June 18, 2014

About last night in Fort Lauderdale: Lone GOP commissioner part of 3-2 vote for gay marriage

One of the votes on the Fort Lauderdale City Commission that tipped the balance narrowly in favor of a same-sex marriage resolution was cast by the lone Republican.

Commissioner Bruce Roberts, the city’s former police chief, was one of three votes in favor of the resolution along with commissioners Dean Trantalis, who is the city’s first openly gay member, and Bobby DuBose. Mayor Jack Seiler and Commissioner Romney Rogers voted against the resolution.

The resolution that will be sent to Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature calls for “equal access to legal marriage for same-sex couples.” The resolution is symbolic -- a city can’t dictate marriage laws.

The day after the vote we asked Roberts, a Roman Catholic married to a woman for about 35 years, why he voted in favor of the resolution.

“Actually it has been a metamorphosis for me to tell you the truth,” over the past three years, Roberts said.

Roberts said he views marriage as a civil rights issue.

“I thought it would be achieved through civil unions but that’s not going to happen...,” he said. “The way the country is set up with laws it has to be set up with what is called marriage.”

However Roberts said “it doesn’t change anybody’s ability to have a faith in their particular religion.”

During the meeting as Roberts explained why he would vote in favor, he said: “As my family has said to me I don’t want to be on the wrong side of history either as time moves along.”

(To listen to Roberts’ comments at the meeting, watch the city video starting at hour 2 minute 28. Seiler reiterated his support for civil unions.)

Technically commissioners are elected non-partisan in Fort Lauderdale though party activists play a role in campaigns.

We asked Roberts if he thought Broward Republicans would be  more successful at getting elected if they supported same-sex marriage and he didn’t want to give advice to others in his party.

“From my perspective I try to remain somewhat independent,” he said. “I also do believe generally speaking in less government in our affairs -- especially rules and regulations-- and that’s why I am affiliated with the Republican Party.”

Roberts, who represents the northeast part of the city, isn’t known for being particularly active in partisan politics. He first won election in 2009 and faces re-election next year.


June 17, 2014

If Jack Seiler runs statewide in future, expect tonight's Fort Laud commission vote on gay marriage to resurface

The Fort Lauderdale City Commission is expected to vote tonight on a resolution asking the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott to enact a law allowing same-sex marriage.

The resolution is sponsored by City Commissioner Dean Trantalis, the city’s first openly gay commissioner.

The vote is purely symbolic -- the city can’t force the state to allow same-sex marriage. However the vote could become a flashpoint in future campaigns if Democratic Mayor Jack Seiler decides to run for statewide office in the future (he took a pass this year but hasn’t ruled out a future bid).

It appears that Seiler will oppose the resolution tonight.

“I still support civil unions with full benefits. I have been a supporter of domestic partnership benefits for City employees for almost 20 years, and I signed such benefits into law as Mayor of two different cities," he said in an emailed statement today, referring to Fort Lauderdale and Wilton Manors. "I am proud of my record on promoting equal rights for all, and I will continue to provide equal benefits on issues that fall under the City's governance and jurisdiction.  As you know, the City of Fort Lauderdale does not regulate marriage and has no authority to make laws impacting marriages in the State of Florida.”

Seiler has been viewed as a longtime supporter of gay rights beginning in the 1990s when he was on the Wilton Manors city council and later as a state representative. A Catholic married father of four children, Seiler told the Miami Herald last year that he had no position on same sex marriage but supported civil unions. That position for a high-profile elected Democrat in liberal Broward is unusual and puts him at odds with other notable Democrats who have become supporters of same sex marriage in recent years.

Though his views on same-sex marriage could resurface during Seiler's re-election race next year, that race will largely focus on issues such as city spending and services. Seiler has never lost a campaign. 

The text of the resolution states that the commission supports “equal access to legal marriage for same-sex couples” and opposes laws that prevent that access. The vote tonight could be close, according to gay activist Michael Rajner.

Fort Lauderdale -- and Broward County -- has one of the state’s most visible gay resident and tourist populations. The city drew nationwide attention in 2007 when then-Mayor Jim Naugle made comments about gay sex in public bathrooms leading to the “Flush Naugle’’ protests.  



