January 10, 2017

Sen. Bill Nelson endorses Stephen Bittel for Florida Democratic Party chair

BillNelsonatdeskKristenClark

@amysherman1

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has endorsed Stephen Bittel, a Coconut Grove developer and wealthy donor, for Florida Democratic Party chair.

Nelson's statement:

"I have known Stephen Bittel for over 30 years and believe he will be an extraordinary Chair of the Florida Democratic Party. Stephen has been a dedicated advocate for the principles of the Democratic Party for many years and is a leader who has the smarts and heart to unite the party in addition to implementing plans that will help rebuild the party from the ground up. While there are several qualified candidates in this race, I am convinced that Stephen is the right person to chair the Florida Democratic Party,  he has my full support and I ask that you join me in this effort.”

Nelson's endorsement isn't a surprise because he had previously praised Bittel saying in December he would "bring a lot to the Democratic Party" -- but stopped short of officially endorsing him until Tuesday afternoon.

Nelson is Florida's only Democratic statewide office holder and is running for re-election in 2018 and could face millionaire Republican Gov. Rick Scott as his opponent. Bittel has been a major funder of Democratic candidates up and down the ballot including Hillary Clinton and could help Nelson run against Scott.

Democratic elected officials and state committeemen and women throughout Florida will gather in Orlando Saturday to elect a new party chair.

The other candidates are former state Sen. Dwight Bullard of Miami-Dade County, Hillsborough turned Bradford County activist Alan Clendenin, Osceola Democratic chair Leah Carius and Duval County's Lisa King.

The chair race has been full of drama. Two candidates -- Bullard and Clendenin -- moved counties after they lost a state committeeman race, a prerequisite to run statewide.

Bullard moved to Gadsden County after he lost to Bittel in Miami-Dade and Clendenin moved to Bradford County. 

On Friday, the rules committee will discuss a complaint filed about Clendenin's residency as well as a complaint filed by a group of Miami-Dade Democrats about the procedures used for the county to elect Bittel to state committeeman.

 

Karp: Overhaul embarrassing Florida Democratic chair election rules

From a Miami Herald op-ed by Florida Democratic communications strategist Joshua Karp, who recently worked on Patrick Murphy's U.S. Senate campaign:

On Jan. 14, the Florida Democratic Party will elect a new chair. Six days later, Donald Trump will be sworn in as president. The new state party chair will articulate the party’s response to Trump and run a party that hasn’t won a governor’s election in 22 years. The new chair will need to hit the ground running, raising money and recruiting candidates for the 2018 elections. This is a tough job.

Given the stakes, Florida Democrats should be passionately engaged in the election to pick their party’s next leader. But most of Florida’s nearly 5 million registered Democrats have no idea an election is happening.

It’s hard to blame them. This election is elitist, old fashioned and exclusionary.

Having helped set strategy for Florida Democrats during the past four years, I know the impact an energetic party chair can have. The current chair, my former boss Allison Tant, raised the bar for the job, traveling and fundraising tirelessly in support of Democratic candidates.

But the election to replace Tant should embarrass every Democrat.

More here.

January 09, 2017

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

Bittelbullard

@amysherman1

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)

 

 

January 04, 2017

Florida Democratic Party chair candidate Stephen Bittel subject of eligibility complaint

 

Combo1bittelbullard

@amysherman

A group of Miami-Dade Democrats filed a grievance Tuesday alleging that the county party violated rules when it elected Stephen Bittel as state committeeman, a prerequisite for him to run for chair of the Florida Democratic Party.

The grievance, signed by 13 Democrats, relates to various procedures used at two meetings leading up to Bittel winning the state committeeman spot.

On Dec. 6th, Bret Berlin won the state committeeman post but them quickly stepped down to make way for Bittel to run on Dec. 20th. 

Bittel, a wealthy donor and Coconut Grove developer, is one of five candidates running for Florida Democratic Party chair. The other candidates are activist Alan Clendenin, former state Sen. Dwight Bullard, Duval County's Lisa King and Oscela chair Leah Carius.

