June 10, 2016

DLP vs. JJR contest in Miami-Dade begins as a tie, Democratic poll says


A competitive Miami-Dade state Senate seat is a toss-up with almost a third of potential voters undecided about five months ahead of the general election, according to an internal Democratic poll obtained by the Herald/Times.

In the race for the newly redrawn District 37 seat, Republican state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla is up two percentage points on Democratic state Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez -- a statistical tie, since it's within the margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

The two candidates, both of whom live in Miami, officially launched their campaigns in May, though they filed for the race several months ago.

About 37 percent of those surveyed said they preferred Diaz de la Portilla, 35 percent supported Rodriguez and 29 percent were undecided, according to the polling memo. Raw data from the poll, including a list of specific questions asked, was requested but not provided.

From June 1-6, Tampa-based SEA Polling & Strategic Design surveyed 540 district voters expected to vote in the legislative contest. The poll was paid for by the Florida Democratic Party as an in-kind contribution to Rodriguez's campaign.

District 37 represents much of the city of Miami and stretches south along the coast to include Coral Gables, Key Biscayne and Cutler Bay. It leans Democratic and is heavily Hispanic.

It's one of a few Miami-Dade state Senate seats that Florida Democrats hope to win in November, which would help them narrow the Republican majority in the chamber.

But it'll be a rough battle between Diaz de la Portilla and Rodriguez.

Heading into May, Diaz de la Portilla had considerably stronger fundraising numbers than Rodriguez. (The campaigns' reports for May are due today and not available yet.)

And the sitting senator also picked up a valuable endorsement this week from the Florida chapter of AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. It's rare for labor unions to endorse Republican candidates. (AFSCME Florida also endorsed Miami Republican state Sen. Anitere Flores this week in her close contest against Democrat Andrew Korge for District 39.)

The Democratic poll for District 37 showed potential voters' party preference leans in Democrats' favor. In general, 39 percent of respondents said they would support a Democratic candidate, 35 percent said they would support a Republican candidate, 22 percent had no preference and 4 percent said they didn't know.

"We know that Miami-Dade continues to change and the poll confirms what we’ve known all along," Christian Ulvert, a campaign adviser to Rodriguez, said in a statement. "Despite almost 30 years of a Diaz de la Portilla in office in Miami-Dade, Jose Javier Rodriguez starts the race tied with Miguel Diaz de la Portilla. The residents in SD37 are very much aligned with the values and principles of Jose Javier Rodriguez and he is well-positioned to carry the district with their support."

Diaz de la Portilla found optimism in the poll, too, and was critical of his opponent.

"The reason Mr. Rodriguez can't even win in his own paid push poll is the same reason why he won't win this election: People here know he parachuted into our community a few short years ago to run for office," Diaz de la Portilla said in a text message. "My constituents will ask themselves: If he doesn't know us and doesn't share our values, how can he represent us?"

June 09, 2016

State Sen. Gwen Margolis drops out of re-election race after disparaging rivals


@PatriciaMazzei @AmySherman1

Miami state Sen. Gwen Margolis will no longer seek re-election and instead retire in November after four decades in politics, the Democrat announced Thursday, three days after she publicly disparaged her five opponents as “three Haitians, some teacher and some lawyer.”

“My passion has been to serve the people of Florida and my commitment from day one was to make our community a better place for all,” Margolis said in a statement to the Miami Herald. “I look back at 40 years of public service with great humility and joy as I reflect on all the work we accomplished to empower people’s lives. It has been a remarkable journey and one that has allowed me to see how our county, state and nation evolved on so many issues.”

The Herald reported Tuesday that Margolis derided her rivals at a Monday night meeting of the Sunny Isles Beach Democratic Club. The executive director of the Miami-Dade County Democratic Party, Juan Cuba, called on Margolis to apologize.

She didn’t — which on Wednesday prompted one of her competitors, former state Rep. Phillip Brutus, who is Haitian-American, to urge other Democratic leaders to denounce Margolis’ remarks. He also asked his fellow candidates to consider a “unity” news conference against Margolis.

