December 30, 2016

Florida Democratic Party chair forum set in Broward



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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








December 16, 2016

Bill Nelson: Stephen Bittel 'would bring a lot to the Florida Democratic Party'

Nelson_bill 121616


Florida's top Democratic elected official says he's a fan of Stephen Bittel as a future leader in the Florida Democratic Party but his praise stops short of a formal endorsement.

Talking with reporters in Tallahassee on Friday, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson was delicate in how he answered questions about the future of the state Democratic Party -- the fate of which rests on the outcome of a special Miami-Dade party election on Tuesday.

"I'm trying to keep a low profile and let the party process work its will, because the minute that I stick my head out then people are going to say I'm trying to influence the election," Nelson told reporters. "I can tell you that Stephen Bittel is a personal friend and he would bring a lot to the Florida Democratic Party."

Bittel, a Coconut Grove developer, and former Cutler Bay state Sen. Dwight Bullard are competing for the position of Miami-Dade County Democratic Party committeeman. The special election on Dec. 20 comes after Bret Berlin stepped down earlier this month four days after being re-elected, making way for Bittel. The winner of the Bittel-Bullard contest will likely become the next state party chairman.

MORE: "With Florida Democratic Party in balance, lowly Miami-Dade race goes national"

Nelson praised outgoing state party chairwoman Allison Tant for having done "a remarkable job" leading the party and raising money while facing a Republican governor and Republican-controlled Legislature.

"It's very hard under those circumstances for the chair of the party to raise the money, and yet she has still done an exceptional job in the face of huge huge odds," Nelson said. "Going forward, I see that Stephen Bittel is someone that I know personally who could continue that excellent job."

"And beyond that, I better not get into it," Nelson said, declining any comment on Bullard.

Nelson also wouldn't touch on the political maneuvering that's made the way for Bittel to have a shot at Miami-Dade Democratic committeeman.

"I can only repeat to you what I know is happening," he said. "There is now a race for the state committeeman position in Miami-Dade County, and in order to be eligible for running for state party chair under state party rules, you have to be either a party chair, a vice chair or state committeeman or woman to run. That's my comment on that. I just don't know how that election is going."

December 14, 2016

Dwight Bullard wants Miami-Dade Democrats to delay election



Former state Sen. Dwight Bullard wants the Miami-Dade Democratic Party to delay the election for state committeeman because of a grievance filed about the organization's election Dec. 6.

The grievance was filed by two Democratic activists who want the Florida Democratic Party to invalidate the earlier election and order a new one.

On Tuesday, Bullard will face off with Stephen Bittel, a Coconut Grove developer and major donor. The winner is expected to run for state party chair Jan. 14.

Although the race for the state committeeman in Miami-Dade is an internal party matter decided by hundreds of members of the Democratic Executive Committee, Bullard and Bittel are seeking backers to show they have broader support.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders' organization, Our Revolution, endorsed Bullard Tuesday night -- the group also backed his unsuccessful state senate race earlier this year. On Wednesday, Bittel announced he had the backing of three newly-elected state representatives: Nick Duran, Daisy Baez and Robert Ascenio.

Bullard said he isn't excited about the idea of dragging out the election process, however "I want to make sure people are comfortable walking into any election scenario. It's probably in the best interest of Miami-Dade DEC to make sure all grievances are addressed. I am trying to be cautious from a protocol standpoint."

Max Steele, a spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party, said the grievance is working it's way through the review process and that the party is trying to conclude it as quickly as possible.

"I will hopefully have an update by the end of the week," he said.  

The grievance was filed by Eufaula Frazier, a longtime Democratic activist, and Dr. Mae Christian, who lost the race for state committeewoman to Francesca Menes.

The grievance alleges that several improper procedures were used at the meeting including that the chair deemed the new members eligible while simultaneously continuing credential registration, standards for notarization were not met and that some loyalty oaths were submitted after the meeting was called to order.

