January 16, 2017

Broward's Mitch Ceasar running for DNC vice chair



Broward County's former Democratic chairman, Mitch Ceasar, is running for vice chair of the Democratic National Committee.

In 2016, Ceasar ended his 20-year reign as chair of Broward, Florida's county with the highest number of registered Democrats. A lawyer from Plantation, Ceasar lost a Democratic primary for Broward Clerk of Courts in August. 

"We are living in a political climate where the new normal is abnormal," Ceasar said about his quest for one of five vice chair positions. "I want to be part of the solution -- I will have time to devote to rebuilding the party. This is not going to be some glory job -- no more White House Christmas parties, no more perks. It is going to be a very tough four years to rebuild."

Ceasar said that he wants the party to focus on lower ballot races including state legislators who redraw state and Congressional district boundaries and he wants to use Florida Fair Districts amendment as a model.

The New York Times reported that at a forum for the national officer candidates in Phoenix Saturday, Democrats disagreed about how to respond to Donald Trump:

“We can complain all day about every stupid tweet, but the bottom line is that’s not going to change anything,” Ceasar said. “We have to have precision and be narrow in our scope.”

Ceasar is running for a male vice chair slot against three other men -- the number of males elected depends upon the gender ratio of those who win other positions. Ceasar is competing against New York state assemblyman Michael Blake, Adam Parkhomenko, co-founder of Ready for Hillary and served on Donna Brazile's DNC transition team and Rick Palacio, chair of the Colorado Democratic Party.

The DNC's approximately 447 members will elect their new leadersduring meetings Feb. 23-26 in Atlanta. Ceasar said he has made no commitment to back any of the chair candidates including State Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota or Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

Ceasar has served on the DNC's executive board for about 10 years but that ended Saturday when the Florida Democratic Party held its election for officers including representatives to the DNC. Ceasar was nominated for a DNC position, but did not win and couldn't attend since he was at the national forum in Phoenix. Ceasar said it isn't a requirement to be on the executive board to run for the vice chair position.

The DNC members elected from Florida Saturday are Cynthia Busch, Terrie Rizzo, Nikki Barnes, Grace Carrington, Alma Gonzalez, Alan Clendenin, John Ramos, Ken Evans, Dwight Bullard and John Parker

-- Photo by the Sun Sentinel


January 13, 2017

Debbie Wasserman Schultz confronts FBI's Comey at hacking hearing, per The Hill


The Hill is reporting that U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, confronted FBI director James Comey Friday during a closed-door briefing about Russian hacking.

The hacking at the Democratic National Committee led to Wasserman Schultz stepping down as national party chair in July on the eve of the convention. She went on to beat Tim Canova in her Democratic party and won re-election to her Broward/Miami-Dade seat in November.

From The Hill:

The former head of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) confronted FBI Director James Comey on Friday during a confidential briefing on Russian hacking that left many Democrats calling for Comey’s scalp, several lawmakers told The Hill. 
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who was forced to resign last summer as head of the DNC amid the hacking scandal, told Comey that he should have come to her directly once the FBI was aware of the breach, just as he had done with other hacking victims.
Comey, described by lawmakers in the room as unflinching and defiant, retorted that the FBI had properly notified DNC officials of the hacking.
"You let us down!" one Democrat yelled to Comey during the tense exchange, according to one attendee.

Keep reading from The Hill


Broward County will examine security after Fort Lauderdale airport shooting

FLL Airportpeoplerunning


The security at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport has been beefed up in the short-term in response to the shooting but Broward County has made no decisions about any long-term changes to security.

The Broward Sheriff's Office provides security to the airport -- a $17 million expense that is paid from fees paid by airlines and airport vendors. Broward has enough money in that fund to pay for the overtime incurred by deputies since the shooting, County Administrator Bertha Henry said.

The bulk of the security budget pays for 116 full-time employees, according to a budget document. 

Airport and county officials are focused on handling the immediate aftermath of the shooting and have not made any decisions about long-term security changes. On Friday afternoon, the airport held a ceremony to honor the victims and reopen the area of Terminal 2 in the baggage claim where the shooting occurred. The area now has new carpet and the ceiling was painted leaving no physical signs of the shooting other than a sign inviting the public to leave memorials.