Thursday morning, Margolis bowed out of the race with a retirement announcement that included praise from Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant and incoming Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens. Margolis, 81 and the longest-serving senator currently in the Florida Legislature, because the first female Senate president in 1990.

More here.

Photo credit: Steve Cannon, Associated Press

June 08, 2016

Rival called 'Haitian' wants Democratic action against state Sen. Gwen Margolis


One of the rivals whom state Sen. Gwen Margolis referred to as "Haitian" earlier this week said Wednesday all five of Margolis' opponents should unite to denounce her "ugly rant."

Former state Rep. Phillip Brutus also urged rallies to protest Margolis, who apparently called her opponents "three Haitians, some teacher and some lawyer." He further asked the city of North Miami to consider removing Margolis' name from a local community center.

Brutus wants Margolis to be denounced by Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz -- and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. The Miami-Dade County Democratic Party's executive director has asked for Margolis to apologize.

Thanks to her widespread name recognition and robust campaign fundraising, Margolis is well-positioned to hold onto her seat, despite the challenges from Brutus, state Rep. Daphne Campbell, businessman Anis Blémur, teacher Don Festge and attorney Jason Pizzo.

Margolis, who is 81, "needs to take a break and enjoy a well-deserved retirement," Brutus said in a statement.

Labor union backs Miami Republican state senator


Florida labor unions don't usually go out of their way to endorse Republican candidates -- especially when they're running in contested races against Democratic challengers.

But that's what the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees did earlier this week. It backed state Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican, on Monday.

Flores is seeking re-election to a newly redrawn seat that now leans Democratic. Last time Flores had a contested race, in 2010, AFSCME sat out the race. This time she's facing a well-funded Democrat, Andrew Korge. (A third candidate running without party affiliation, Sheila Lucas George, has also filed to run. Qualifying ends June 24.)

The senator attributed the endorsement to bucking the GOP on issues like Miami-Dade County's wage-theft protection ordinance, which some Republican lawmakers tried to ban in Tallahassee. "I went against party lines because it was the right thing to do," Flores said.

She'll have to try to win over independents and Democrats in a presidential-election year when more liberal-leaning voters head to the polls. The district extends from Westchester to Key West; Flores, who lives in Kendall, said she plans to move to the district.

June 07, 2016

Miami state Sen. Gwen Margolis refers to rivals as ‘Haitians’

IMG_A_01_4_1_JG7FPEMU_L203282730@PatriciaMazzei @AmySherman1

Miami state Sen. Gwen Margolis apparently disparaged three of her opponents as “Haitians” and dismissed two others as “some teacher and some lawyer” at a local Democratic meeting Monday night, according to the only one of her rivals who was present.

“It’s reprehensible that three Haitians, some teacher and some lawyer think that they have the right to run against me,” Margolis said, according teacher Don Festge.

“I’ve been in office for over 40 years,” Margolis continued, according to Festge. “What does some teacher know about Tallahassee and how to run the Senate?”

Margolis went on to refer to her Haitian-American competitors — businessman Anis Blémur, former state Rep. Phillip Brutus and state Rep. Daphne Campbell — as “Haitians” four more times, Festge said. He added that Margolis later concluded: “I have unlimited funds, and I’m going to spend every penny, and I’m not going to lose to those three Haitians or some teacher or lawyer.”

The lawyer in question is Jason Pizzo. All the candidates running in the Aug. 30 primary are Democrats. About 33 percent of the district’s voters are black.

Festge — who, like Margolis and Pizzo, is white — recounted the scene to the Miami Herald on Tuesday.

“I have a lot of friends, I have students, that are of Haitian descent. For me to hear her say that right off the bat I was like, OK, this isn’t right,” said Festge, a hospitality teacher at Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High School in North Miami. “I was hoping it just might have been once — it might have been a slip of the tongue or something like that. And then she continued.”

More here.

