January 15, 2017

Miami affiliate debuts Havana-based news crew, a first for local U.S. stations

Hatzel_First Flight

via @HeraldMimi

WPLG Local 10 News reporter Hatzel Vela and photojournalist Brian Ely have become the ABC affiliate’s men in Havana.

The pair arrived last Wednesday to become the South Florida station’s full-time Havana-based crew. That gives WPLG the distinction of being the first local station in the United States to have a news crew in Cuba on a full-time basis.

Local 10 News Havana officially debuts Monday, but when news broke last Thursday that the United States was ending its policy of allowing the entry of Cuban migrants who arrive without visas, the pair had their first big story since the Cuban government granted them approval to set up shop on the island.

WPLG, which is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, doesn’t call its new office a bureau, but rather refers to the arrangement as having a Havana-based news team that lives and works in Cuba.

“Our goal is for this to last and be there for the long haul,” said Bill Pohovey, the station’s vice president of news. “At this point it is not a permanent thing; it is a trial run. We have to see how this works for us.”

More here.

January 14, 2017

Miami political players, including county mayor's son, meet with Trump

El Pais
@PatriciaMazzei

The lobbyist son of Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Democratic political consultant Freddy Balsera of Coral Gables met quietly with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York this week to chat about Latin America.

Balsera and C.J. Gimenez were part of a foursome that also included Julio Ligorría, a former Guatemalan ambassador to the U.S., and David Duckenfield, a former deputy assistant secretary for public affairs at the state department. The meeting was first reported by El País, a Spain-based newspaper.

Duckenfield works at Balsera Communications, Balsera's namesake public affairs and media relations firm. Until recently, so did Gimenez, a Republican attorney who in the past has lobbied locally for Trump's businesses, recently started his own consulting and lobbying shop with Ligorría. Balsera advised President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign.

The four men sat down with Trump on Thursday. Among the topics discussed: U.S. policy toward Venezuela and the "northern triangle" nations -- El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala -- in Central America. They also posed for what has become the classic thumbs-up Trump photo.

"Obviously I have a longstanding relationship with Mr. Trump and the organization," Gimenez told the Miami Herald on Saturday. "We had a discussion with folks on his team that thought it would be beneficial for us to sit down with him for a few minutes and bring up issues related to Latin America." 

Balsera told El País that Trump "was very interested in knowing our opinion about what's going on, about what's going to happen and about what has yet to happen" in Venezuela. Trump also inquired about Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma and opposition leader Leopoldo López, both political prisoners in the South American country.

"He knew everything we were talking about and responded with good questions and comments," Gimenez told the Herald. "We want to see freedom come back to Venezuela, and prosperity."

He said the meeting lasted 15-20 minutes. 

The men also discussed Argentina, which has sought closer relations with the incoming administration. "I think we can create opportunities for business and cultural ties with Latin America," Gimenez told the Herald.

Not mentioned: Trump's more contentious comments about Hispanics, including his promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Now that he's our president, I think it's very important that we find a way to work, to cooperate, with him, to have our voice heard in conversations taking place about Hispanics here or in Latin America," Balsera told El País. "If we want to influence his thinking and his policies, we have to have some sort of interaction with Mr. Trump."

Gimenez and his father, Mayor Carlos Gimenez, plan to attend Trump's inauguration next week, on their own dime. The elder Gimenez, a Republican in a nonpartisan post, was invited even though he said he voted for Hillary Clinton for president.

This post has been updated.

Photo: Screenshot of El País website 

January 13, 2017

How Miami got its own inauguration Women's March

1076 TRUMP BAYFRONT PROTEST 111216
@PatriciaMazzei

A few days after Donald Trump won the presidential election, Stephanie Myers scrolled down her Facebook feed and read a post by Laura Broder, an old Miami Palmetto Senior High School classmate she hadn’t spoken to in two decades.

Did anyone want to organize a South Florida event timed with the Women’s March on Washington, the big protest planned for the day after Trump’s inauguration?

Myers quickly wrote back: Me!

And so Myers, who has no history of political activism, and Broder, who does, began putting together what would become the Women’s Rally of South Florida.

“We really felt it was important for the rest of the country — and people around the world — to stand in solidarity with the people who can’t make it to D.C.,” said Myers, 42, who lives in Fort Lauderdale. “The rhetoric of this cycle was just so divisive.”