County Commissioners held a two-and-a-half hour closed-door meeting to discuss airport security Tuesday following the Jan. 6th shooting that left five people dead. Florida law allows public bodies to meet in private to discuss the security of government buildings.

If the county proposes an increase in funding, that will be brought to a future open county commission meeting, though no date has been set, Henry said. 

Airport stakeholders will hold a meeting next week to discuss lessons learned from the shooting, said director of airport security Frank Capello. Later, the county will undergo a formal review -- possibly done by an outside entity -- of the county's response to the shooting. After a 2013 shooting at the Los Angeles International Airport that left a TSA agent dead and others injured, officials with the help of a consultant wrote a 99-page report that included several recommendations to improve public safety. 

Broward Sheriff Scott Israel sent a letter Wednesday to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson seeking federal reimbursement. On Friday, Nelson, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and several members of South Florida's Democratic congressional delegation sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson seeking federal dollars for Broward.

BSO is in the process of tallying the cost of the response and had no estimate for the Miami Herald Friday afternoon.


Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio seek federal money for Fort Lauderdale airport shooting

FLL Airportswat DS


U.S. senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio and several members of South Florida's congressional delegation sent a letter Friday to federal officials seeking money for costs incurred by local law enforcement that responded to the mass shooting at the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood international airport.

The politicians wrote a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson following a letter sent by Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel to Nelson on Wednesday asking for his assistance in seeking federal reimbursement.

Here is the letter from the Senators and members of Congress: "Last week, the community of Fort Lauderdale experienced a horrific tragedy. On the afternoon of Friday, January 6, a gunman attacked the Fort Lauderdale Airport, murdering five and injuring dozens more in the shooting and fallout. We are writing to request that you commit all appropriate federal resources to assist law enforcement and the surrounding community in Fort Lauderdale after this attack. We urge you to review existing authority and expedite any requests from local and state authorities for grant funding or other assistance to respond to this tragedy. Federal assistance would help this community respond appropriately to the devastation. Thank you for your prompt consideration of this request and your attention to Fort Lauderdale’s recovery efforts."

The letter was also signed by several Democratic members of Congress who represented Broward or have in the past including: Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Alcee Hastings, Lois Frankel, Ted Deutch and Frederica Wilson.

The U.S. Department of Justice gave $1 million to Florida law enforcement agencies to help pay for overtime costs related to the Pulse nightclub shooting in June that left 49 victims dead. The justice department provided $500,000 to local agencies that responded to the 2015 San Bernardino attack that left 14 dead.

January 12, 2017

Obama names Broward supporter to Holocaust council


via @adamsmithtimes

President Barack Obama today named Coral Springs trial lawyer Andrew Weinstein, a top Democratic fundraiser, a member of U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, a position he will continue to hold after Donald Trump becomes president on Jan. 20. The president in 2013 appointed Weinstein to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

January 11, 2017

Broward Sheriff Scott Israel in the spotlight after Fort Lauderdale airport shooting

Israel pixAP


Broward Sheriff Scott Israel was exercising in a Davie park when the message came over the dispatch system on his phone: There was a shooting at the airport.

His first thought: disbelief.

“You hope it was sent in error,” Israel told the Miami Herald. “You read it again and hope it’s not Broward County. You start to digest it. You are angry. You pray.”

And then, Israel said, “a switch flips and you go from all of those emotions as a citizen to being the sheriff of Broward County and leading.”

Over the next several hours, Israel’s leadership was under a microscope, as he faced the biggest nightmare of his career: a shooting rampage at Terminal 2 of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywoood International which left five people dead, stranded thousands of terrified passengers and shut down one of the busiest airports in the nation. In less than 90 seconds, BSO had the suspect, Army National Guard veteran Esteban Santiago, in custody.

A married father of 20-year-old triplets, Israel said he didn’t have time in the moment to reflect on what it would have been like if his own children were there. (His sister-in-law was at another terminal at the time of the shooting, and at one point he spoke to her on the phone and told her that the tarmac, where police had moved many passengers, was safe.)

“I didn’t have the ability to do those things and allow those emotions to take place,” said Israel, who said a deputy drove him to the airport so he could work while enroute. “I was handling an active-shooter scene. I was the sheriff; we were talking about traffic, the SWAT team, an orderly clearance.”

Keep reading here.