Juan Cuba, who was elected as chair at the Dec. 6 election, said that there were three election attorneys as well as two observers from the Broward Democratic Party at the Miami-Dade election.

"No complaints were raised at the meeting," Cuba said. "Every election you get complaints filed by the losing end."

Cuba said that the election will go forward on Tuesday.

"We need to focus on the important work of organizing, registering voters, recruiting candidates, and advocating for our issues," he said.




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



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


Former prosecutor will challenge Campbell for Miami-Dade Senate district


Democrat Jason Pizzo says he hopes he'll be "pleasantly surprised" by the work of new state Sen. Daphne Campbell, who took office barely five weeks ago.

But for now, Pizzo is so concerned by the election of the Miami Shores Democrat and former state representative that he's already ramping up plans to run against her again in two years.

Pizzo, a 40-year-old former Miami-Dade prosecutor who unsuccessfully ran against Campbell for an open state Senate seat this year, plans to file paperwork on Wednesday in Tallahassee to launch his 2018 candidacy -- giving him 20 months to take on Campbell, or any other challengers who might arise.

"Unfortunately, the outcome in November was the election of a senator who doesn't and will not and cannot represent our district the way it should be represented, the way it should represent everyone's families -- including mine," Pizzo told the Herald/Times.

Pizzo cited Campbell's recent legislative record in the Florida House where he said she didn't advocate for women's rights for abortion, efforts to halt climate change or proposals to reduce gun violence in vulnerable communities, including Liberty City and parts of Overtown, both of which are in Senate District 38.

"There are so many critical, absolutely critical issues pending right now that will affect everyone's life -- their life, their health, their education, the climate," Pizzo said. "Within the same district, we have kids killing kids, we have climate change occurring and so everyone's interest is for the best, most professional, most ethical representation in the state Senate, and I continue to believe I'm that person."

Continue reading "Former prosecutor will challenge Campbell for Miami-Dade Senate district" »

December 12, 2016

Stephen Bittel and Dwight Bullard to face off for Miami-Dade Democratic Party position


Former state Sen. Dwight Bullard will run against Coconut Grove developer Stephen Bittel for a position in the Miami-Dade Democratic Party Dec. 20.

The winner is expected to run for Florida Democratic Party chair.

Last week Bret Berlin won a position as Miami-Dade state committeeman. He resigned on Saturday to make way for Bittel to run for the position. Candidates for state party chair must hold a position within their own county first.

Sen. Bill Nelson has been publicly silent about who he will support for Florida Democratic Party chair. However, he and Bittel spoke about Bittel's interest in the position several weeks ago. Bullard said Monday that he has not spoken to Nelson:

"I have seen a lot of speculative articles pointing to him wanting Mr. Bittel," Bullard said. "Again, I'm just a firm believer in this crazy concept of Democracy and allowing people the freedom to choose who is right."

Asked why he thinks he is the best candidate, Bullard said: "I have been committed to being on the front lines on a number of issues that have been core values for Democrats," citing criminal justice reform and fighting for a clean environment.

On Monday, Bittel sent an email to members of the Miami-Dade Democratic Executive Committee stating his case for why he wants to be chair:

December 12, 2016
Dear Miami-Dade DEC Member:
My name is Stephen Bittel and I'm running for State Committeeman of the Miami-Dade DEC, with the intention to run for Chair of the Florida Democratic Party. I'm running at the urging of fellow party activists who are as frustrated as I am by the results of this past election. At this crucial moment in our country's history, our party needs bold leadership that knows how to get things done.

We all know what we need to do at the party:

One, we need to refocus on the issues and lead with our values. The party of FDR, LBJ, JFK, and BHO has a simple message: everyone who works hard and plays by the rules should be able to get ahead. We should fight the special interests who would perpetuate a broken system that has left too many people facing crippling economic insecurity. And we should never back down on issues of justice and common decency.

Two, we need to invest in year-round grassroots capacity, expanding our reach across the state by building up our DECs and making the party more accessible by staffing offices outside Tallahassee. A true coordinated campaign is necessary to succeed at all levels of the ballot.

