August 06, 2016

DNC emails reveal controversial reputation of South Florida billionaire


While prominent Democrats from Hillary Clinton on down regularly mock Donald Trump in public, he's not the only wealthy commercial real estate developer to be ridiculed by party operatives.

Stephen Bittel, a Miami Beach businessman who owns and operates more than $1 billion in real estate in South Florida and beyond, isn't the most popular fellow at the Democratic National Committee despite his large donations to the party.

A few of the DNC emails released last month by Wikileaks, which prompted the resignation of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz as chairwoman, contain trash-talking about Bittel among folks at top levels of its massive fundraising operation.

Bittel, who is co-chairman of the party's national finance committee, is cited in several emails looking ahead to a May 18 meeting of President Barack Obama with the Coconut Grove resident and a small group of other big donors at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington.

Two days before the event, DNC national finance director Jordan Kaplan and his Mid-Atlantic deputy Alexandra Shapiro were fretting about where to seat Bittel.

"Bittel said this morning he was coming so just plan on it, but he doesn't sit next to POTUS!" Kaplan told Shapiro.

POTUS is the Secret Service code name for President of the United States.

Shapiro quickly responded: "Yes -- Bittel will be sitting in the s-------t corner I can find."

The next day, in another email about seating for the elite fundraiser, Shapiro provided an update to Zach Allen, another DNC regional finance director.

Shapiro zeroed in on Bittel and Henry R. Munoz, a prominent San Antonio architect who is also co-chairman of the DNC national finance committee.

"So Henry and Bittel are both coming to the roundtable (with Obama) as punishment for something I did in a past life," she emailed Allen.

The two operatives mused about seating Bittel next to DNC finance vice chairman Chris Lowe and his wife, comedy writer Bonnie Datt.

"LOL, Chris and Bonnie think Bittel is a character," Allen told Shapiro. "So if you want to go that route, let me know so I can at least forewarn them but they'll be fine and if it makes your life easier, all the better."

In apparent reference to both Bittel and Munoz, Allen added: "I'm sorry you're having to deal with them."

Bittel, chairman of Terranova Corp., is a friend of Wasserman Schultz. He hosted a dinner for her at a Philadelphia restaurant during the Democratic National Convention shortly after she resigned as DNC head.

The Weston lawmaker quit the top Democratic post after some of the emails revealed disparaging comments by DNC aides about Sen. Bernie Sanders, who former Secretary of State Clinton bested to win the Democratic presidential nomination.

In a separate email exchange, Chadwick Rivard, a top DNC researcher, warned White House aide Bobby Schmuck about another donor with South Florida ties.

Coping the email to a half dozen other DNC operatives, Rivard sent Schmuck a long background description of Palm Beach billionaire George Lindemann Jr., board president of the Bass Museum in Miami Beach who was once an Olympic equestrian hopeful as a highly skilled horse rider.

The biography, part of which came from the Lexis-Nexis database, included Lindemann's 1995 conviction on three counts of wire fraud. That case resulted from a federal probe that found 50 horses had been killed over two decades in acts of insurance fraud.

Lindemann, who has donated to Republican and Democratic politicians, received a 33-month term in federal prison for his role in the scheme.

DNC compliance director Alan Reed, who'd been copied on Rivard's email, rendered his verdict on Lindemann two hours later.

"I vote fail....again," Reed wrote.

To browse the entire Wikileaks trove of 19,252 DNC emails, click here:


July 27, 2016

Fact-checking the second night of Democratic convention

Hillary Clinton became the first woman to be chosen as a major party’s presidential nominee on the second day of the Democratic National Convention.

Her husband and former President Bill Clinton gave the night’s marquee address, taking the crowd on a trip down memory lane that started with how they met and ended with his case for why she would make a strong president.

"For this time Hillary is uniquely qualified to seize the opportunities and reduce the risk we take, and she is still the best darn change-maker I have ever  known," Bill Clinton said. "You could drop her into any trouble spot, come back in a month, and some way, somehow, she will have made it better. That’s just who she is."