More here.

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff

January 12, 2017

Miami Beach mayor will not run for third term and possibly run for governor

@joeflech

Levine

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine appears to be preparing a run for governor after announcing Thursday that he will not seek a third term in the Beach this year.

He would enter what is shaping up to be a crowded field of Democratic gubernatorial candidates for the state's highest office, which will be vacated when Gov. Rick Scott is term-limited in 2018. Other names circulating statewide as possible Democratic candidates: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, and trial lawyer John Morgan.

Florida Agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam is expected to lead the Republican field.

Read more here.

January 10, 2017

Former Opa-locka commissioner pleads guilty to bribery

Luis1 santiago lnew cmg
via @jayhweaver

Former Opa-locka Commissioner Luis Santiago admitted Tuesday that he plotted with other top officials and employees to pocket up to $40,000 in bribes in a scheme that shook down several local business owners and corrupted nearly every level of the city’s financially troubled government.

In an effort to reduce his prison time, Santiago pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiring to accept multiple bribes and extort businesses seeking city licenses, water connections and zoning permits — an offense that will likely put him behind bars for more than three years under a plea agreement.

Santiago, 55, who otherwise would have faced up to five years under the bribery law, acknowledged to a Miami federal judge that he wanted to accept responsibility for his crime.

“I think that’s the best way to go,” said Santiago, who was flanked by his defense attorney, Roderick Vereen.

Santiago, the fourth defendant to plead guilty in the still-widening FBI probe of Opa-locka City Hall corruption, will be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams on March 30. Santiago, who remains free on bail until then, is not assisting authorities in the investigation.

Santiago lost his city commission seat in November after a series of Miami Herald stories reported that he was the main target of the probe of an alleged extortion scheme involving payoffs for official favors. The one-term commissioner, who surrendered to FBI agents in late December on the bribery charge, is the only politician to be convicted so far.

More here.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, Miami Herald staff

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 06, 2017

Florida Attorney General Diaz? Miami lawmaker rumored as post-Bondi appointment

IMG_Florida_Legislature__2_1_BA74Q96S_L195827671
@PatriciaMazzei

If Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi takes a job, as expected, in President-elect Donald Trump's White House, Gov. Rick Scott will get to appoint her successor. Could he be a Miami state legislator?

State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz's name has been making the rounds in Tallahassee as a potential Scott pick. Diaz, who will turn 37 later this month, would bring youth and diversity to Scott's Cabinet -- and perhaps give Republicans a leg up to keep the seat. Diaz said he'd be eager to run for the powerful attorney general's post in 2018, at the end of Bondi's term.

"I'm definitely honored to be on those lists," Diaz told the Miami Herald on Friday, adding that "it would be hard not to" seriously consider the job.

Even if Bondi weren't to leave the AG's office, Diaz said he's thinking about seeking the position in two years, when he will be term-limited from the House. He was easily reelected to his western Miami-Dade County seat in November.

"It's something that I've looked at pretty aggressively the past few years," he said. "I knew that, no matter what, whether there was a Trump appointment or not, the General was term-limited in 2018 -- so I've been looking at it as an option regardless of whether she goes to D.C. or not."

Bloomberg reported Thursday that Bondi will get a White House position, though Bondi refused to confirm that Friday.

An attorney with the Akerman law firm, Diaz, who is known as Pepi, is a litigator in zoning and land-use matters, though he said he's had exposure to a "pretty varied" slew of cases, ranging from criminal defense to family law.

"I'm a real lawyer. I've been practicing now for the better part of my adult life," he said. "I went to law school to, you know, study comparative constitutions and the way the government interacted with laws, so that's a dream job for a kid like me."

Diaz is close friends with state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, a fellow Miami Republican who was a top South Florida Trump surrogate. Trump's transition team is considering Trujillo for an ambassadorship to Latin America. 

While Diaz was not quite as involved in the campaign as Trujillo, he did also lend his name to a Trump Hispanic advisory board (Diaz is a past competitor on "The Apprentice" who has known Trump since.) Both lawmakers plan to attend the Jan. 20 inauguration.

Photo credit: Steve Cannon, Associated Press. Diaz appears on the left.

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.