October 15, 2018

Tallahassee sees 90% power recovery after Michael. Will it help Andrew Gillum?

Gillum FB Live
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum gives an update on Hurricane Michael recovery via Facebook Live on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. [Lawrence Mower | Times]

Tallahassee's electric utility said it restored power to 90 percent of its customers Sunday night, meeting its goal just four days after Hurricane Michael knocked out service to nearly everyone in the city.

Schools and universities were reopening in the city Monday morning, and the water and wastewater systems that failed during the storm are now working properly, according to the city.

Roughly 20,000 customers still didn't have power last night, however.

The city's recovery could be a boost for Mayor Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee for governor who's been criticized for how the city recovered from Hurricane Hermine in 2016. Hermine, a Category 1 storm, knocked out power to 80 percent of city customers, and the city took four days to reach 90 percent recovery.

While Tallahassee's mayor doesn't manage the city or its utility — that's the job of its city manger — it hasn't stopped his Republican opponent Ron DeSantis from criticizing Gillum for Hermine.

The Republican Party of Florida has aired ads saying that Gillum "refused help" after that storm, which Politifact rated "mostly false."

Gambling divides the politics of the family behind the Fontainebleau and Aventura Mall

Attachment-1 (1) (1)

Via @doug_hanks

In Miami Beach, Mayor Dan Gelber is campaigning for a referendum to approve an 800-room, city-owned hotel that Turnberry partner Jackie Soffer wants to build under a deal that not only bars gambling but prohibits the operator from owning a casino anywhere in the county.

“We didn’t want anything to do with gambling,” Gelber said.

Gelber, a former state lawmaker, is also helping lead the statewide fight to pass an anti-gambling constitutional amendment — a referendum that’s actively opposed by South Florida’s newest casino mogul, Turnberry partner Jeff Soffer.

“It’s terrible for the state,” Jeff Soffer said at a recent event at the private-jet terminal he owns at Opa-locka airport. “It will kill jobs.”

The mayor’s fall campaigning touches both fronts of a political fracas involving two of the most high-profile siblings in South Florida.

The senior partners in the Turnberry real estate empire have carved out their own lucrative fiefdoms within the family business: Jeff running Miami Beach’s largest resort, the Fontainebleau, an oceanfront hotel with its own casino ambitions; and Jackie running the county’s largest shopping destination, the Aventura Mall. 

During the last decade, the Fontainebleau has paid Tallahassee lobbyists to try and expand gambling in Florida and bring a casino to its oceanfront location. In January, news broke that Jeff Soffer was purchasing the Mardis Gras casino in Hallandale Beach. At the time, Soffer emphasized his purchase of the casino and race track was made on his own, separate from his family’s holdings under the Turnberry umbrella.

That distinction would become notable in the coming months, when his sister and other developers bid on the Miami Beach hotel project, under rules the city inserted into the deal contract that ban any bidder from also owning a casino in Miami-Dade.

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October 14, 2018

DeSantis surrogate suggests Gillum would veto security funds for Jewish day schools


The battle for Jewish voters in the race for Florida governor escalated another notch Sunday when the Jewish outreach chairman for GOP nominee Ron DeSantis’ suggested his Democratic opponent might veto security funding for Jewish day schools.

While introducing DeSantis to a crowd at Temple Kol Ami Emanu-El in Plantation, Randy Fine, the only Republican Jewish lawmaker in the Florida Legislature, warmed up the audience by describing the stakes of the election. He suggested that Democrat Andrew Gillum might ignore a relatively new law banning the state government from doing business with companies that support a boycott of the nation of Israel. And then Fine mentioned that, over the past two years, the state of Florida has allocated $2.65 million to fund security at Jewish day schools.

“Here’s what I want you to know: When we pass a law it has to be overturned for it to go away. But when it comes to funding, the governor every single year has the ability to line item veto that funding,” Fine said. “So if we have $2 million in the budget next year to make sure Jewish children who go to Jewish schools are safe even though they are Jewish, which one of the candidates running for governor do we believe would sign that into law and which one do we believe might veto that? That is a decision that is at stake.”

The Gillum campaign called the assertion absurd.

“Rep. Fine is doing himself and his constituents a deep disservice by spreading lies and conshttps://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article220017410.htmlpiracy theories like this,” Gillum campaign spokeswoman Carlie Waible said in a statement. “Mayor Gillum strongly supports the $2 million in funding for security at Jewish Day Schools — and Rep. Fine knows it.”

