Sen. Bill Nelson weighs in on eve of Florida Democratic chair vote

Sen. Bill Nelson is backing Palm Beach County Democratic Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo for the Florida Democratic Party’s top post.

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is backing Palm Beach County Democratic Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo to lead the Florida Democratic Party ahead of a Saturday vote in Orlando.

Longtime Nelson political adviser Pete Mitchell confirmed the senator — Florida’s only statewide elected Democrat — will throw the large chunk of votes he controls behind Rizzo, who has led the county party since 2012.

Rizzo, Brevard County Democratic Chairwoman Stacey Patel and Hillsborough County Democratic State Committeewoman Alma Gonzalez are running to replace Stephen Bittel, who abruptly resigned last month after Politico reported accusations from six women that he made demeaning comments to women, leered and kept a breast-shaped stress ball in his desk.

A fourth candidate, Service Employees International Union Florida President Monica Russo, gave up her pursuit of the job and has endorsed Patel.

There are about 1,200 possible votes for chair under the Florida Democratic Party’s voting system. Rizzo has announced endorsements from party activists and officials who control more than 300 votes. Nelson’s endorsement comes with 42 votes.

Rizzo, 70, lives west of Boynton Beach.

 

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.”

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

 

Hastings, Deutch, Frankel endorse Terrie Rizzo for Florida Democratic chair

Palm Beach County Democratic U.S. Reps. (from left) Ted Deutch, Alcee Hastings and Lois Frankel .

Palm Beach County’s three Democratic U.S. House members are backing Palm Beach County Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo‘s bid to become state party chairwoman.

Palm Beach County Democratic Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Rizzo today announced the support of Reps. Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach, Ted Deutch of Boca Raton and Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach.

The Florida Democratic Party will vote Dec. 9 on a successor to Stephen Bittel, who resigned this month after being accused of inappropriate behavior toward women.

Four women are vying to replace Bittel: 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. Russo needs a change in state party bylaws to be eligible.

The four candidates meet tonight for a forum in Miami.

Click here to read more about the Democratic chairman’s race.

 

Palm Beach County’s Terrie Rizzo claims she’s nearly half-way to Florida Dem chair win

Palm Beach County Democratic Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Palm Beach County Democratic Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo claims she’s lined up “nearly” half the votes needed to become chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party.

But one of Rizzo’s rivals, Hillsborough County Democratic State Committeewoman Alma Gonzalez, says she expects a “very fluid process” between now and the party’s scheduled Dec. 9 election.

So far Rizzo, Gonzalez, Brevard County Democratic Chairwoman Stacey Patel and Service Employees International Union Florida President Monica Russo have said they want to replace former chairman Stephen Bittel, who abruptly resigned this month amid accusations of inappropriate behavior toward women.

Russo isn’t eligible to be state chair under current party rules, but will seek a bylaws change before the vote.

There are 1,204 possible votes for state chair, meaning a candidate would need 603 to win in the highly unlikely event that every eligible voter showed up for the Dec. 9 election.

Most votes are weighted by population (Miami-Dade County’s committeeman and committeewoman control 62 votes apiece, for example, while Palm Beach County Committeewoman Deidre Newton and Committeeman John Ramos get 41 each and tiny Hendry County’s representatives get only 1 apiece). There are also 178 votes controlled by elected officials. Sen. Bill Nelson gets 42 votes — 21 for himself or his proxy and 21 for his designee, former FDP Chairwoman Allison Tant. Nelson, who backed Bittel last year, hasn’t announced a preference.

Rizzo, who lives west of Boynton Beach and has chaired the county party since 2012, today announced 11 more endorsements. In all, she has been endorsed by 33 people who account for about 250 votes.

Palm Beach County Dem Chair Terrie Rizzo eyes state party’s top job

Palm Beach County Democratic Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

The sudden departure of a Democratic chairman cleared the way for Terrie Rizzo to become leader of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party in 2012.

Now Rizzo is making a bid to lead the Florida Democratic Party after Stephen Bittel abruptly resigned as chairman last week after being accused of inappropriate behavior toward women.

The state party is expected to choose a successor to Bittel next month. Rizzo said Monday she will be a candidate.

Palm Beach County Democrats have a statewide reputation for being well-organized under Rizzo’s leadership. She also has connections across the state as chair of the Florida Democratic Party’s caucus of county chairs.

“If elected to serve, I will work tirelessly and lead with unparalleled motivation to achieve the goals of our party to ensure the inclusion of those who have been left behind, protect every voter’s rights, lift up new leaders, and grow our Democratic base,” Rizzo said Monday in a post on her Facebook page. “Thanks to the grassroots efforts of Democrats from Destin to Dade, we have had monumental victories these past months. Florida Democrats must continue to move forward, build on the Democratic enthusiasm we’ve generated in cities and counties across the state, and now more than ever, we need an experienced and steady hand at the ​whee​l​. I believe my work as Chair of the Palm Beach Democratic Party, as the elected Chair of all Florida Democratic County Chairs and as a current DNC representative from Florida have prepared me well to be that steady hand, and I will work with full dedication and commitment for that purpose.”

Rizzo, 70, is a fitness professional who lives in Boynton Beach. She became acting chairwoman of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party in September 2012 after Mark Alan Siegel was pressed to resign by party leaders for saying in an interview at the Democratic National Convention that pro-Israel Christians want to see Jews “slaughtered.” Rizzo was elected to a full two-year term as chairwoman in 2012, then re-elected in 2014 and 2016.

