With Florida Democrats licking wounds after yet another electoral defeat a move has been afoot led by former DNC Chairwoman and Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to install Southeast Florida-based real estate mogul Stephen Bittel as the new Florida Democratic Party Chair. Bittel has no history of organizing or advocacy but is simply a fundraiser – the type elites in the perennially-defeated party have grown comfortable with. A southeast Floridian connected to the DC consultant and insider class, Bittel’s potential candidacy like the DNC stewardship of his benefactor Wasserman Schultz is indicative of a party that has completely lost its relationship with the majority of this state and nation.
Bittel, who was the co-chair of the DNC’s Finance Committee recently was the subject of a Washington Post article over the summer related to the leaking dump of DNC emails that resulted in Wasserman Schultz’s resignation as Chair of the national party after nearly six years in power. Bittel was described by DNC staffers as “overbearing, abrasive — and someone the staff sought to avoid.”
Power-brokers associated with Wasserman Schultz and those who seek to control the FDP for their own purposes have pushed the idea of Bittel as chair of the state party. On Tuesday, at what proved to be a controversial organizational meeting of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party where liberal activist favorite Dwight Bullard as well as Annette Taddeo failed in efforts to become properly qualified to run for chair of the party, Bittel was seated as a DEC member. The problem with this is those not elected to the DEC in their own precincts on the August ballot CANNOT be seated at the organizational meeting per party rules. So some controversy remains as to Bittel’s eligibility at this moment to run for chair of the FDP (though it should be noted that he can be seated at the next general meeting of the party and then make whatever move is necessary to run for FDP Chair after that.
Irrespective of legalities, concern is growing among grassroots activists and those who work hard to elect Democrats at the local level about the potential Bittel candidacy. A southeast Florida-based fundraiser would unlikely be able to connect with the types of people the Democrats have not been engaging well up and down I-4, I-95 and I-75. In the post election analysis the Democrats unwillingness to stretch beyond elite donors and massive coastal urban areas throughout the country has been a clear takeaway from the debacle. More focus on grassroots organizing particularly in suburban and exurban areas as well as a real effort to understand the failings in medium-sized counties such as Volusia, Pasco, Polk and Brevard are critical to a party rebuild.
Much of the party’s establishment is quietly pushing Bittel’s candidacy. The lone statewide elected Democrat (as he has been for six years now) Senator Bill Nelson faces perhaps his toughest reelection in 2018 considering the way recent statewide elections have gone. Having lucked out with facing Katherine Harris in 2006 and Connie Mack IV in 2012, Nelson cannot count on similar good fortune in 2018. It is almost certain the GOP will make a bigger push for the seat than in either 2006 or 2012 and Nelson will need a united party behind him to ensure he returns to the Senate. It’s important that the Bittel candidacy and potential chairmanship of the real estate developer doesn’t fracture the party to a point where Nelson’s reelection prospects suffer.
It appeared in the days after the 2016 election wipeout that leaders of the party throughout the country were more willing to listen to activists and dissenting views than in the past. However, what has taken place in the last few weeks has been discouraging from the perspective of progressives and grassroots workers and the effort to install and anoint Bittel is a further sign that some elites simply don’t get it – yet at least.