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.”

Palm Beach County commissioner’s brother opens campaign for judge

Attorney Scott Kerner, left, joins former Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe in the race for an open Circuit Court judgeship.

Attorney Scott Kerner, the older brother of Palm Beach County Commissioner Dave Kerner, has opened a 2018 campaign against former State Attorney Michael McAuliffe for an open Circuit Court judgeship.

Scott Kerner and McAuliffe are seeking the Group 13 seat of Judge David French, who is not running for re-election next year.

McAuliffe opened a campaign in May and through Oct. 31 had raised $31,180 from donors and put $200,000 of his own money into his campaign account.

Dave Kerner, acting as spokesman for his brother’s candidacy, said first-time candidate Scott Kerner’s supporters hope to raise $250,000 to $300,000 for his campaign.

 

Always a Palm Beach County connection: Roy Moore edition

Debbie Wesson Gibson of Delray Beach looks through a scrapbook from her senior year in high school, where several pages include what she says is evidence of her relationship with Roy Moore when she was 17 and he was 34. (Photo by Jon Gerberg/The Washington Post)

Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore — the accused child molester who on Monday won the explicit support of President Donald Trump ahead of next week’s special election — once dated a 17-year-old high school student while he was a 34-year-old assistant district attorney, the woman recalled this week.

Debbie Wesson Gibson, now 54 and living in Delray Beach, said she decided to share her story and a handwritten graduation note she says was written by Moore after hearing Moore say “I do not know any of these women.”

Moore is in a close race with Democrat Doug Jones in a Senate contest rocked by a Washington Post report that Moore initiated sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl in 1979 and pursued relationships with other teenage girls around the same time. Moore has denied any misconduct.

Trump, initially silent on the Moore allegations, began criticizing Jones last month and on Monday tweeted that “we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama.” Trump will likely promote Moore on Friday night when he holds a campaign rally in Pensacola, which is part of the Mobile, Alabama media market.

 

Will Trump’s upcoming Florida rally boost Alabama’s Roy Moore?

Donald Trump at an October 2016 rally at the South Florida Fairgrounds. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beacah Post)

President Donald Trump will hold a rally in Pensacola next Friday, his 2020 campaign confirmed Friday.

The Trump campaign says it will be the part-time Palm Beach resident’s 35th rally in Florida — but its real significance is in nearby Alabama, where voters four days later will decide a special Senate race between Democrat Doug Jones and Republican Roy Moore, who has been accused of initiating sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl in 1979 when he was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney.

The venue for the Trump rally, the 10,000-capacity Pensacola Bay Center, is 15 miles from the Alabama border. Pensacola and Mobile, Ala., are part of the same media market. Alabama GOP Chairman Terry Latham has urged Alabamians to attend the Trump event.

Deep-red Alabama hasn’t had a Democratic senator in more than 20 years, but polls show a close race between Moore and Jones since accounts surfaced of Moore pursuing teenage girls when he was in his 30s.

Moore has denied any inappropriate conduct.

The Republican National Committee and other high-profiled Republicans have withdrawn support for Moore. But Trump, who late in the 2016 campaign denied several claims of inappropriate sexual conduct, has defended Moore and attacked Jones as a liberal puppet of Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

“Roy Moore denies it. And, by the way, he gives a total denial. And I do have to say, 40 years is a long time,”  Trump told reporters Nov. 21 before heading to Palm Beach for Thanksgiving.

 

Women urge changes, ‘soul-searching’ in Florida Democratic Party after chairman’s resignation

Candidates for Florida Democratic Party chairwoman, from left: Palm Beach County Democratic Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo, Hillsborough County Democratic State Committeewoman Alma Gonzalez, Service Employees International Union Florida President Monica Russo and Brevard County Democratic Chairwoman Stacey Patel. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

MIAMI — At a “watershed moment” for dealing with sexual harassment, four women seeking to lead the Florida Democratic Party pledged Thursday to bring changes after former party chairman Stephen Bittel abruptly resigned amid accusations of inappropriate behavior toward women.

The candidates vying to replace Bittel — Palm Beach County Democratic Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo, Brevard County Democratic Chairwoman Stacey Patel, Hillsborough County Democratic State Committeewoman Alma Gonzalez and Service Employees International Union Florida President Monica Russo of Miami — appeared together for about 2½ hours at a forum sponsored by the Miami-Dade Democratic Party.

>>RELATED: Palm Beach County’s Terrie Rizzo Claims She’s Nearly Half-way to Florida Democratic Chair Win

A vote on party chair is scheduled for Dec. 9 in Orlando. Other candidates could emerge before the vote and Russo might not be eligible unless she succeeds in getting a rules change to open up the process to people who aren’t county party officials.

Bittel apologized and stepped down 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.

Bittel’s downfall comes as a variety of men in politics and media have been confronted with accusations of harassing and abusive behavior toward women. Democrats, who used to routinely accuse Republicans of waging a “war on women,” have been stung by accusations against Hollywood mogul and liberal donor Harvey Weinstein and two prominent members of Congress: liberal Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota and longtime U.S. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan.

“Let’s take a moment to realize that we are in a cathartic moment in our society, that this is our opportunity to do some soul searching, including at the Florida Democratic Party, and to identify the deficiencies that we have,” said Gonzalez, who is an employment lawyer and said she’s the only candidate for chair who has filed a sexual harassment complaint. She said she’d order a full investigation of the Bittel matter if she’s elected.

“I know that sexual harassment is real and that we ought not immediately jump to a conclusion that some woman is making it up. We believe you. For every woman who has told her ‘Me, too’ story and for those of us who have not had the courage to come forward, let me say now, unequivocally, I believe you,” Gonzalez said.

Said Rizzo: “This is a watershed moment in our culture, in society…Finally women are coming forward and we are being believed and it’s about time.”

If she becomes party chairwoman, Rizzo said she would implement policies and procedures to combat harassment and require party employees and members of county Democratic executive committees to undergo sexual harassment training.

SEIU President Russo said that when she became pregnant as a young labor organizer, a boss “told me I had to abort the child to stay employed. FYI, my child is alive and well in Gainesville, Fla….These are the sorts of things that we need to share so that folks know that’s not acceptable.”

Patel said new policies and procedures aren’t enough.
“The fundamental thing that we have to figure out is a change in our culture,” Patel said. “How do we exert feminine power in a way that transforms our power structures, such that we’re not using wealth, privilege, class and other things to dictate power?”

>>RELATED: Hastings, Deutch, Frankel endorse Terrie Rizzo for Florida Democratic Chair