November 21, 2017

Bittel won't resign Miami-Dade committeeman post til Dec. 10, after new Democratic election

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Ousted Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel plans to give up his post as Miami-Dade County's state committeeman -- but not until after his successor atop the state party is elected.

Juan Cuba, chairman of the Miami-Dade Democratic Executive Committee, told the Miami Herald on Tuesday that Bittel will remain committeeman until a day after the scheduled, Dec. 9 election in Orlando to pick the state party's new chief.

"He intends to resign as committeeman on Dec. 10," Cuba said.

As Miami-Dade committeeman, Bittel holds power over 62 votes in the next chairman election, according to state party rules. That gives him the single largest share of the vote in the state.

Cuba’s announcement made it seem like Bittel was staying on to wield his outside influence on picking his successor. However, Cuba later clarified that Bittel plans to give Cuba his proxy to cast the votes on Miami-Dade Democrats’ behalf. 

After some members raised internal concerns about having their views — and not just Bittel’s behind-the-scenes wishes — represented in the proxy vote, Cuba said Miami-Dade Democrats will be able to cast an internal vote for state chair to determine his vote in Orlando.

Bittel was forced to step down over accusations from several women that he leered at them and treated them unprofessionally in the workplace.

The party's chief administrator, Sally Boynton Brown, who was hired by Bittel in April, also resigned Monday. 

The Herald had asked Cuba and the state party Monday if Bittel's resignation as chairman -- effective at 11:59 p.m. Monday -- would include resigning as committeeman. Cuba did not have an answer until Tuesday, when he emailed Miami-Dade DEC members to inform them about Bittel's decision and about turning a planned Dec. 11 holiday party into a regular meeting and county election instead. He later emailed them again noting that Bittel would give Cuba his voting proxy.

Contenders have until 5 p.m. on Dec. 8 to declare their candidacies and be listed on the party ballot. 

This post has been updated.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell, Miami Herald staff

November 20, 2017

Florida Democratic Party president resigns


The crisis at the top of the Florida Democratic Party continued Monday with the resignation of Sally Boynton Brown, the party's president and chief administrator.

Her exit followed last week's decision by chairman Stephen Bittel to quit after he was accused of creating an unprofessional work environment for women.

"It has been a privilege to serve the Florida Democratic Party and I wish you continued success turning Florida Blue," Boynton Brown wrote Bittel and Vice Chairwoman Judy Mount in her resignation letter, which was effective immediately.

On Sunday, Boynton Brown angered some Democrats by publishing a post on Medium in which she appeared to defend Bittel. Boynton Brown wrote she never saw Bittel demean women, as six women told Politico Florida last week, and said she was "heartbroken" that staff didn't come to her directly with their complaints about him.

"It is unfortunate that not everyone who has worked with Chairman Bittel has had the same experience I have," she wrote. "In my experience, Chairman Bittel has been refreshingly open to feedback, given by myself and others, about his conversational style and modified his approach when he learned that others found it off-putting." 

She also suggested new internal policies to prevent sexual harassment in the future, including hiring a personnel director and interviewing current and former staff about whether they've been harassed.

Bittel, who was elected chairman in January, hired Boynton Brown in April from the Idaho Democratic Party.

Mount will be interim chair once Bittel formally resigns as of 11:59 p.m. Monday, according to the party. It is unclear whether he will also be resigning his position as Miami-Dade state committeeman. If he doesn't, Bittel would have the single largest voice in the state in electing his successor, given Miami-Dade's outsize clout under the party's formula.

Mount, a longtime activist and former head of the Jackson County Democratic Executive Committee, had told supporters Friday that she intended to seek the chairmanship permanently.

But in a sign of ongoing internal party turmoil, Mount announced Monday that she will not run.

"I have always supported the Florida Democratic Party, its candidates and the causes so important to all of us true blue Democrats. I will continue to do so, just not as the next elected Chair," Mount said in a statement released by the party. "I said on Friday the focus was not on me. That's true. The focus is on advancing the causes and candidates of the Florida Democratic Party, moving forward and winning in 2018."