June 04, 2014

With pot, school bond and a hot gov's race on ballot, Broward predicts high turnout in November

With medical marijuana and other hot issues or races on the ballot, Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes is predicting far higher turnout in November than in past non-presidential years.

Snipes predicts 60 percent turnout in November -- a figure that would be closer to presidential than non-presidential years based on the county’s turnout in the past decade.

The last time Broward hit anywhere close to that figure in a non-presidential year was 1994 when it had 62 percent turnout. In more recent non-presidential elections turnout has ranged from about 41 to 45 percent.

Snipes said in an interview that she reached her turnout prediction based on voters’ interest in ballot questions -- including pot and a school bond referendum -- and in the governor’s race.

While “there wasn’t much energy at all around the 2010 election” Snipes said the issues and races this time could generate more interest. 

“In elections you plan high as opposed to planning low,” to make sure the county has enough ballots, machines and staff, Snipes said in an interview.

Snipes included the 60 percent turnout figure in her budget request to the County Commission Tuesday. Her request for the November election is $2.5 million more than actual expenses for the November 2010 election based on increased staffing and printing. The Sun-Sentinel reported that the commission asked her to reduce her request based on lower turnout.

Broward bought extra machines that voters use to feed their completed ballots -- this time there will be two at every precinct, rather than the typical one per precinct in the past.

Asked about the turnout prediction, Broward Democratic chairman Mitch Ceasar said “I only wish it was true. I’d be overjoyed if we are able to crack the 50 percent level but it’s certainly going to be a very tough road to even reach that plateau.” Ceasar said he hopes Broward does better than it’s historical average but would anticipate that would mean a few percentage points above recent past elections.

Broward processed about 88,000 petitions to place medical marijuana on the ballot and certified about 65,000 as valid.

May 16, 2014

Bogdanoff may decide next week about Sachs re-match

Ellyn Bogdanoff, a Fort Lauderdale Republican, says she will probably decide next week whether to seek a re-match with state Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach.

Such a race would set up one of the most expensive and fierece legislative battles in the Broward/Palm Beach area.

The district has about an 8-point Democratic edge, but if Bogdanoff gets in the race she is banking on stronger Republican turnout during a non-presidential year.

“I am a risk taker,” she said in an interview Friday. “I’m not a kamikaze pilot. If there is a real opportunity to win the seat I will be in the race.”

Bogdanoff and Sachs were both in the Legislature when due to redistricting they ended up in the same district and squared off in 2012. Sachs won by about 6 percentage points. The majority of District 34 is in Palm Beach County.

Last year a Republican voter filed an ethics complaint accusing Sachs of leasing a Fort Lauderdale apartment from longtime friend, political consultant Judy Stern, to comply with residency requirements. The Commission however does not have jurisdiction over residency requirements in election laws. This past session state lawmakers unanimously passed a new rule that they say will require them to actually live in the districts they represent.

Broward GOP goes silent on twitter. In an election year.

The Broward GOP wants to help re-elect Gov. Rick Scott and hang on to a few other local seats this fall, but it has opted out of one method of communication: twitter.

Some other county political committees in South Florida routinely use twitter to announce upcoming speakers, boast about their own candidates and bash politicians on the other side.

But the last tweet from the Broward Republican Executive Committee was Nov. 15.

“I asked about it this past Monday and the fellow that was working on that said he is going to be working on that,” said Tom Truex, chair of BREC. “Apparently nothing has been posted.”\

Broward has about 234,000 registered GOP voters, one of the largest contingents in the state.  The county has about 538,000 registered Democrats and 276,000 voters who registered with neither major party.

The group’s next meeting is at 7 p.m. May 19 at the Sheraton Suites Fort Lauderdale at Cypress Creek. State Rep. George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale, will speak.

May 13, 2014

ALF reforms fail again in Legislature

TALLAHASSEE -- Legislative leaders identified reform of Florida’s assisted-living facilities as one of their top goals this session, but once again lawmakers did not adopt measures to improve conditions in the 3,048 facilities around the state.

It is the third year the Legislature has not passed reforms proposed after a 2011 Miami Herald investigation that revealed the neglect, abuse and death of residents at some in ALFs.