The race to replace Allison Tant as chair has been filled with drama -- and the latest grievance filed by the state party is no exception. It includes allegations about an "invalid midnight motion" and "stuffing the ballot box" and conflicts of interest.  

Most of the allegations relate to procedural issues such as whether a quorum was met. The letter alleges that some Democrats who traveled hundreds of miles were "physically barred" from entering the room.

The grievance also alleges that Juan Cuba, the newly elected county chair and former executive director, has unfairly favored Bittel because "Bittel has been funding Cuba's salary." Bittel has given thousands to the county and state party. Cuba was paid through the county party when he was a consultant in the past and was paid through the state party when he was the executive director. 

"Because of the rules violations outlined below, we strongly believe that this election must be immediately overturned," wrote the Democrats who signed the letter including Zenia Perez, who was the interim rules chair, and Erika Grohoski, outreach chair. "We do not raise these concerns out of malice or to discourage inclusiveness. We simply want to enforce our rules to ensure fair play, and to build a party that earns and respects the trust of our voters."

Cuba has said the county party followed the rules at the meetings.

"Everyone had an opportunity to be heard," he said. "Despite efforts to disrupt the meeting, an election was held and the membership overwhelmingly voted for Stephen Bittel to be the next state committeemen. We had an election attorney at the meeting to ensure bylaws and procedures were not violated."

Bruce Jacobs, a lawyer and rules committee member at the DNC who represents Bullard, sent a similar letter of complaint to the state party. 

The state party rules committee is expected to act on the challenges to eligibility on Jan. 13th, one day before the chair vote in Orlando. The committee will also examine a complaint about the  Clendenin's residency. After Clendenin lost a state committeeman election in Hillsborough County he moved into a rented trailer in Bradford County and won a similar spot there.

Bullard made a similar maneuver: after he lost a state committeeman race to Bittel in Miami-Dade he moved to Gadsden County. 

Bullard's voter registration form initially showed he moved to 36 Lanier Lane in Gretna. When the Miami Herald pointed out to the elections office that the address didn't exist in property records, an elections official later said the address is actually 32 Lanier Lane.

Bullard told the Miami Herald today that he is renting in Gretna and if he wins the chair job he will quit his Miami-Dade school teaching job and may move to Gretna or maintain both residences.

Bullard said Democrats in northern Florida reached out and encouraged him to run in Gadsden.

"They were really disappointed in the shenanigans around the Miami-Dade election," he said. "They granted me another opportunity and I decided to take it."

 This post has been updated to include comments from Bullard. Photo of Bittel on the left and Bullard on the right.

January 03, 2017

Florida Democratic Party chair feud erupts over residency

@amysherman1

With the race for Florida Democratic Party chair less than two weeks away, activists are fighting over who is eligible to remain in the running.

An activist filed a challenge with the party alleging that Alan Clendenin, who moved counties to keep his chair bid alive, is ineligible to run. When Clendenin lost a race for state committeeman in Hillsborough, he then rented a mobile home in Bradford County and won a similar position there. 

Patricia Byrd, a state committeewoman in Bay County, wrote in the Dec. 30 complaint that Clendenin has homestead exemptions in Hillsborough and Manatee counties and doesn't actually live in Bradford.

"It appears that Mr. Clendenin has disengenuously played a shell game with residences and homestead exemptions in total violation of state election laws and state homestead laws for the sole purpose of positioning himself to be eligible to run for the state party chairman," Byrd wrote. "However, despite his best efforts, it is clear that he was not, and is not, a resident of Bradford County."

Clendenin called the complaint "petty gamesmanship." 

Property records show that Clendenin and John Pecchio are co-owners of the two homesteaded properties. Clendenin said he takes the homestead exemption on the Tampa home and Pecchio, his partner, takes it on the Manatee home. 

Scott Tussing, director of public service and exemptions for Manatee County, confirmed that Pecchio is the only one who has the homestead exemption for the Manatee property and Clendenin has it for the Hillsborough county. (If they were a married couple, the situation would be different and then only one home could be homesteaded. The couple is not married.)