Also on Monday, Terrie Rizzo of the Palm Beach Democratic Party said in a Facebook post that she would seek Bittel's seat. Activist Alan Clendenin of Hillsborough County has said he'll run, and other state Democrats are considering candidacies as well.

A vote has been scheduled for Dec. 9 in Orlando.

November 17, 2017

Bittel resigns

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Stephen Bittel’s rocky tenure as Florida Democratic Party chairman ended in disgrace Friday after he resigned following accusations from women that he leered at them, made suggestive comments and created an unprofessional work environment.

“When my personal situation becomes distracting to our core mission of electing Democrats and making Florida better, it is time for me to step aside,” Bittel said in a statement. “I am proud of what we have built as a Party and the wins we have had for Florida families, but I apologize for all who have felt uncomfortable during my tenure at the Democratic Party.”

Bittel said he is working with party leaders to set a date to elect his successor.

Elected in January after a contentious internal campaign, Bittel lasted less than a year on the job.

Bittel’s position became untenable after all four major Democratic candidates for Florida governor urged his ouster following a Politico Florida report late Thursday in which six women anonymously complained about Bittel’s behavior. They called him “creepy” and “demeaning.”

More here.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell, Miami Herald staff

Democrats call on Bittel to resign over accusations from women

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All four major Democratic candidates for Florida governor called on the chairman of the state party, Stephen Bittel, to resign Friday after Bittel apologized over accusations he created an uncomfortable work environment for women, the latest case of sexual impropriety rocking the state capital.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Orlando businessman Chris King urged Bittel to step down after Politico Florida cited six anonymous women late Thursday who complained they found Bittel “creepy” over repeated inappropriate remarks, leering looks and invitations to join him on his private jet.

“These courageous women came forward with disturbing stories of harassment, and it’s our duty to stand in the gap for them and others in these situations,” Gillum said in a statement Friday. “Although these allegations are not criminal, they clearly paint a picture of a hostile working environment for women.”

In a statement of her own, Graham said she telephoned Bittel and asked him to leave his post. “No one should have to work in an uncomfortable environment,” she said. “Bittel’s behavior and the atmosphere he has created is unacceptable.”

Levine said he espouses a “zero tolerance for harassment in politics or the workplace.” 

“It’s time to change the culture and it must start at the top,” Levine said. “I hope Chairman Bittel does the right thing and steps down as Chairman.”

King made reference to the wave of sexual harassment and assault allegations that have been made public recently against influential men in media, the movie industry and politics, including in Tallahassee’s insular state Capitol.

More here.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell, Miami Herald staff

July 10, 2017

Florida Democratic Party raises almost $3.5 million



The Florida Democratic Party announced that it raised nearly $3.5 million during the first half of the fiscal year.

The party got a big fundraising boost due to the visit by former Vice President Joe Biden who was the keynote speaker at the Leadership Blue event in Hollywood in June. 

From a press release from party chairman Stephen Bittel, Senate Democratic Leader Designate Jeff Clemens and House Democratic Leader Designate Kionne McGhee:

“Democrats are more fired up and ready to win than ever before. Having raised nearly $3.5 million this year, Florida Democrats are immensely grateful for the generous support of our donors and Democratic legislators from across the state. We are committed to supporting Democrats from schoolboard to U.S. Senate, and as we continue to build grassroots enthusiasm and raise resources, we are confident that Florida Democrats will win in 2018."



June 20, 2017

For now, embattled Florida Democratic Party chairman keeps his job


Two top African-American Democrats in the Florida Legislature aired their grievances Tuesday with Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel, reaching an apparent truce — for now — after Bittel called black lawmakers “childish.”

Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens and future House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee of Miami stopped short of asking Bittel for his resignation during a two-hour-long private meeting at Bittel’s Miami Beach office Tuesday.