Three, we need to invest in our people. Our staff and vendors should be the most talented and inclusive group this state has ever seen. Our candidates, up and down the ballot, should be well-chosen, well-trained and well-supported. Our Democratic voters should be trusted to decide primaries. Our base of DEC activists, the heart of our party, should be empowered and respected. 

Underlying these needs is the urgency of growing our resources, by diversifying our fundraising base and bringing in new donors at all levels with a truly professional operation. And it all starts with a top-to-bottom review of the organization, its purpose, goals and bylaws. 

I'm running to bring the leadership we need to put these plans into practice.

I get why people who don't know me would be skeptical of my candidacy. I have been fortunate in my business endeavors. Years ago I started a small real estate company out of my house and through hard work and some good luck built a much larger company, of which I am extremely proud. Listen, if I was in their position, and that's all I knew, I'd be skeptical too. Precisely for that reason I'm looking forward to this opportunity to talk to my fellow Democrats so that you understand why I'm running, and how I plan to be the leader we need at this moment to build the Florida Democratic Party we all want.

Like many of you, I've been in this battle a long time. I stuffed envelopes for McGovern. I organized buses for Carter. I fought for the class size amendment, took on for-profit charter schools, and worked to extend early vote hours. I have been actively involved in the DNC since 2009 and have worked with a group of other donors who push the party to embrace its progressive values. 

I am a true believer. I am honest to a fault. And I've never shied away from a fight worth having.  That likely describes you too. 
As Democrats, we're all about fighting the good fight. What we need now is an organization to match our spirit. This race for FDP Chair provides an opportunity to discuss these and other issues, hear what's on your mind, and talk about how we get things done. Democrats, let's get started, and let's not quit until we've built, together, a Florida Democratic Party we can all be proud of: a party that leads with its values and has the heart and the discipline to start winning again.


December 08, 2016

Miami-Dade GOP chairman says he's running again

Chairman Diaz serious JAI@PatriciaMazzei 

Nelson Diaz, the chairman of the Miami-Dade County Republican Party, said Thursday he's running for reelection to another two-year term.

In an interview with the Miami Herald, Diaz said he's proud of how Republicans did in the Nov. 8 election but "there's some unfinished business that we need to take care of."

"We need to make sure we get a Republican governor and Cabinet back in 2018," he said. "We need to send a Republican senator to help Marco Rubio. And there are a few state House seats we need to win back in Miami, and two state Senate seats we need to defend."

In an email to party members Thursday, Diaz outlined Republicans' 2016 wins.

"Presidential years are always tougher for Republicans, but together we proved we could survive and do better than everyone expected," he wrote, adding that the local GOP's annual Lincoln Day fundraisers brought in about $200,000 each over the past two years.

Diaz, who has already served two terms, said a third term would be his last. He faces no opposition yet for the Dec. 22 election, but at least one early Donald Trump supporter, party member Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck, sounds eager to recruit a Trump loyalist for the job -- or perhaps to run himself. Diaz remained neutral in the presidential primary, though he's a friend of Rubio's.

"Miami-Dade needs a new direction," Palomares-Starbuck, who is traveling out of the country, said in a text message to the Herald. "Marco Rubio lost Miami-Dade. So did Trump."

Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 300,000 in Miami-Dade, so it's unrealistic for any Republican running statewide to hold out hope for a win here.

This year, Rubio, who is from West Miami, nearly matched his level of MIami-Dade support from 2010, a year that heavily favored Republicans. He received about 45 percent support in 2010 and 43 percent support in 2016. In raw numbers, that amounted to about 200,000 more Miami-Dade votes for Rubio in 2016 than in 2010.

