The Phlip Side (FDP Chair Edition): Just Win Baby!

I have always been a big believer in setting people up for success.  Putting people in positions where they can excel so that everyone benefits.  I understand that people have ambitions and dreams that may not be realistic, and there is nothing wrong with that, but problems arise when people put a lot of effort into endeavors where they will most definitely fail (especially when it prevents someone else from succeeding in that endeavor).  I am not going to get into the ludicrous goings on regarding residency of any candidate for Florida Democratic Party (FDP) Chair, but simply look at each of the leading candidates and judge them based on the facts available to all of us.  There is more than one candidate for FDP Chair whose candidacy is an insult to Florida Democrats, and one clear choice on who should lead Florida Democrats forward for the next four years.

The starting point for any discussion regarding who should be FDP Chair should be the realization that the main job that the FDP Chair has is to fundraise.  If the FDP Chair does only one thing, it is fundraise as they can use the money they raise to hire people to do everything else if they raise enough money.  Being a voice for Democratic causes would be great, but there is a limit to the amount of free media that is available.  Building a platform is nice, but you need money to communicate any idea or platform that you put together.  Candidate recruitment is also something the FDP Chair should focus a large amount of resources on, but having a ton of money to put behind candidates will result in more quality candidates putting their hats into the ring.  I wish money didn’t run politics, but in Florida it does at this point in time and Florida Democrats have no hope of escaping the abyss unless they accept that CURRENT reality.

Miami-Dade State Committeeman Stephen Bittel is in a league of his own when it comes to fundraising when compared to the other candidates for FDP Chair.  The vitriol that has come out for Mr. Bittel by some people who don’t even know him, and before he was even an official candidate, is mind boggling.  Mr. Bittel is a very successful businessman, and it disturbs me that being successful is looked down upon by more than a few people in our party.  Mr. Bittel has been very open, honest, and straightforward regarding his plans to run for FDP Chair.  Everyone who was paying attention knew exactly what he was going to do, and despite organized opposition he successfully executed his plan to run for FDP Chair by coalition building and doing the hard work required to succeed.  In his campaign, he has exceeded every expectation and shown the leadership skills needed to thrive as FDP Chair.

Another leading contender for FDP Chair is current FDP First Vice-Chair Alan Clendenin.  Mr. Clendenin may have some nice ideas, but when looking at his track record over the past six months (much less the past four years) no one can have any faith that any of his ideas will ever become reality.  Mr. Clendenin ran for school board last year and finished fourth.  $20k of the money he raised was a loan to his campaign that he never spent.  That means he wasn’t as fully committed as he wanted to appear to be, or he was saving that money for a run-off that he didn’t come within a country mile of getting into.  After losing his school board race, Mr. Clendenin ran for re-election as State Committeeman in Hillsborough County and lost an election that had less than 100 votes cast.  If someone can’t win re-election as State Committeeman when less than 100 votes are cast, they have no business being FDP Chair.

Former state Sen. Dwight Bullard is yet another person vying to be FDP Chair.  Sen. Bullard did an excellent job in the halls of Tallahassee, and I wish there were 160 clones of Sen. Bullard in the Florida Legislature, but he has absolutely no business running for FDP Chair.  Sen. Bullard refused to spend any real time raising money for either his own re-election campaign or as Chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party.  Sen. Bullard lost his seat and local Democrats countywide badly under-performed the top of the ticket.  Sen. Bullard looking to be FDP Chair is like me looking teach elementary school while refusing to deal with children (you shouldn’t look to get a job when you don’t want to do the main part of that job).  Sen. Bullard then lost his bid to become Miami-Dade State Committeeman, and then ran for State Committeeman again in the special election later last month against Mr. Bittel and lost AGAIN.