The back-and-forth is just the latest in a contentious and long-running tussle between the DeSantis and Gillum campaigns as they fight for support among Florida’s Jewish community. In what polls and history show to be a tight race, both candidates are aggressively courting a Jewish community that is estimated at about 630,000 strong and known to be a reliable and predominately Democratic voting bloc.

Read the rest here.

Miami’s pro-immigration political booster says Florida must open its primary elections

Mike fernandez

Convinced the best way to change Florida’s politics is to change the system by which its politicians are chosen, former GOP mega-donor Mike Fernandez says he’ll join the push to allow millions of independent voters to participate in the state’s primary elections.

Fernandez, who’s made news over the last two years by leaving the Republican party and promising to spend millions backing pro-immigration politicians, told the Miami Herald that Florida’s August primaries must be opened beyond Democratic and Republican voters in order to effectuate change in the nation’s largest swing state. He says he’s still pushing forward with a non-profit he created last year to help support undocumented immigrants, but is rethinking his plans to promote better immigration policy primarily through political donations.

“Florida is among only a handful of states that do not allow all qualified voters to participate in primaries. How backwards is this? Almost a third of voters are registered as neither Democrats nor Republicans,” Fernandez wrote in an email. “I believe our nation’s founding principles provide that all who register should be able to vote. While three-quarters of all Americans support immigration reform, this wish is not represented by the majority of those currently in public office.”

Fernandez explained his new political priority shortly after the Herald wrote about his decision to refund himself most of the $5 million he deposited last April into a state-registered political committee he created to support pro-immigration candidates.

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October 13, 2018

Citing Hurricane Michael, Gillum says he will return to campaign trail Thursday, missing first debate



Democratic candidate for governor Andrew Gillum will remain off the campaign trail until Thursday and miss the first scheduled debate against his Republican rival Ron DeSantis, he announced Saturday night.

The Tallahassee mayor, citing the fallout in his city from the unprecedented Category 4 storm that hit the Panhandle Wednesday, said that he would remain focused on his city duties through Wednesday's city commission meeting, meaning he would not participate in the debate scheduled Tuesday in Orlando.

“In times like these, campaigning has to take a backseat to governing. My job is to keep our community safe and ensure Tallahassee recovers as quickly and fully as possible," Gillum said in a statement.

"Over the past several days I have been unable to participate in dozens of campaign events, and this week that will include our participation in the debate sponsored by Telemundo 31 Orlando. I deeply appreciate the organizers' understanding of the situation in Tallahassee. We will work diligently to ensure Telemundo and its audience are represented in the two scheduled debates and other possible forums."

The hour-long debate would have been broadcast 7 p.m. online and on Telemundo stations in Fort Myers, Miami, Orlando, Tampa and West Palm Beach. Another debate is scheduled Oct. 21 on CNN, and a third is scheduled at Broward College Oct. 24.

The city of Tallahassee reported that 70 percent of customers had regained power Saturday, and that it aimed to have power restored to 90 percent by the end of the weekend. Criticism of power restoration during Hurricane Hermine, the last storm to hit the capital city in 2016, had taken center stage in the last week of the campaign.

Tuesday's gubernatorial debate is not the first to be changed because of the storm — CNN delayed the Oct. 16 debate scheduled between U.S. Senate candidates Gov. Rick Scott and incumbent Bill Nelson Thursday.

Photo: Tampa Bay Times

Miami commissioner moves $100K from aborted bid for congress to reelection PAC


Miami Commissioner Ken Russell’s got a brand new bag … of campaign cash.

This summer, months after aborting his bid to replace U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in Congress, Russell moved $100,000 from his congressional campaign committee into a state-registered PAC supporting his reelection to the city commission. The transfer occurred days after the June 30 cutoff period for the most recent round of federal campaign finance reports, so it hasn’t yet been disclosed on the Federal Election Commission’s campaign database.

The six-figure move is perfectly legal, if not common. Former congresswoman Gwen Graham, for instance, moved $250,000 in congressional campaign cash to a state-registered political committee last year as she prepared to run for Florida governor.

Reached Saturday, Russell said he contacted all his donors after withdrawing from the Democratic primary for Florida’s 27th congressional district in order to ask whether they wanted their money returned, donated to a charity or were comfortable leaving it in his hands to use in his political endeavors.

“Every dollar that’s in that state PAC has expressly been stated by the donor that I can use it for any of those purposes,” he said. “I really felt like this was not my money. I said ‘I didn’t complete the race. These are your funds. I’m happy to send it back.’”