But the lawmakers, who remain upset, said they demanded that Bittel take a more inclusive approach to leading the party ahead of the 2018 election. 

“There are things that he is going to have to do, that the party is going to have to do, to make sure that respect is shown,” Braynon said, citing outreach to minority communities and diverse party committee appointments as examples. “There have to be legitimate action items.”

Does he think Bittel will follow through? “I don’t think he has a choice,” Braynon said. 

Braynon said it wasn’t up to him to call for Bittel’s resignation, given that he’d never backed him as chairman in the first place — and wouldn’t if the vote took place again today, he added.

“I would not vote for him again, just like I didn’t vote for him before,” Braynon said.

Braynon said Bittel once again apologized for saying the senator had been acting like “a 3-year-old” at the party’s annual fundraiser Saturday night.

In a statement released after the meeting Tuesday, Bittel tried to look forward.

“Our meeting was productive and we are moving forward together to secure victory in 2018,” he said. “Together we are focused on electing Democrats who will stand up for working families and bring change and economic progress to Florida.”

More here.

June 18, 2017

Florida Democratic Party chair called black legislators 'childish,' and drama ensued



The Florida Democratic Party’s big annual fundraiser ended in acrimony Saturday night after Stephen Bittel, the party chairman, dismissed anger from lawmakers who didn’t get introduced on stage as a “childish” complaint from African-American legislators.

Bittel also said state Sen. Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens, the Senate Democratic leader who had expressed lawmakers’ unhappiness to the chairman, was acting like “a 3-year-old.” Bittel has since apologized.

Most Democratic legislators — not only African-American ones — were upset that Bittel, looking to speed up the program to get to former Vice President Joe Biden’s keynote speech, scrapped the part where Braynon and Rep. Janet Cruz of Tampa, the House Democratic leader, would present the members of their respective caucuses. Biden noted his appearance was keeping him from his wife on the night of their 40th wedding anniversary.

Braynon, who said he didn’t care one way or another about speaking at the annual Leadership Blue gala, nevertheless warned Bittel lawmakers would not like being passed over. Already the party had decided not to introduce each legislator by name, citing time constraints. Instead, Braynon and Cruz were each supposed to get four minutes each with their colleagues on stage before U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson introduced Biden.

Bittel, whose relationship with Braynon has been contentious, ignored Braynon’s warning, even though lawmakers had begun lining up by the stage and didn’t know the program had been changed. Bittel proposed bringing lawmakers up after Biden spoke. By then, the dinner’s roughly 1,300 attendees were streaming out of the room, and the legislators got no recognition, other than a pre-taped video that featured some of them, along with the Democratic candidates for governor. 

After the dinner, Sen. Lauren Book of Plantation, who is white, asked Bittel about the snub — prompting Bittel’s outburst blaming African-American legislators for complaining, even though Cruz, who is Hispanic, and others were also angry.

“He said, ‘They’re like children, these black lawmakers. They just don’t get it,’” Braynon said, relaying what Book told him. “‘I raised more money in this amount of time than they ever could.’”

More here.

June 17, 2017

'We are better than this,' Biden tells Florida Democrats

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@PatriciaMazzei @martindvassolo

Still recovering from a crushing November loss, Florida Democrats turned to the 2018 election cycle Saturday with the help of the man who remains their party’s biggest cheerleader: former Vice President Joe Biden.

Without ever mentioning President Donald Trump, Biden rejected the new president’s rhetoric and assured Democrats there is a way for them to recover their political standing.

“The state the nation is today will not be sustained by the American people,” Biden said. “We are better than this.” 

At times funny, at times so serious he was whispering, Biden spoke to Democratic activists in Hollywood for more than 50 minutes, sounding like a potential candidate for president in 2020 — or at least like one the party’s most impassioned messengers for 2018. Biden created a new political action committee, American Possibilities, last month, fueling speculation that he is considering a presidential bid.

Though he discussed making community college free and narrowing the wage gap — the sort of issues that make up Democratic presidential platforms — Biden made no reference to the PAC or 2020, when he will be 77 and Trump will be 74. 