January 09, 2017

Fort Lauderdale airport shooting prompts closed-door Broward County commission meeting

FLL Airportpeoplerunning


The deadly rampage at the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International airport Friday has prompted the Broward County Commission to hold a closed-door meeting about airport security Tuesday.

The commission will hold the private meeting following the 10 a.m. regular commission meeting at County Hall.

The agenda contains no details such as who will attend the meeting and simply states that the purpose is to "discuss security systems and information related to security systems" at the airport.

Broward Sheriff Scott Israel told the Miami Herald in a text he was unaware of the meeting.

County Attorney Joni Armstrong Coffey said that only Broward County officials and employees will attend.

"Because the statute exempts these meetings entirely from the open meetings requirements, no record is made," she told the Herald in an email. "That is because security sensitive information is confidential and prohibited from disclosure.

Florida law allows for governmental bodies to ban the public and media from meetings under narrow circumstances including to discuss security of public buildings.

The suspected shooter, Esteban Santiago, made his first appearance in federal court Monday. He faces a possible death penalty or life in prison on charges related to fatally shooting five people and injuring six others.

Miami Herald photo by David Santiago

Florida Democratic Party chair candidate Stephen Bittel leads Dwight Bullard in endorsements



Miami-Dade donor Stephen Bittel released a list of about two dozen endorsements in his race for Florida Democratic Party chair -- including four three members of Congress Monday.

That far outpaces the number of endorsements released Monday by his local rival -- former state Sen. Dwight Bullard -- who announced a handful of endorsements.

Bittel, a major donor to Democratic candidates and a Coconut Grove developer, and Bullard will compete in the state party chair election in Orlando Saturday. The other candidates are activist Alan Clendenin -- from Hillsborough County who moved to Bradford to keep his bid alive -- Duval County's Lisa King and Osceola Democratic party chair Leah Carius.

State committeemen and women who represent large Democratic counties get the most powerful voice in the election because their votes are weighted based on the number of registered Democrats in their counties. 

Holding a county party position is a prerequisite to running for state chair. After Bullard lost a state committeeman race to Bittel, he moved to Gadsden County and won a similar position there.

Bittel has been endorsed by three members of Congress who live in Palm Beach County: Alcee Hastings, Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel.

Bittel's list initially included U.S. Rep. Val Demings who represents the Orlando area. After we posted this blog, a spokeswoman for Demings, Caroline Rowland, said Demings did not endorse Bittel or anyone else. Rowland provided a statement from Demings: 

“While Mr. Bittel asked for my support, I told him I had not decided and would not decide until I had the opportunity to look at all of the candidates.”

Bittel's team said it was a "cut and paste error."

One key statewide politician is missing from the official endorsement list: U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, the only statewide Democrat in Florida. Nelson has stopped short of officially endorsing Bittel but has praised him. Ultimately the votes are public so Nelson will have to make it clear Saturday which candidate he supports.

Also missing on endorsement lists: U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston who appears to be staying quiet about the race this time after stepping down as national party chair in July. In 2013, Wasserman Schultz urged activists to vote for Allison Tant, the eventual winner who isn't seeking the position again. Bittel has fundraised for Wasserman Schultz in the past.

A spokesman for Wasserman Schultz, David Damron, said she isn't commenting on the chair race and will send a proxy to vote for her.

One group that weighed in earlier in the process has since gone quiet: Our Revolution, the political organization formed by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. Our Revolution endorsed Bullard in December for his race in Miami-Dade County but a spokeswoman, Arianna Jones, told the Miami Herald that it is no longer involved in the race for state chair. Jones didn't respond to an email asking why Our Revolution is no longer involved.

Here are the endorsements Bullard and Bittel announced Monday -- all of them get a vote Saturday unless otherwise noted:

Here are Bullard's endorsements:

  • Democratic Black Caucus of Florida
  • Brevard County state committeeman Sanjay Patel
  • Martin County state committeewoman Dawn Abate. 
  • Alachua County Democratic Executive Committee (doesn't get a vote but Bullard won their straw poll)

Here are Bittel's endorsements:

   ·    Chris Reilly, President of Florida College Democrats

·      Catherine Michiels, Lee County Committeeman

·      Michael Bonacolta, Lee County Committeewoman

·      Rhett Bullard, Hamilton County Committeeman

·      Shauna Faries Adams, Hamilton County Committeewoman

·      Lucy Garner: Charlotte County Committeeman

·      Thomas Garner, Charlotte County Committeewoman

·      Thomas Byrd, Bay County Committeeman

·      Patricia Byrd, Bay County Committeewoman

·      Diane Krumel, Escambia County Committeewoman

·      David Dew, Martin County Committeeman and Chair of the Small County Coalition of FL

·      Brad Culverhouse, St. Lucie County Committeeman

·      Cong. Ted Deutch, US Congress

·   ·  Cong. Lois Frankel, US Congress

·      Cong. Alcee Hastings, US Congress

·      Volusia Councilwoman Joyce Cusack, State Executive Committee

·      Joseph Falk, State Executive Committee

·      State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, State Executive Committee

·      Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner, State Executive Committee

·      Rep. Janet Cruz, Florida State House Democratic Leader

·      Andy Tobias, State Executive Committee

·      Carlos Odio, State Executive Committee

·     Miami-Dade Democratic Party (Bittel gets a vote as state committeeman)

·      Escambia Democratic Party steering committee (the party itself doesn't get a vote)



December 30, 2016

Florida Democratic Party chair forum set in Broward



The drama of the race to lead the Florida Democratic Party will travel to left-leaning Broward when the candidates convene at a forum in Pompano Beach Jan. 11.

Wealthy donor/developer Stephen Bittel, activist Alan Clendenin, former state Sen. Dwight Bullard, Duval County's Lisa King and Osceola Democratic chair Leah Carius have all confirmed they will attend, said Tim Canova, one of the organizers. The forum gives Democratic activists in Broward -- the county with the highest number of registered Democrats -- a chance to hear how the candidates hope to reinvigorate the party after its crushing defeat in November with an eye toward 2018 races for Senate and governor.

But ultimately, the opinion of only two Democrats in Broward matter -- state committeeman Ken Evans and committeewoman Grace Carrington -- who get a powerful vote in the chair election in Orlando Jan. 14th.

Evans said he hasn't decided who he will vote for but said he will base his decision on who Broward Democrats coalesce around. Carrington said in a text to the Miami Herald "I'm not making my decision until 10 minutes before the vote."

Votes are weighted based on the number of registered Democrats in each county which means that Broward and Miami-Dade get a major say in the chair election to replace Allison Tant.

Chair candidates have been racing around the state meeting with Democratic leaders who get a vote and other activists who will try to sway the vote.

One of the key organizers of the Pompano forum is Progress for All, a group headed by former Congressional candidate Canova who lost the Democratic primary to U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Canova said he hasn't backed any candidate so far. 

The race for Florida Democratic Party chair has been full of drama. Weeks ago, it appeared that Bittel, a wealthy donor and Coconut Grove developer, was the frontrunner when other key candidates failed to become eligible in their own counties. In Miami-Dade, Bret Berlin won a state committeeman seat and then quickly resigned to make way for Bittel to run for the post, a prerequisite to running statewide. Bittel beat Bullard 250-161.

It appeared that Bullard had given up -- he didn't show up for his own election because he was on a family cruise. But then he revived his bid by moving to Gadsden County, a small rural county in northern Florida, where he won a state committeeman spot Tuesday. 

Bullard was the second candidate to move to keep his candidacy alive: after Clendenin lost in Hillsborough County, he moved into a rented trailer in Bradford County and won a similar post there.  








December 13, 2016

Broward County auditor Evan Lukic to retire


Broward County Auditor Evan Lukic announced Monday that he will retire Feb. 3 after working for the county for 29 years.

Lukic was known in County Hall as a consummate professional who put the taxpayers first and picked apart spending decisions by the county.

His reports in recent years have raised criticisms about the management of the Young at Art Museum and financial discrepancies between the companies that operate the Panthers organization as well as poor spending controls internally at the county.

While working on an audit of the county's disbursement system in 2012, Lukic raised alarm bells and told commissioners "this has to be remedied quickly, because you have little or no control now."

In his memo to County Administrator Bertha Henry announcing his retirement, Lukic wrote: "While I look forward with great anticipation to spending more time with my six grandchildren and attending to my hobbies, I feel a sense of loss at the thought of leaving my work family. I thoroughly enjoy and will surely miss the daily interaction with my own staff and so many other dedicated County employees."