Through the end of June, Russell’s congressional campaign reported $61,274 in donor refunds, some of it pro-rated, some of it returned in full. Another Miami politician who dropped out of the race on the same day, state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, has reported $100,885 in refunds and doesn’t appear to have transferred any money toward his 2020 reelection bid.

Read the rest here.

October 12, 2018

Campaign ad wars continue as Florida recovers from Hurricane Michael

Scott PR

Hurricane Michael has come and gone in Florida, but the campaign ad wars that began a week ago as the monster storm formed in the Caribbean rage on.

One day after Andrew Gillum’s gubernatorial campaign demanded that TV stations across the state stop airing his Republican opponent’s attack ads, the U.S. Senate campaign of current Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday that it, too, was fighting to knock down a “false and misleading” ad.

In this case, Scott’s campaign says it has demanded that Florida TV stations take down a commercial ripping the governor’s handling of education during his two terms in office. The ad says Scott promised “zero cuts out of state general revenue for education” upon his 2010 election only to slash $1.3 billion from K-12, hack Bright Futures college scholarships and cut $20 million in spending on early childhood education while also lowering taxes for corporations.

The commercial was paid for by Senate Majority PAC, which is supporting Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson. It was among the negative TV ads that continued to run in the Panhandle as Hurricane Michael approached Wednesday morning, leading to criticism from former governors who said Florida tradition called for campaign attacks to cease in times of natural disaster.

“During a time that the State of Florida is bracing for Category 4 Hurricane Michael, the station has an obligation to protect the public,” Steve Roberts, attorney for the Scott campaign, wrote in a letter dated Wednesday. “And a false negative advertisement being aired about the current governor during a State of Emergency diminishes the ability of the state’s government to communicate emergency safety information to Florida residents and hurts the State as a whole.”

Chris Hayden, a spokesman for Senate Majority PAC, says the political committee stands by its ad. He also said the PAC eventually pulled the commercial Wednesday in areas bracing for the hurricane after New Republican, a committee supporting Scott, also pulled its ads blasting Nelson.

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This Miami Beach commissioner resigned to run for Congress. Could she be reappointed?


Via @kyragurney

Earlier this year, Miami Beach City Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez resigned in order to run for Congress. Now that Rosen Gonzalez is out of the race, however, some residents are asking city officials to put the commissioner back in office.

It’s an unusual situation created by a recently expanded resign-to-run law that forced Rosen Gonzalez to choose between her city post and a long-shot congressional bid. Rosen Gonzalez submitted her resignation in April, after losing a lawsuit to block the state from applying the law to her candidacy, but she doesn’t officially step down until Jan. 3. She is now out of the congressional race for the seat vacated by retiring U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen after finishing third in the August Democratic primary.

Rosen Gonzalez’s resignation leaves the Miami Beach commission with two options: appoint a replacement or hold a special election to let the voters decide on an interim commissioner. The new commissioner would serve the remainder of Rosen Gonzalez’s four-year term, which ends in November 2019.

Although the City Commission can’t vote on a replacement until January, some Miami Beach residents have already started campaigning for a third option: Allow Rosen Gonzalez to stay in office.

At least one neighborhood group, the Flamingo Park Neighborhood Association in South Beach, passed a resolution last week urging the commission to reappoint Rosen Gonzalez to her soon-to-be vacant seat. A number of politically influential Beach residents, including former Mayor Matti Bower and longtime activist Frank Del Vecchio, are also advocating for the reappointment.

Pollsters have been calling Beach residents this week to ask their opinions on a possible reappointment, along with a host of other questions about city issues. It’s unclear who is paying for the polling, but Rosen Gonzalez insists that it isn’t her.

Broward Sheriff deputies' union breaks with Sheriff Israel, endorses Ron DeSantis

DeSantis in Miami
Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis speaks to supporters as his lieutenant governor candidate, state Rep. Jeanette Nunez, left, listens during a rally in Orlando, Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. DeSantis resigned from Congress on Monday, Sept. 10, to focus on his bid to become Florida’s next governor. John Raoux AP

While embattled Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel has been fundraising for Democratic nominee for governor, Andrew Gillum, the deputies' union for his department announced Friday their endorsement of Republican nominee Ron DeSantis.

"Ron has consistently stood with law enforcement and supported us in our mission to keep communities safe," said Jeff Bell, president of the Broward Sheriff's Office Deputies Association, in a statement. "His opponent, Andrew Gillum, is hostile toward law enforcement."