The most recent Senate and House proposals fell apart in the final days when the House attached other health care related bills to the Senate’s ALF bill and they couldn’t resolve their differences.

“We still have the same antiquated, dangerous system that was in place when the Miami Herald wrote its series,” said Brian Lee, executive director of Families for Better Care. The state “has not fixed the abuse and neglect, and residents are still in trouble.”

Getting rid of the “bad apples” in the ALF industry and adding more oversight affects not only the elderly who live in facilities that can house a total of more than 80,000 residents, but also Florida’s economy and future generations, said Jack McRay, advocacy manager for AARP Florida.

“Florida seniors pay more in taxes than they get back in services,” McRay said. “It’s essential that they are able to remain and stay in Florida... We need to get it right.”

What happened this session “is a classic example of politics again trumping policy,” McRay said. “It became part of a healthcare ‘train’ that became a train wreck.”

The Senate unanimously passed SB 248 early in the session. The House passed its version, HB 573, at the end of April. While House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz identified ALF reform as one of their session goals in their “Work Plan 2014” program, it failed to make any progress.

Gaetz blames the House, and the ALF industry, for the bill’s demise.

“It wasn’t the trains that killed the bill. It was the House that killed the bill,’’ he  told the Herald/Times. “Speaker Weatherford gave me his commitment they would try to do this. The ALF industry lobbied very hard against reforms. They lost a lot of credibility. It’s a real shame.”

He said that when the House bill began to be “picked apart” in that chamber, he urged the Senate prime sponsor, Sen. Eleanoer Sobel, D-Hollywood, to start attaching it to several high priority House bills. In retaliation, the House attached language to the ALF bill that the Senate didn’t want -- language about surgery centers and visitation rights for grandparents.

“Healthcare is a complex issue, and we just weren’t able to get agreement between the two chambers,” Weatherford said after the session ended May 2.

Gaetz said he vowed to be Sobel’s first co-sponsor and will work to pass the bill next year.

"Frankly,’’ he said. “Those of us who support her efforts need a little bit more enthusiastic help.”

Sobel and House sponsor, Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, both vowed to renew their efforts next session.

"I’m very disappointed,” said Sobel, who also blamed “special interests” for the bill’s failure. “I believe we were very close and got further than we have in previous years,” she said.

Ahern said the important thing for next year “is to agree on something the first month of session and get this done early.”

Among the provisions, the ALF bill would have required facilities with one or more, rather than three or more, state-supported mental health residents obtain a limited mental health license; authorized ALF staff members, with increased training, to perform additional medication-related duties; and to assist with the self-administration of medication with increased training.

The most contentious issue was a new rating system for all licensed ALFs, similar to the system used for nursing homes. It would help consumers pick the best home for their loved ones. Family members often find themselves in a quandary when the hospital discharges a patient who cannot go home, McRay said.

“The consumer doesn’t know where to go or which ALFs are good and which are bad. A rating system has worked very well with nursing homes.”

The idea of a ratings system rankled the ALF industry. One industry group, the Florida Assisted Living Association (FALA), raised objections that people could post anonymous, possibly damaging comments on a website that would be managed by the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration.

The ratings system, along with a change in the fine structure that FALA said could affect smaller homes, were among the group’s key objections, said  Shaddrick Haston, its CEO, but he contends that members were not trying to sabotage the bill.

“Actually, most of the bill had great things to help residents age in place,” said Haston, who is AHCA’s former head of licensing for assisted-living facilities. “The industry wanted an ALF bill this year.”

One concern of Lee's, director of Families for Better Care, was a change that would reduce monitoring visits for homes that met certain criteria. Even a home that has had a good reputation can falter, he said.

In the fall, he noted, the state fined the Royal Palm Retirement Centre, an ALF in Port Charlotte, $22,500 for several violations found during a visit. AHCA’s inspection report noted that among resident-care problems, the facility “failed to provide adequate nursing supervision in providing care for four insulin-dependent diabetic residents.”

AHCA, Lee said, “needs to put more boots on the ground in ALFs, not fewer.”