As Bernie Sanders supporters continued to protest Clinton’s win, Sanders made a motion to suspend the rules during the roll call vote and select Clinton as the nominee.

Before Bill Clinton took the stage, mothers of black Americans whose deaths sparked nationwide demonstrations said they supported Hillary Clinton after meeting with her to talk about their concerns about gun violence and criminal justice reforms. The "Mothers of the Movement" included the mothers of Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, among others.

"(Hillary Clinton) doesn’t build walls around her heart," said Lucia McBath, whose son, Jordan Davis, was killed in 2012 following a dispute over loud music. "Not only did she listen to our problems, she invited us to become a part of the solution, and that’s what we are going to do."

We fact-checked Clinton’s address, as well as other speakers from the night. (Here’s our rundown of the DNC’s first night.)

Hillary Clinton and health care

Bill Clinton bragged about his wife’s effort to tackle health care reform with a claim about expanding healthcare to children.

"In 1997, Congress passed the Children's Health Insurance Program, still an important part of President Obama's Affordable Care Act. It insures more than 8 million kids," Clinton said. "There are a lot of other things in that bill she got done, piece by piece, pushing that rock up the hill."   

According to Medicaid, CHIP insures more than 8 million children. The late-Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., received much of the credit for CHIP, because he shepherded the legislation through a Republican-controlled Congress, and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch was the lead Republican cosponsor.

In 2007, Kennedy vouched for Clinton’s vital role in CHIP, saying, "The children's health program wouldn't be in existence today if we didn't have Hillary pushing for it from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue."

That notion was seconded by Nick Littlefield, a senior health adviser to Kennedy at the time.

Point being, Clinton did work behind the scenes to create the program to offer healthcare to children, but Bill tip-toes around the scope of his wife’s role. We rated this claim Mostly True.

Keep reading from PolitiFact.

July 26, 2016

Trump thinks Michelle Obama's speech was 'pretty good'

CBS4's Jim DeFede interviewed Donald Trump today in advance of his Wednesday speech at Trump National Doral golf resort.

The full interview will air at 11 p.m. Here is a snippet that posted so far: 

DeFede: Give me your impressions of the democratic convention so far and whole Debbie Wasserman Schultz scandal?

Trump: I think she was disastrous.  It turned out she was a disaster. I've been saying that for a long time. Not a good person and got caught and said a lot of bad things and it was very sad. And I think as far as the convention it's not played out yet. We are going to have to see what happens with Bernie Sanders. I think Bernie got very tired. He wants to go home. He wants to go to sleep. He wants to go to bed. He wants to get out. So it looks like he got tired and probably the people will sort of go home. I think we are going to get a lot of the Sanders people because of my views on trade because we are being so ripped off on trade and jobs. I think we are going to do very well with the Bernie Sanders people.

DeFede: Michelle Obama went after you on the first night without ever invoking your name. What did you think about a First Lady making a political speech like that?

Trump: I'm not that surprised. Look she did her thing and I thought it was fine. I thought her speech was ok. I thought it was pretty good. I really didn't pay much attention to it.

Here is some background about what Trump has said about trade from PolitiFact.


Fact-checking the first night of Democratic convention


The Democratic National Convention kicked off Monday in Philadelphia, Pa., with boos and shouts from Bernie Sanders supporters disappointed in Hillary Clinton as the presumptive party nominee.

Saying "no one else is more disappointed than myself" in his second-place finish, Sanders used his primetime DNC address to emphasize unity behind the Democratic ticket and Clinton.

"By these measures, any objective observer will conclude – that based on her ideas and her leadership – Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States," Sanders said.

The convention opened after a contentious weekend following the release of nearly 20,000 emails showing party officials appearing to favor Clinton over Sanders, leading chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to announce she would resign after the convention.

Republican nominee Donald Trump got into the action from afar, tweeting that Sanders would have won the nomination had it not been for superdelegates (a False claim).

The night also heard speeches from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and First Lady Michelle Obama.

We took a look at what was said, and how it fared on the Truth-O-Meter.

Keep reading from PolitiFact.