Instead, Biden began by making a case for the reelection of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who will likely face his biggest challenger yet next year in Republican Gov. Rick Scott. Florida Democrats have struggled to win in non-presidential years, when fewer of their voters have shown up to the polls.

“No one, no one, no one has ever questioned his word when he’s given it, and no one, no one that I’ve met in my entire time in the Senate and eight years as vice president doesn’t respect Bill for his moral courage and his physical courage,” Biden said. “Bill, I’ll come back to Florida as many times as you want — to campaign for you or against you, whichever helps more.”

More here.

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff

June 13, 2017

Tim Canova to announce 2018 political plans Thursday



Tim Canova, who lost a heated Democratic primary against U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in August, will announce his political plans for 2018 Thursday.

Canova, a Nova Southeastern University law professor and Hollywood resident, confirmed to the Miami Herald in a text Tuesday that he will announce his plans at a progressive caucus event at the Broward AFL-CIO office in Plantation at 6:30 p.m Thursday:

Canova wrote on Facebook  that he will speak at the event where he will be “making a big announcement on our plans for 2018, which will be live streamed on this page. You won't want to miss out!”

In September, Canova filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission so he could start fundraising in case he decided to run against Wasserman Schultz who represents a Broward/Miami-Dade district. But through April he hasn’t fundraised.

While Canova has argued someone on the left should challenge Wasserman Schultz, he hasn’t made clear if that someone will be him or whether he will run for another office. Two possibilities: he could be joining an already crowded Democratic field for governor or running against U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida’s only statewide Democratic office holder who is likely to face Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Earlier this year, Canova delivered petitions to Nelson’s Coral Gables office to demand he take action to halt the Sabal Trail Pipeline.

Despite Canova’s loss to Wasserman Schultz by 14 percentage points in the August primary, his prolific fundraising showed he is a serious candidate. In his first race ever, Canova drew drew support from Bernie Sanders’ fans and raised $3.8 million.

Last year was the first time that Wasserman Schultz faced a challenge from the left in many years. She defended her seat when she was at her most vulnerable -- several weeks after she resigned as chair of the Democratic National Committee amid leaks of emails showing the party favored Hillary Clinton over Sanders.

In a Facebook post Tuesday, Canova expressed frustration with the Florida Democratic Party and said that it is allowing Wasserman Schultz to make welcoming remarks at the annual Leadership Blue gala. Canova directed some of his ire at party chairman Stephen Bittel, an ally of Wasserman Schultz.

“Why the party would want to promote the very personification of scandal, disgrace, and failure to open the gala says more about the incompetence and bad faith of Bittel and his leadership team than any lip service they've given in recent months and even recent days about remaining neutral and impartial in contested primaries.”

But Wasserman Schultz's spokesman David Damron said that Wasserman Schultz isn't speaking at the gala.

The Florida Democratic Party has not yet released a list of speakers -- other than headliner former Vice President Joe Biden -- and declined to comment.

Nelson will speak at the event, his spokesman Ryan Brown said.

This post has been updated to include information from spokespersons for Wasserman Schultz and Nelson.

May 23, 2017

Florida Democratic Party makes new hires

via @adamsmithtimes

From a Florida Democratic Party release:

The Florida Democratic Party continues working to build the strongest statewide grassroots operation in FDP history. Today, Chair Stephen Bittel announced several key hires and promotions within the Florida Democratic Party. 

“Over the past few months we have seen a resurgent Florida Democratic Party,” said FDP Chair Stephen Bittel. “In large part, this has been thanks to the tireless efforts of our staff. That is why I am very proud to announce two major promotions and several new hires. I’m confident that the new Florida Democratic Party will build the strongest, most effective grassroots infrastructure in the entire country as we turn Florida back to blue in 2018.”

Below is the list of promotions and new hires. 

Continue reading "Florida Democratic Party makes new hires" »