SEIU Prez Monica Russo drops bid for Florida Democratic chair

SEIU Florida President Monica Russo, second from right, is giving up her bid for Florida Democratic Party chairwoman. Still in the race, from left: Palm Beach County Democratic Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo, Hillsborough County Democratic State Committeewoman Alma Gonzalez and Brevard County Democratic Chairwoman Stacey Patel. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Stymied by the Florida Democratic Party’s eligibility rules, Service Employees International Union Florida President Monica Russo said today she’s abandoning her bid to become state party chairwoman.

That leaves three announced candidates for the job heading into a Saturday vote in Orlando: Palm Beach County Democratic Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo, Brevard County Democratic Chairwoman Stacey Patel and Hillsborough County Democratic State Committeewoman Alma Gonzalez.

The women are seeking to replace Stephen Bittel, who apologized and resigned as party chairman last month after six women told Politico Florida that he often made demeaning remarks to women, leered at them and kept a breast-shaped stress ball in his desk.

Florida Democratic Party rules limit the pool of candidates for state chair to the top three Democratic Party officials in each of the state’s 67 counties. Russo, from Miami, does not hold a post with the Miami-Dade Democratic Party.

Russo blasted the party rules in a statement this afternoon and said she’ll try to change them.

“The Florida Democratic Party needs to step out of the past and rigorously rejuvenate and empower grassroots leaders and give them the tools, support, and recognition they need for their organizing,” Russo said.

“We need to be more intentional about being open, inclusive, and cross-generational, a Party where Floridians from every community in all 67 counties feel like they belong. We have to take the time to do this and not only listen, but learn.  As soon as I sought election, I learned that the Democratic Party’s rules and structures are closed and exclusive. The rules do not make those who have fought alongside the Democratic Party feel welcome. This holds progress back, and changes are clearly needed. Though I am not eligible to run for Chair, I still plan on continuing my push for these commonsense reforms.”

Russo also said she’ll continue to work on union and Democratic priorities such as raising the minimum wage to $15 and expanding Medicaid.

“I do not need to be the Chair of the Democratic Party to continue the labor of love to which I have dedicated my work and my life,” Russo said. “I look forward to working with the next Florida Democratic Party Chair on this and other ways we can ensure all Floridians win and more importantly thrive in 2018 and beyond.”

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