Photo by the AP

July 25, 2016

South Florida Democrats hold thank you event for Wasserman Schultz in Philadelphia

More than 400 people attended a “thank you” event for U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz at Del Frisco's steakhouse in Philadelphia Mondayafternoon. The event had been planned two weeks ago by South Florida Democratic donors.

Wasserman Schultz made no mention of the WikiLeaks emails and instead gave a few minutes of upbeat comments.

“She came in to a round of applause and everyone chanting ‘Debbie, Debbie,’” said Alex Heckler, a Democratic donor and lawyer from Miami Beach one of the co-hosts. “She went from hug to hug to hug.”

She thanked her husband, children and friends and said she was proud of her work for the party and as a member of Congress. She didn’t mention her primary opponent Tim Canova by name, although she reminded the crowd that she faces reelection on Aug. 30.

“She said she looks forward getting reelected and helping Hillary Clinton,” said Mike Moskowitz, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer and co-host.

Developer Stephen Bittel hosted the event, and Mitchell Berger, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer, was also a co-host.

The event was a contrast from the Florida delegation breakfast where she was heckled.

May 27, 2016

Democrats plan Florida public meeting on party platform


Ahead of July's presidential nominating convention, national Democrats plan to hold four public meetings across the country -- including one in Florida -- to discuss the party's platform.

"I want all Democrats to have their voices heard in this process," U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, said in a statement. "We are the Party of substance, ideas and diversity. We expanded the platform process to provide greater opportunity for Democrats to express their views and we look forward to hearing different perspectives from across the nation."

The Florida gathering of the platform committee meeting will take place July 8 and 9 in Orlando. The other meetings will take place in June in Washington, Phoenix and St. Louis.

May 18, 2016

Civil war in Democratic Party? Wasserman Schultz vs. Sanders

Just as she wants to focus all of her energy on the other party, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is in the middle of a nasty brawl with one of her own party’s presidential candidates

The South Florida lawmaker, who chairs the Democratic National Committee, is openly fighting with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a clash that came to a head after a violent melee at a state Democratic Party meeting in Nevada over the weekend where Sanders supporters threw chairs and threatened state party officials, using vulgar sexist language at times.

Wasserman Schultz criticized Sanders’ response as insufficiently critical of his supporters. He and his campaign manager, in turn, are escalating complaints that Wasserman Schultz has used the party machinery to help her friend Hillary Clinton. All this comes at the very moment Wasserman Schultz had hoped Democrats would start to unify and turn their attention to the Republicans and Donald Trump.

Read more here:


Read more here:


April 08, 2016

DNC chief Wasserman Schultz to Bernie and Hillary: Chill


With most political enthusiasts' attention riveted on the divisive GOP presidential race, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is urging the Democratic White House hopefuls to tone down their rhetoric.

Wasserman Schultz, who lives in Weston when she isn't in Washington or traveling the country as head of the Democratic National Committee, was asked about the increasingly sharp attacks against each other in recent days by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

"I think both campaigns really need to be careful about making sure that we don't do lasting damage," Wasserman Schultz told Fox News' "America's Newsroom" program Friday morning. "I don't think we're at that point, but I think it is important to be careful that at the end of the primary process, when we have a presumptive nominee, that we're able to easily reunify."

In advance of the April 19 primary in New York, which Clinton represented for six years as a U.S. senator before heading the State Department, Clinton has challenged Sanders' allegiance to the Democratic Party and questioned his preparedness to be president.

On Wednesday, Clinton told MSNBC that Sanders "himself doesn't consider himself to be a Democrat." Sanders, who lists his party for Senate votes as Independent but caucuses with Democrats, has at various times in his career described himself as a Socialist or a Democratic Socialist.

Clinton also criticized Sanders' repeated presidential campaign calls to break up big banks, again comparing her record as a pragmatist who gets things done.

"You can't really help people if you don't know how to do what you are campaigning on saying you want to do," Clinton said.

Sanders responded that night at a rally in Philadelphia.