Herald/Times staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report. Contact Rochelle Koff at rkoff@miamiherald.com

May 07, 2014

Broward to seek voter approval for $800 million school bond issue


Broward’s school district will ask voters to approve an $800 million bond issue this fall — a referendum that will likely become a defining moment for the nation’s sixth-largest school system.

By unanimous vote, school board members on Tuesday began the voter referendum process by formally asking the state’s permission to put the issue on the November ballot. The state’s approval is expected to come quickly and easily.

It’s getting approval from county voters that will be the tricky part. The next six months will test Broward’s ability to community effectively and stay on-message — a task that historically has proven difficult for the district.

Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie is pitching the bond issue as an worthwhile investment — and one that pays dividends in a variety of ways.

“Everything that we do is linked to the quality of the schools in our community,” Runcie said. “Housing values, quality of life, the ability to attract businesses and families to our communities all rest on the quality of our schools, and our ability to invest and maintain them and provide our children with a world-class education.”

If the bond issue passes, Broward would receive a badly-needed infusion of cash for capital improvements and technology needs. Dozens of district schools are struggling with leaky roofs, for example, which creates mold risks.

More here.

April 23, 2014

In Broward home, Dems reject Rich's call to debate Crist

Last night the management committee of the Broward Democratic Executive Committee rejected a motion to encourage a debate between Nan Rich and Charlie Crist for governor.

The purpose of the resolution was to compel the Florida Democratic Party to call for a statewide debate between two major candidates -- understood to mean Rich and Crist.

That was a purely symbolic resolution -- the state party isn’t sitting around waiting for local DECs to dictate whether it encourages a debate or not. But it’s still a blow to Rich, a former longtime Democratic state senator from Weston, who appears not to have support of a group of her hometown activists. DECs in other counties including Palm Beach and Miami-Dade could follow with their own votes -- but such a vote is a bigger deal in Broward since that’s Rich’s county.

Broward Democratic chairman Mitch Ceasar wouldn’t reveal the breakdown of the vote that included about 18 people on the management committee which encompasses officers, area leaders and the heads of various caucuses including the black caucus.

“The philosophy was folks believed they should not be taking a position for one candidate or another in primary and in effect this is doing that, ....” Ceasar said. “As much as everybody in the room has respect for Nan -- tremendous respect for Nan -- many interpret this as being an indirect endorsement for one candidate.”

Maggie Davidson, a state committeewoman and Rich supporter from Pompano Beach, said she proposed the resolution. The vote “wasn’t really close,” she said.

“They were all pretty much in agreement that they didn’t want the DEC to be the one to put forth the effort for the debate,” she said. “They thought it should come from the candidates or the Florida Democratic Party. They felt it was going to be divisive.”

But Davidson said she believes in the principle of debates so that candidates have to answer to the voters.

“We have had primary debates in the past,” she said. “I don’t know why it’s any different -- why there should not be a debate.”

Davidson, a supporter of abortion rights, particularly wanted to hear Crist explain how he will handle abortion-related legislation if elected governor.

“He has been saying he is pro-life. I want to know he is pro-choice and will veto all the bad legislation that the Legislature has been putting forth the last four or five years. I haven’t heard that from him. The people of Florida, especially women, need to hear that from Charlie.”

Several Democratic activists -- including Ceasar -- and politicians were at Crist’s event Saturday to open his South Florida headquarters in Plantation. Broward has about 560,000 registered Democratic voters -- more than any other county in Florida. But the county has lagged behind in turnout in past non-presidential election years and only about 41 percent turned out to vote in 2010 when Democrat Alex Sink lost to Rick Scott. Sink was criticized for not spending enough time in Broward.

Crist has tried to boost his presence in Broward by opening his first field office there and renting an apartment on the beach. However he has not been as publicly visible as some Democrats would like in Broward -- the event Saturday was his first major public event here. Crist did not attend the Broward Democrats’ annual Unity Dinner last month where Rich spoke and he has not asked to speak to the DEC.


April 17, 2014

Dade Democrats' chair: I didn't break rules by endorsing

Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chair Annette Taddeo-Goldstein sent an email endorsing Joe Geller in his race for State House District 100.