I actually personally like both Mr. Clendenin and Sen. Bullard by the way.  I think they both should have roles in the Democratic Party going forward, but not FDP Chair.  Their homes counties rejected them at the ballot box, and then their home DECs rejected them again.  If the people who know Sen. Bullard and Mr. Clendenin best won’t vote for them, then why should anyone else?  None of the candidates not mentioned here seem to have a path to victory to become FDP Chair.  I don’t know Mr. Bittel at all, and have never had a conversation with the man.  I felt compelled to write this to make it as abundantly clear to everyone else as it is to me that we need Stephen Bittel as the next FDP Chair based on the facts.  Mr. Bittel is the only viable candidate to show he can excel at every aspect of the job of FDP Chair.

(Author’s Note: Please feel free to send any comments, suggestions, column ideas, or hate mail to ThePhlipSideFL@gmail.com.)

Sean Phillippi is a Democratic strategist and consultant based in Broward County.  He has worked for campaigns on the federal, state, and local levels, including the Florida Democratic Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.  Sean is the Managing Member of TLE Analytics LLC, the political data and consulting firm he founded in 2012.

18 comments

  1. Dave Trotter · · Reply

    Isn’t this the same story we heard about Allison Tant? She is a fundraiser, thus she knows how to run the party? We see how far that got Florida Democrats. We also heard the same about Hillary Clinton. Money means a lot, but not everything.

    A good organization will raise money, money will not create a good organization. Good candidates can fundraise and build a grassroots organization, money cannot buy that. Bittel has not shown that he has a strong plan to build the Florida Democratic Party. He also has not shown that he has the ability to understand how the party works outside of fundraising. Yes, I think his fundraising talents would benefit the FDP, but he would not be a good leader for the party, which requires you to conduct multiple tasks. Wasn’t that Obama’s criticism of McCain during the financial crisis?

    Finally, people on the DNC Finance Committee didn’t even want to work with Bittel. Just search the WikiLeaks emails and what DNC staff said about Bittel.

    1. You can actually build a good grassroots organization with money. One in fact requires money. You need money to hire people to help run a strong grassroots organization. OFA did a great job of grassroots organizing, but it had tens of millions of dollars supporting it. To get the best people, you need to pay them because that is the only way you can hold them accountable.

      1. Dave Trotter · ·

        OFA was also an organization for a presidential candidate. The FDP will not get anywhere near what OFA had. Yes, to get the best people you need to pay them, but you also need to recruit the best candidates. How many times have the FDP run shit candidate but threw a bunch of money behind them? That is why I say money isn’t always the answer. If you have a good candidate, they can raise money. Again, we were told this will most FDP former chairs, and nothing has improved.

  2. Bryan Farris · · Reply

    If Mr. Bitell, with his unlimited money and involvement in numerous legislative races, was only able to pick up one Senate seat, there’s a problem. The mere ability the raise money, while important, is not the only factor that should be looked at in the FDP Chairs race. In order to be successful, one must know how to spend that money wisely and it is clear that Mr. Bitell does not.

    1. I agree that just because you raise money doesn’t mean you know how to spend it effectively. I have seen too many campaigns set money on fire. That being said, no one is perfect. If you involve yourself in a lot of races you are going to have some hits and some misses. The more money you have though the more misses you can afford.

  3. Yeah there are two women who have been in this race for a while now, who aren’t even mentioned here. One of them, Lisa King, is a proven fundraiser.

    1. As I mentioned, I don’t think any of the other candidates have a path for get the number of votes needed to win. I am going to write a second article and reach out to Ms. King to see if she has more support than I expect that she does (this is not a knock against her, but a statement of fact. I have actually heard nothing but good things about Ms. King).

  4. barbara miller · · Reply

    Several months ago Stephen Bittel was the featured speaker at a luncheon I attended. It was a heartfelt speech about how he became successful and why he has devoted his time and resources to the Democratic Party. I thought as I listened to him that he would be a strong and caring leader of our State Party, but I knew that few who serve on the national level are engaged or interested at the state level. I was very happy to hear that he had become a candidate for florida State Chair of the Democratic Party.

    The qualities Stephen brings align with what I believe we need at this time to be successful in 2018:

    1. He has demonstrated that the core Democratic values that I believe in are his because he lives them. He cares about improving the lives of all people and does so by respecting them, protecting their rights, and promoting equality and justice.