The statement cited Gillum's signing of the "Freedom Pledge" drafted by a Florida activist group, the Dream Defenders, which advocates for minority rights especially as they relate to the justice system. In 2013, the group famously occupied the state capitol for a month following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager from Miami-Dade.

The pledge includes support for the group's "Freedom Papers," which the union says includes anti-law enforcement language, such as saying "police and prisons have no place in 'justice.'" The papers also state that police "were never meant to protect and serve me and you," and "they started as slave catchers hired by wealthy plantation owners."

"This is a blatant attack on our law enforcement community, an insult to the citizens we work to protect, and dishonors the memory of our fallen officers," Bell wrote.

Johanna Cervone, spokeswoman for Gillum's campaign, said Gillum, as the mayor of Tallahassee has always supported police.

"The mayor has been a strong ally of law enforcement in Tallahassee, investing in additional officers to help reduce crime across the city," she wrote in a statement. "As Mayor Gillum has previously said, he will not take money from the private prison industry and instead will invest in community policing, smart justice and strategies that work with communities to reduce crime and create better opportunities for all Floridians."

Gillum's campaign has been supported by other sheriffs, such as Russell Gibson of Osceola County and Walt McNeil of Leon County.

It's not the first time the Broward sworn deputies' union has rebuked Israel, as the department has been splintered and politicized since the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Israel, a Democrat, faced a wave of criticism surrounding the way he handled the shooting, and multiple inquiries are underway into the law enforcement response and the handling of previous calls for service regarding the shooter, Nikolas Cruz.

In April, the union's majority voted in agreement that they had "no confidence" in Israel's leadership.

This fall, Israel appeared at a Gillum fundraiser. When he was criticized by one of the Parkland parents, Andrew Pollack, for the connection, Gillum deflected by saying it was better to focus on gun policies.

“It’s unnecessary to pin individuals, families, victims or law enforcement against each other,” Gillum told the media in Plantation in September. "We have to put our attention on the kind of gun reform that will prevent these kinds of incidents from happening.”

DeSantis has said he would remove Israel from office if elected governor.

Tallahassee is aiming for 90 percent of power restored by Sunday, likely helping Andrew Gillum

Gillum Kissimme crew
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum speaks to a local reporter on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, while workers from Kissimmee repair a power pole damaged from Hurricane Michael. (Lawrence Mower / Tampa Bay Times)

The City of Tallahassee is aiming for 90 percent of its customers to have power by the end of the weekend, a pace following the devastation of Hurricane Michael that could quell criticism of its mayor in the final weeks of his race for governor.

If the city meets its goal, four days after the Category 4 storm made landfall about 75 miles away, it will match the pace of recovery from Hurricane Hermine, for which Mayor Andrew Gillum continues to be criticized.

Hermine, a Category 1 storm that did less damage, knocked out power to 80 percent of the city's customers and also took the city four days to restore power to 90 percent, the Tallahassee Democrat reported at the time.

More than 92 percent of city customers have lost power from Hurricane Michael.

In the aftermath of Hermine, many Tallahasseeans were furious with how long it took the city to recover.

County Commissioner John Daily, who is now running to replace Gillum as mayor, was livid five days after the storm. He was part of the 10 percent who still didn't have power.

"We don't have power," Dailey said at the time. "We're frustrated. We're angry. We want answers. We're not getting answers. This is ridiculous."

Gillum, who publicly sparred with Gov. Rick Scott about the city's recovery from that storm, pushed back against criticism but acknowledged there were problems.

"Without a doubt, we've not been perfect in this process," Gillum told the Tallahassee Democrat at the time.

Gillum's opponent for governor, Republican Ron DeSantis has used Tallahassee's response to Hermine to question whether Gillum is fit for governor. The Republican Party of Florida has aired ads about Gillum's response to the hurricane even as Hurricane Michael bore down on the coast.

"Utility companies lined up trucks to restore power," one RPOF ad says. "But as mayor, Andrew Gillum refused help from workers. The trucks just sat, while people suffered."

Politifact called the ads "mostly false."

The city did turn down some help from Florida Power & Light after Hermine, but as mayor, Gillum had little control over that decision. Tallahassee's city manager runs the city and oversees the head of its electric utility.

This year, Gillum said the city was able to call on hundreds more electrical workers from as far away as Nebraska, thanks to new agreements with private utility companies.

Gillum has been frenetic in the days before and after Hurricane Michael, making more than a dozen national TV appearances, filling and delivering sandbags and using a chainsaw to chop up downed branches — sometimes with a cameraman from a company employed by his campaign shadowing him.