Photo credit: Steve Cannon, Associated Press

June 04, 2016

Arthenia Joyner on Muhammad Ali: He 'fought the good fight for himself, and for so many others'

Obit-Muhammad AliFlorida Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa said she first met Muhammad Ali at a National Bar Association event in the early 1970 and later saw him fight at Madison Square Garden.

“As we mourn his passing, let us celebrate that legacy of the man who never backed down, who fought the good fight, for himself, and for so many others,'' she said Saturday. Here is her full statement:

“Asked at one time how he would like to be remembered, Ali reportedly answered: ‘As a man who never sold out his people. But if that's too much, then just a good boxer.’

 “The world will remember him as both.

 “I first met “The Greatest” in the early 70’s when he spoke at the annual convention of the National Bar Association. I saw him in the ring for the first time at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 1974.  And I had the opportunity to watch his boxing prowess again the following year when he defeated Ron Lyle in Las Vegas.

 “Throughout his career, the same courageous heart that carried him to win 56 of his 61 fights reached far beyond the ring. He was a civil rights hero who stood up for what he believed at a time when civil rights were not always championed, and even though, many times, he stood alone.

“As we mourn his passing, let us celebrate that legacy of the man who never backed down, who fought the good fight, for himself, and for so many others.”

June 01, 2016

Ana Rivas Logan officially enters Florida Senate race

Rivas logan@ByKristenMClark

Former state lawmaker and Miami-Dade School Board member Ana Rivas Logan is officially running for state Senate.

The Republican-turned-Democrat filed her paperwork Wednesday to seek the District 40 seat — which current state Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, and state Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, are also vying for.

Rivas Logan had been weighing a bid for several weeks. The Herald/Times confirmed her decision to run last week.

“The stakes are too high to stay on the sidelines in this race, which is why I’ve decided to embark on a continued journey of public service,” Rivas Logan said in a statement Wednesday. “My community has encouraged me to be their voice in Tallahassee and I am ready to campaign hard to earn the support of voters in August and November.”

Jumping in the District 40 race gives Miami-Dade Democrats an alternative contender to take on Artiles in November, but it also divides the party since Bullard is seeking re-election.

More here.

May 27, 2016

Ana Rivas Logan will run for state Senate, challenging Dwight Bullard

Rivas logan@ByKristenMClark

Ana Rivas Logan is in.

After weeks of mulling a bid for the Florida Senate, the former state lawmaker and Miami-Dade School Board member plans to file her candidacy next week for the District 40 seat, Democratic sources close to Rivas Logan confirmed to the Herald/Times.

An announcement is planned around June 1.

Rivas Logan's entrance into the state Senate race means she will challenge current state Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Culter Bay, in the Aug. 30 party primary.

Rivas Logan said earlier this month that she had reservations about running against Bullard, but said "I do not want Frank Artiles to win either."

Artiles, a Republican state representative from Miami, is also running for the District 40 seat. He's campaigning hard and has racked up significant fundraising this spring to unseat Bullard.

Bullard told the Herald/Times today that he hopes Rivas Logan doesn't run. He said he plans to meet with her before the end of the month and "hopefully, we can come to an understanding."

"Anyone else is entitled to throw her hat in the race, but I just think to be fully transparent: To leave a well-funded Republican with nothing to do while two Democrats go toe-to-toe all summer puts undue pressure on a Democratic establishment that’s already strained," Bullard said, referencing other contentious state Senate races in Miami-Dade County that the party hopes to win.

"It weakens the field when you have to have a primary among Democrats, especially when one is a sitting elected official," Bullard added.

In April, Bullard raised just $2,600, compared to the $39,200 Artiles raised. Heading in to May, Artiles had $238,000 in cash on hand, while Bullard had less than $22,000.

While Rivas Logan and others have expressed concerns about Bullard's lack of fundraising, he said it's not going to be an issue. June is normally when state legislative campaigns ramp up, Bullard said, because in a normal year, the legislative session would have just ended in mid-May.