Richard Boylan, chair of the party's rules committee, said he hadn't yet received the complaint.

Clendenin wasn't the only candidate to move counties in the hopes of keeping his candidacy alive.

Former state Sen. Dwight Bullard moved to Gadsden County where he won a state committeeman position after he lost a similar election in Miami-Dade to Coconut Grove developer/donor Stephen Bittel. Voter registration records show that on Dec. 27th Bullard changed his address for voting purposes to 36 Lanier Lane, Gretna but listed his address in Miami-Dade for mailing purposes. The Gretna address doesn't exist in records on the Gadsden property appraiser website. Bullard, a teacher at Coral Reef Senior High in Miami, hasn't responded to text messages or an email about his move.

Winning a county position is a requirement to run for chair. In addition to Clendenin, Bullard and Bittel, Duval County's Lisa King and Osceola County Democratic Chair Leah Carius are also running.

All five candidates will appear at a forum in Pompano Beach Jan. 11th and they face off in the election Orlando Jan. 14th.

This blog has been updated with comments from the Manatee County property appraiser's office.

 

 

December 30, 2016

Florida Democratic Party chair forum set in Broward

FDPPompanoforum

@amysherman

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 21, 2016

Bittel looks to Florida Dems chairmanship after beating Bullard in Miami-Dade race

DEM ELEX b epf

via @NewsbySmiley

Following weeks of acrimony and intrigue, a divided Miami-Dade Democratic Party named Coconut Grove developer Stephen Bittel to a local leadership position over former state Sen. Dwight Bullard late Tuesday night — priming the progressive donor for a run at the state party chair while potentially furthering fractions within the party.

Bittel, who was forced by party rules to seek the obscure post of Miami-Dade County state committeeman in order to run for Florida chairman next month, cut a polarizing path to the position. Amid cheers and a smattering of boos, he sought Tuesday to unify a boisterous crowd and downplay accusations that local leaders engineered his ascension through back-room deals.

“The urgent need for progressive activism runs in my veins, runs in my family,” Bittel told the hundreds packed into the cavernous former Wynwood headquarters of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. “This will be my first and last election … It’s time to bring everyone together.”

With 413 votes cast in a field of eight, Bittel beat Bullard — who missed Tuesday’s event while cruising with family — by a count of 250 to 161. He’ll now face Alan Clendenin in a bid to take control of the state party following chairwoman Allison Tant’s decision to step down.

“This race has gotten national attention because everyone knows it’s a launch pad for state chair,” said Bittel, 60, who made his fortune as chairman of Miami commercial real estate firm Terranova Corp.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald

December 17, 2016

Keith Ellison says Florida Democratic Party candidate Stephen Bittel understands need for 'deep organizing to win'

Ellison

@amysherman1

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota has endorsed Stephen Bittel, a wealthy Coconut Grove donor and developer, in his quest to become the Florida Democratic Party chair.

Bittel confirmed that Ellison was backing him on Thursday. Bittel's team that is helping him seek the state party chair post issued a statement from Ellison today:

"I support Stephen Bittel's campaign because I believe that the future of the Florida Democratic Party is built on effective field campaigning, raising the resources to win down ballot and statewide races, and recruiting top flight candidates who recognize the strength of the party apparatus. We need to do deep organizing to win and Stephen gets that."  

Ellison is the frontrunner to become the next chair of the Democratic National Committee and Bittel gets a vote in that race.

Before Bittel can run for state party chair, he has to win his race for Miami-Dade state committeeman on Tuesday where he faces former state Sen. Dwight Bullard of Cutler Bay. About 500 Democratic activists are expected to participate in that vote Tuesday. The winner of that race is likely to win the state chair vote Jan. 14.

The race for the Florida Democratic Party chair has become nationalized with both Bittel and Bullard drawing support from national figures. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders' organization, Our Revolution, is backing Bullard. 

December 14, 2016

Democratic senators form committee to fundraise separately from Florida Democratic Party

@PatriciaMazzei

Democratic state senators have filed paperwork to create their own fundraising committee, splitting from the Florida Democratic Party in the middle of a political fight over who will lead the party.

The Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee will take over raising money and coordinating campaigns for state Senate races, now run under the Senate Victory organization of the FDP.

"We've grown, and we raised a lot of money this cycle," said Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens. "We've created an infrastructure now, and a staff."

The new organization, first reported by Politico, will be an "affiliated party committee," which under state law can put up to $50,000 toward a legislative campaign. That's the same amount a party can give -- and much more than the $1,000 an individual lawmaker's political committee can contribute.

Braynon said other Democratic senators, including incoming Minority Leader Jeff Clemens, agreed with the split, which is similar to the one Republican senators made in 2015 with the Republican Party of Florida. In the Democrats' case, however, the existing FDP leadership supports the senators' move, Braynon said.

Senate Democrats pointedly named their group the "Legislative Campaign Committee" -- rather than "Senatorial Campaign Committee" -- which suggests they may try to get House Democrats to join them.

Fueling the division is the upcoming election to replace retiring FDP Chairwoman Allison Tant. With no other big candidates seeking the seat, the post is likely to fall to the next Miami-Dade County committeeman: outgoing state Sen. Dwight Bullard of Cutler Bay or major donor Stephen Bittel of Coconut Grove.

Bittel, the apparent frontrunner, was a key force behind the Florida Alliance, a secretive outside fundraising group that was at odds with Braynon and other party Democrats in some of this year's legislative races.

Braynon has made no secret of his support for Bullard over Bittel. But he insisted Democrats remain united in spite of senators' departure from the party structure.

"We're all still Democrats," Braynon said.

 

 

Bernie Sanders' Our Revolution backs Dwight Bullard for Miami-Dade Democratic party position

BernieinMiamiinMarchPedroPortalmh

@amysherman

Bernie Sanders' organization Our Revolution has endorsed former state Sen. Dwight Bullard for a position within the Miami-Dade Democratic Party and subtly bashed his opponent, Stephen Bittel, a wealthy Coconut Grove developer and major campaign donor, without naming him.

The winner of the state committeeman race Dec. 20th will run for Florida Democratic Party chair Jan. 14 in Orlando.

"An extremely wealthy donor wants to buy his way to lead Florida's Democratic Party, and the only thing between him and control of the party is our political revolution,"Our Revolution wrote in an email sent to some Florida Democrats Tuesday night. "Here's where you come in: we need people like you in Miami Dade County to become precinct chairs and vote for Dwight Bullard on Tuesday, December 20."

Bullard said that Democrats who worked on Sanders' campaign in Miami-Dade reached out to him to ask if he would want an endorsement by Our Revolution for his state committeeman race. Bullard's friend Marcus Ferrell, who lives in Jacksonville and did African-American outreach for Sanders, then approached former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner who serves on the board of Our Revolution. Bullard said he hasn't spoken directly with Sanders.

Just as Sanders has pushed for U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota for Democratic National Committee chair, Bullard said he hopes that Our Revolution can boost his candidacy as well.

"I am hoping for a similar push, momentum swing in a smaller way at the state level," Bullard said. 

Earlier this month, Bret Berlin was re-elected state committeeman but days later resigned to make way for Bittel to run for the position. Before Bittel can run for state chair, he must first hold a county position.

It's unclear if Sanders' opinion will carry much weight in a county and a state that he lost overwhelmingly in the March Democratic presidential primary.

Hillary Clinton won about 75 percent of the vote in Miami-Dade and 64 percent in Florida. Although Sanders had fervent fans in Florida, he focused on other states and waited to show up in Florida one week before the primary after many voters had already cast ballots.

But Sanders has continued to draw interest since Clinton lost -- he drew a crowd at the Miami book fair in November.

When members of the county party's executive committee gather to vote Dec. 20th, it will include several new members who are Sanders fans.

Our Revolution backed Bullard during his state senate race in November. Bullard lost to Republican state Rep. Frank Artiles.

Another sign that Bullard is running in Clinton territory: the Dec. 20th election will be held at the Clinton headquarters in Wynwood.

Miami Herald photo by Pedro Portal