"She has been saying lately that she thinks I am quote-unquote 'not qualified to be president,'" Sanders declared. "Let me just say in response to Secretary Clinton, I don't believe that she is qualified if she is, though her super PAC, taking tens of millions of dollars in special-interest funds. I don't think you are qualified if you have voted for the disastrous war in Iraq. I don't think you are qualified if you support the Panama free trade agreement."

Clinton didn't actually say the phrase Sanders attributed to her about his lack of qualifications, but that phrase or similar ones ran in headlines in some news accounts of her comments.

Despite the sharp exchanges, Wasserman Schultz said it doesn't compare to "the food fight and the civil war that continues to rage on the Republican side."

Wasserman Schultz, who some Sanders supporters have accused of favoring Clinton in the Democratic race, also said that Clinton and then-Sen. Barack Obama had a more hard-hitting contest in their presidential primary campaign in 2008.

"Right now I would characterize the tenor and tone of this party to be nothing like the intensity of where we (Democrats) were eight years ago in 2008 between then-Sens. Clinton and Obama," she said.

After Obama gained the Democratic nomination in that primary race and then defeated Sen. John McCain to gain the White House, he chose Clinton as secretary of state. The two established a close relationship, and she has been trumpeting his achievements during her current run.

On the Republican side, billionaire businessman Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz have been engaged in a nasty war of words for weeks, with the fight intensifying two weeks ago when the Republican front-runner tweeted an unflattering photograph of Cruz's wife Heidi Cruz.





March 24, 2016

Progressives blast Florida Democratic Party on behalf of Wasserman Schultz's challenger



A dispute over access to voter data in a South Florida congressional race is highlighting a divide between the Florida Democratic Party and its progressive caucus.

For the second time this month, leaders of the progressive caucus are openly criticizing their party leaders, this time on behalf of Debbie Wasserman Schultz's primary opponent.

But the caucus' complaints were immediately rendered moot, though, because -- unbeknownst to them and independent of their grievances -- Florida Democratic Party leaders already agreed to make a special exception that addresses critics' concerns.

The controversy stems from a decision by party leaders earlier this month to deny Wasserman Schultz's challenger, Democrat Tim Canova, access to its voter database.

In an "open letter" sent Wednesday and provided to the Herald/Times, the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida asked Wasserman Schultz -- a Weston congresswoman and chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee -- to intervene to ensure her challenger has a fair shot in the primary race.

Party voter files are a treasure trove of data and information that campaigns collect, curate and share between their state and national political parties, and they're especially valuable to political newcomers -- if they can get access to them.

It's been the policy of the Florida Democratic Party for the past six years to withhold access to candidates challenging incumbent Democratic members of Congress.

But the party has changed its mind this week -- in this single instance -- and will now give Canova access to the voter file "to avoid any appearance of favoritism," Scott Arceneaux, the state party's executive director, told the Herald/Times on Thursday.

"This is a truly unique set of circumstances where we have an incumbent member of our delegation who's also our DNC chair," Arceneaux said.

Continue reading "Progressives blast Florida Democratic Party on behalf of Wasserman Schultz's challenger" »

March 22, 2013

Jeb returns $270k to fraudster; DNC gives back $51k, DCCC: c.$68k, DWS: c.$5k

South Florida Business Journal:

Former Gov. Jeb Bush has agreed to return $270,000 that he was paid as a consultant to convicted fraudster Claudio Osorio and Osorio’s companies...

According to the agreement, Bush was paid $468,901 between December 2007 and September 2010 for consulting “plus reasonable expenses.”

Bush and his company, Jeb Bush & Associates, are repaying the money to Soneet Kapila, a court-appointed fiduciary who is collecting funds Osorio stole from other people and used to fund business operations at InnoVida Holdings, his housing panel manufacturing business.

The Democratic National Committee also agreed to repay $51,525 that Osorio donated, according to another agreement filed Thursday.

Folks in the GOP blogo-Twittersphere were quick to point out that the story didn't list two other high-profile givebacks.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chair and Broward congresswoman, returned $4,800 and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee returned $67,575.