Bullard also pointed to endorsements he's already gotten from major unions, political advocacy groups and elected officials.

District 40 includes parts of central Miami-Dade County. It's heavily Hispanic and favors a Democrat. Almost 55 percent of the district voted for Barack Obama in 2012.

Rivas Logan served on the Miami-Dade School Board from 2004 to 2010. She was then elected to the Florida House in 2010 but lost her re-election race in 2012, after redistricting drew her into the same district as Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz.

photo credit: Twitter

May 25, 2016

Former prosecutor to run for Florida Senate against Gwen Margolis

via @DavidOvalle305

Former prosecutor Jason Pizzo is joining the crowded Florida State Senate race to represent Northeast Miami-Dade.

The six-person race among all Democrats includes Sen. Gwen Margolis, Florida Rep. Daphne Campbell and former Rep. Phillip Brutus. The newly configured district include coastal cities such as Aventura and North Miami Beach, as well as predominately black neighborhoods such as Liberty City and Overtown.

Pizzo, 40, spent more than four years as a prosecutor, leaving in November to go into private practice.

During his last 10 months at the state, Pizzo said, he helped lead a pilot project that embedded prosecutors and community-support staff with police in Northeast Miami-Dade neighborhoods hardest hit by gun violence.

The efforts resulted in more arrests in shooting cases, convictions at trial and even the targeting of slum lords and shoddy housing conditions, he said.

To begin his campaign, Pizzo lent himself $200,000. "I can speak my mind," Pizzo said. "I don't need to go ask for money. I'm not beholden to any lobbyists or special interest or old guard crusty bureaucratic B.S. If there is something to do, I'm going to make sure it gets done."

Pizzo, a graduate of New York University, Columbia University and the University of Miami's law school, is married with 10-year-old twin boys.


May 14, 2016

Miguel Diaz de la Portilla had special guests at his state Senate campaign launch, too



The contentious Florida Senate race for District 37 in Miami-Dade County has attracted big guns for both the Democratic and Republican candidates.

Last week, Democratic state Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez had help from both U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, at his kick-off fundraiser.

But just three days later, it turns out, his Republican opponent -- current state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla -- quietly had many special guests of his own at a similar event.

Diaz de la Portilla's campaign announced Friday that it had held a kick-off party for the senator's re-election bid on May 6.

The campaign said it was held at Casa Juancho, a Spanish restaurant in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood, and featured a "standing room-only crowd comprised of more than 200 friends and family."

Among the guests in attendance, the campaign said: Miami Republican U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart; state Sens. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton; outgoing state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami; Miami-Dade County Commissioners Barbara Jordan, Rebeca Sosa, Xavier Suarez, Javier Souto, Steve Bovo and Sally Heyman; and City of Miami Commissioner Frank Carollo.

Image3"Miguel has shown a unique ability to effectively represent our entire community. We need him in Tallahassee, fighting and delivering results for all of us," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement provided by Diaz de la Portilla's campaign.

District 37 represents much of the city of Miami and stretches south along the coast to include Coral Gables, Key Biscayne and Cutler Bay. It leans Democratic and is heavily Hispanic.

Diaz de la Portilla and Rodriguez, both of Miami, officially launched their campaigns a couple months ago, but their fundraisers marked the start of what's expected to be a heated election season this summer and fall. The race is already starting to bring in a lot of cash, with Diaz de la Portilla holding the edge over Rodriguez, as of April 30.

Diaz de la Portilla, one of the Florida Senate's more moderate Republicans, hopes to hold on to his seat. But through Rodriguez, Democrats are eyeing District 37 as one of a few seats they could pick up in November to narrow the Republican majority in the chamber.

"If you're from this diverse community, you get it: We work together for the common good," Diaz de la Portilla said in a statement Friday. "I am thankful for all the support I have received and look forward to continuing to work in Tallahassee for the entire community."

Photos courtesy of Miguel Diaz de la Portilla's re-election campaign