Bittel, a Miami real estate investor and major fundraiser, became state party chairman in January. He resigned shortly after Politico Florida reported that he created a hostile work environment for women with inappropriate comments, leering and keeping a breast-shaped stress-relief ball in his desk.

Asked to comment on Bittel, Rizzo said: “The party will regroup and move forward.”

Florida Democratic Party seizes on Charlottesville for voter registration push

A candlelight vigil drew more than 100 people to mark the deadly weekend in Charlottesville, Va. The Florida Democratic Party hopes the events in Virginia spur voter registrations. (Meghan McCarthy/The Palm Beach Post)

Within hours of Saturday’s car-ramming death at a demonstration against white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel was urging Floridians to “Take a stand — register to vote, join your local Democratic Party, and defend our democracy.”

The party on Saturday night announced that it is planning “Rally to Register” events across the state this coming Saturday in response to the deadly gathering of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members in Charlottesville.

“The white supremacists who organized the hateful demonstrations and violent protests in Charlottesville want to intimidate us–they will not,” Bittel said in a statement released by the party Saturday night. “We will not fall silent, and we will not allow these acts of terror to subdue us. We are proud to be launching a statewide effort to expand the vote and counteract these acts of hate with hope. We are encouraging every Floridian to participate and #RallytoRegister on Saturday, August 19th. Take a stand–register to vote, join your local Democratic Party, and defend our democracy.”

The state party said it consulted county Democratic parties and clubs about the idea and “the response from local Democratic leaders was overwhelming–Democrats are fully committed to responding to hate with hope.”

Details of the upcoming registration effort have not been released.

Democrats inject Donald Trump into two Florida races

Democrats are running TV ads in St. Petersburg and Miami linking Republicans to President Donald Trump.

Democrats who hoped nationally watched special congressional elections in Kansas, Montana and Georgia would deliver rebukes of President Donald Trump came away disappointed.

Now two races in Florida — a nonpartisan mayoral election in St. Petersburg and a special election for a state Senate seat in Miami — have revived Democratic hopes that Trump and his slumping approval ratings will be an albatross for Republican candidates.

In St. Petersburg, where polling shows former Mayor Rick Baker leading current Mayor Rick Kriseman, the Florida Democratic Party this week began airing TV spots that put Baker, who is a Republican, on an “extreme team” with Trump, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. The same ads link Kriseman, a Democrat, to former President Barack Obama, former VP Joe Biden and U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg.

Seven mayoral candidates are on the Aug. 29 St. Petersburg ballot. If no candidate gets a majority, the top two finishers square off on Nov. 7.

Democrats are also playing the Trump card ahead of a Sept. 26 special election in Miami to fill the Senate District 40 seat of former Republican Sen. Frank Artiles, who resigned in April. The special election pits Democrat Annette Taddeo against Republican state Rep. Jose Felix “Pepi” Diaz, who was once a contestant on Trump’s The Apprentice.

Republican Artiles won the district by 10 points in November and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio edged Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy in the district, but Democrats have a slight registration edge and Democrat Hillary Clinton beat Trump there by 16 points.

Democrats launched an ad in English and Spanish this week that shows a selfie of Diaz and Trump and says the Republican “supports Trump’s every move.”

State Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Atlantis, in line to become Senate Democratic leader next year, says there are “a lot of other issues” besides Trump in District 40, but Diaz presents a special anti-Trump opportunity.

“If you were asking for the Democrats to draw up a candidate that had links to Trump you couldn’t do any better than someone who actually appeared as a contestant on The Apprentice. He was also an early Trump endorser. So Pepi Diaz is going to have to live with Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, his anti-health care policies, and those aren’t particularly popular in Miami,” Clemens said.

Democratic governor candidates Gillum, Graham, King coming to West Palm Beach

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, businessman Chris King and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham before a Democratic candidate forum in Hollywood June 17.

The three leading Democratic candidates for Florida governor — Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and businessman Chris King — will appear at a Forum Club of the Palm Beaches lunch on Aug. 28.

The three candidates also appeared together, and aired few differences, at the Florida Democratic Party’s annual Leadership Blue fundraiser in June.

The last Democrat to win an election for governor was the late Lawton Chiles in 1994.

The Forum Club lunch will be at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. It begins at noon, with doors opening at 11:15 a.m. Tickets are $40 for Forum Club members, $50 for their guests and club applicants and $75 for the general public.

 

Florida Dems pick new chairman; GOP makes Palm Beach County’s Barnett state vice chair

Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia, left, with Palm Beach County GOP Chairman Michael Barnett in Tallahassee in December. Ingoglia was re-elected chairman today and Barnett became the state GOP's vice chairman.
Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia, left, with Palm Beach County GOP Chairman Michael Barnett in Tallahassee in December. Ingoglia was re-elected chairman today and Barnett became the state GOP’s vice chairman.

Coconut Grove developer and major party fundraiser Stephen Bittel was elected chairman of the Florida Democratic Party today while the Republican Party of Florida re-elected its chairman, state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia of Inverness.

 

Ingoglia helped deliver Florida’s crucial 29 electoral votes to Donald Trump in November after Democrat Barack Obama carried the state in 2008 and 2012.  In addition to picking Ingoglia, the Florida GOP elected Palm Beach County Republican Chairman Michael Barnett as the state party’s vice chairman.

 

Barnett, an attorney who lives in Boca Raton, has been head of the county GOP since 2014. He has also headed the Republican Party of Florida’s Minority Engagement Committee and was the only black delegate in Florida’s 99-member Republican National Convention delegation last year.

 

The Republicans and Democrats both met in Orlando today to choose party leaders. Click here for an Associated Press account of the votes and the contrasting atmospheres.