“It's my great pleasure to announce my endorsement of my friend and longtime public servant Joe Geller for State House, district 100,” states the April 15th email from Taddeo-Goldstein. “Over his long career in public service, Joe served as Mayor of North Bay Village and Chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, and now he is our general counsel — volunteering his time to make sure every vote is counted.” (Geller is also the brother of former state Sen. Steve Geller, an adviser to Charlie Crist’s campaign.)  

Taddeo-Goldstein sent the email after Alexander Lewy, a Hallandale Beach city commissioner, dropped out of the race to take a job at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. (Lewy didn’t return our calls last week about his new gig, so here is some background from the Sentinel.)

Lewy had raised about $86,000 and was seen as Geller’s main opponent, so now that he dropped out Geller -- who has raised about $104,000 and loaned his campaign $25,000 -- is the front runner.

Taddeo-Goldstein says Geller is now the only viable Democrat -- and the only one from Miami-Dade County for the seat that also stretches into Broward.

But Geller still faces two primary opponents: John Alvarez of Hallandale Beach who has raised about $9,000 and loaned his campaign about $9,000 and Benjamin Sorensen of Hollywood who has raised about $18,000 and loaned his campaign about $8,000. The seat in the left-leaning district is being vacated by term limited state Rep. Joe Gibbons.

Privately, some Democrats said Taddeo-Goldstein was breaking an unspoken party rule or tradition that often keeps Democratic party chairs from endorsing in primaries.

Asked about that unofficial rule, Taddeo-Goldstein said she did nothing wrong.

“It doesn’t break any rule,” she said. “We can endorse in primaries as individuals, and I was happy to do so.”

Taddeo-Goldstein said that the endorsement came from her individually -- not the Miami-Dade Democrats, which as a group hasn’t made an endorsement.

But since the email came from Taddeo-Goldstein, the chair of the party and has the Miami-Dade Democrats logo on it, couldn’t readers interpret that as an endorsement from the group?

“I understand they could read it that way if they don’t pay attention to the first sentence, but I was very clear in my first sentence I was the one endorsing,” she said.

The members of the county party group sign a loyalty oath that is intended to prevent members from endorsing Republicans, Taddeo-Goldstein said. The oath states: “I will not support the election of the opponent of any Democratic nominee, I will not oppose the election of any Democratic nominee, nor will I support any non-Democrat against a Democrat in any election other than in judicial races....”

The word “nominee” refers to the Democrat who emerges from the primary as the winner, so that doesn’t mean members can’t endorse in the primary, Taddeo-Goldstein argues.

Geller says there is nothing unusual about the party chair making an endorsement.

“I used to be the chair of the party. I did it all the time. .... I endorsed Bill Clinton in the primary -- there were five or six Democrats running.”

April 11, 2014

Charlie Crist to open Broward office Tuesday

Charlie Crist will open his first field office in the state in Broward County Tuesday.

The campaign’s South Florida headquarters will be located at 320 South University Drive, Plantation. Crist is expected to attend the 5 p.m. opening.

Crist has also rented an apartment on Fort Lauderdale beach.

Broward has about 563,000 registered Democrats -- the highest number of any county in Florida. But the county has produced sluggish turnout in recent non-presidential statewide elections -- only 41 percent bothered to show up at the polls in 2010 when Democrat Alex Sink lost the governor’s race to Republican Rick Scott. Democratic activists grumbled that Sink didn’t failed to put in enough time in Broward during her campaign. So far in his race for governor, Crist hasn’t had many large group public appearances in Broward either -- he didn’t attend the Broward Democrats’ annual Unity Dinner last month. Broward is also home to Crist’s underdog primary competitor former state Sen. Nan Rich of Weston.

Crist has been in Broward for fundraisers including at the law firm of former state Sen. Steve Geller and the home of Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Dean Trantalis.

“Floridians deserve a Governor who will work with Republicans, Democrats, and Independents to strengthen small businesses that create jobs, cut wasteful spending, and restore deep cuts to public schools,” said Crist in a press release. “We are committed to having the boots on the ground to make that happen and that starts in Broward County.”

To follow attacks in the race, check out PolitiFact Florida’s full file on Crist and Scott.