to dig up some victories, including that the Coral Springs city commission is now a Democratic majority. City commissions are generally non-partisan, but city officials help their party build a bench for more high-profile offices.

“Additionally our north end folks ensured a return of Congresswomen Lois Frankel and State Senator Maria Sachs,” Ceasar wrote.

If by “north end” he means, well, Palm Beach County then he is correct for the state senate seat. Sachs won because of Democratic votes in Palm Beach while Bogdanoff won the smaller Broward portion of the district.

Frankel, of West Palm Beach, had only token opposition in a safe Democratic seat.