Photo credit: Jose A. Iglesias, el Nuevo Herald

Stephen Bittel quietly became a Miami-Dade Democratic precinct captain this week

@PatriciaMazzei  IMG_Bittel_7_1_VT9NK7SB_L269015500

In the latest twist in the political saga over who will be the next Florida Democratic Party chief, Miami fundraiser Stephen Bittel quietly became eligible earlier this week to potentially seek the position.

Bittel was one of 131 people formally sworn in as a member of the Miami-Dade County Democratic Executive Committee late Tuesday night when the local party approved a motion to accept applications submitted during the course of the four-hour meeting. Meeting minutes list Bittel as a new DEC member in precinct 586, though he was never spotted in the room. No attendance was required.

Bittel declined to comment in any detail to the Miami Herald on Thursday.

"I hope I'll have more to say in the future," he said. "I care very deeply about the future of our community, state and country."

He wouldn't say who turned in his form. Some Democrats speculated he had funded the Pizza Hut delivery that arrived mid-meeting, after the arroz con pollo from earlier was mostly gone. ("I'm a pizzaholic," Bittel said, without confirming his involvement.)

Because Bittel's Coconut Grove precinct didn't have a captain -- most precincts are vacant -- he automatically became his precinct committeeman. (Another man from the same precinct who also became a member Tuesday hadn't signed his application, so Bittel got dibs on being named captain.)

That matters because it means Bittel is now eligible to run for a local party position next time there's an election. His allies are pushing behind the scenes for one of three Miami-Dade officers elected Tuesday to step aside precisely so that a new election is called and Bittel can run. That's the only way the wealthy developer can vie for the state party chairmanship in January.

Newly elected Miami-Dade DEC Chairman Juan Cuba -- who has said there's "zero circumstances" under which he'd step aside for Bittel to join the leadership ranks -- noted that the long list of new members also includes many former Bernie Sanders supporters and other Democrats previously uninvolved in party politics.

"We're glad to be growing the Democratic Party so quickly already," he said.

An earlier version of this post suggested new DEC members had to attend Tuesday's meeting in person to submit their applications. They did not.

Photo credit: C.W. Griffin, Miami Herald file

After missing chance to sign letter to Trump, Miami-Dade mayor says he backs DACA


Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez missed his chance to sign on to a letter from big-city mayors to President-elect Donald Trump asking him to protect President Barack Obama's program to protect young immigrants brought into the country illegally from deportation.

But the mayor, a Republican, said in a statement Thursday he backs the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and hopes it is extended until when Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform -- essentially what the mayors asked of Trump on Wednesday.

"This morning, I was briefed on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)," Gimenez's office said in a statement. "I fully support the extension of DACA until Congress can approve and our next President can sign comprehensive immigration reform which addresses the status of our Dreamers and the millions who lack legal status throughout the country. Miami-Dade County is home to thousands of young people who through no fault of their own were brought to the United States by their parents and are currently undocumented. They deserve an opportunity to achieve the American Dream. I encourage the next Congress to prioritize common sense immigration reform."

The letter to Trump was delivered by the mayor who organized it, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Gimenez would have been the only Republican on the list.

December 07, 2016

Chicago mayor asked Miami-Dade mayor to sign DACA letter to Trump


The office of Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez got a request late last week from an aide to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel asking him to ink his name to a letter asking President-elect Donald Trump to protect young immigrants under President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

But Gimenez's name didn't appear on the list of mayors in the letter Emanuel handed Trump on Wednesday -- because Gimenez didn't respond to Emanuel in time.

On Friday, Gimenez asked for a policy briefing to help make up his mind on whether to sign the letter. But the briefing didn’t take place before the letter was printed and handed to Trump.

Gimenez traveled to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta on Monday to learn about the latest efforts to combat the Zika virus. He sat through a county commission meeting Tuesday. He flew to Washington on Wednesday to ask members of Congress for money to pay for public transportation projects.

“Mayor Gimenez supports comprehensive immigration reform,” said his spokesman, Michael Hernández.

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado wasn't asked to sign the letter -- but said as soon as he learned of it Wednesday that he would, "in a heartbeat."

More here.