    2. He has proven organizational skills exemplified by his building an extremely successful business. Since I believe the state party needs a full dose of reorganization and growth, he is the only candidate with that experience and skill set needed to do the job. (Time to vet and hold accountable every consultant and make sure that those who work for the party are the best recruiters, campaigners, fundraisers, grass roots organizers, message makers, data and polling specialists available.)

    3. He has the right combination of leadership and people skills to bring us all together into a party that works together from the volunteers to the executive and professional levels. That starts with bringing the state party to the membership, not “hiding away” in Tallahassee and giving the DEC’s and Democratic candidates the resources and tools to be successful.

    4. He has, because of his own personal commitment and success, the stature to ask contributors to give money, to ask legislators to stay on message and fight for our Democratic goals, and to ask all of us to do what we can to elect Democrats.

    I hope those of you who can will vote for Stephen Bittle and those those who cannot vote will let their State Committee people know of your support.

  5. No mention of the women in the race? Lisa King and Leah Carius. With all due respect, include all of the candidates. Inclusivity. Equality. Democratic values. Be about it.

    1. Are you willing to put your money where your mouth is? I didn’t mention them because I as I have mentioned I don’t see a path to victory for either. I am willing to bet that the top two finishers in this race will both be men. Gender has nothing to do with that as it just so happens that the leading candidates are all men. To try and bring sexism into the conversation is ludicrous and you only make yourself look bad by doing so.

  6. mike coleman · · Reply

    Florida’s Democratic Party could be run by the best organizer in the USA and without a minimum of $3 per registered Democrat per year the programs necessary at every level of the Party could not be conducted.
    Please question that amount by asking yourself what that $3 could do and you may come to the conclusion $3 isn’t so much.
    Perhaps not enough maybe $4 or $5 fuels the effort much better.

    Now multiply that $3 or $4 or $5 by 4.9 million Democrats and you get a huge number.
    Republicans operate with that kind of money coming from multiple sources through multiple avenues. They won here in 2016 with precisely that type of financial power as they doubled down on their reliance upon an older population of White Voters who were no longer politically active if they had ever been. Remember over 86% of Republicans in Florida are White.
    This fact multiplies the power of a single simple message.
    Coupled with a Candidate who translated Dog Whistle language into plain language and a promise to keep Social Security and Medicare as they are (like that promise will be honored) we Democrats lost even when we produced a record Statewide turnout.

    Florida Republicans have three basic advantages over Florida Democrats. First is turnout strength as 48% of Republicans eligible to vote in the past three general elections did so as opposed to just over 38% of Democrats. Two out of three top ticket races were won by Republicans and every election was won by less than 1.5%.
    Second is in Statewide elections incumbency is a factor and Third is with incumbency comes financial rewards that accrue to the Party in power.

    Allison Tant had successes in both fundraising and in increased Democratic turnout. She worked hard and in my opinion Florida’s Democratic Party advanced.

    I believe that the Sean makes very valid points concerning the needs of Our Party and about Mr Bittel.

    The choice between all of the fine Candidates is very important and those with votes must consider what skills are necessary to run FDP.

    Without doubt Florida’s Democrats have not been adequately funded for a Party with nearly 5 million members.

    The costs are immense and like it or not Florida’s Democrats are not going to win with grassroots organization alone against a well financed Republican Party full of Statewide incumbents (whether the seat is open or not Republicans have controlled them all but one term of one seat every day this century) while having a huge voter turnout reliability ratio that eclipses our Democratic registration advantage heading into a gubernatorial election.

    Gubernatorial elections are precisely where the Republican turnout reliability has crushed Democratic hopes.
    Most people may not know that in 2014 over 300,000 more Republicans voted than Democrats yet Rick Scott only won by less than 64,500 votes.
    Imagine having funding that allows for grassroots activity which will make a serious dent in the Republican turnout reliability.

    Our Party needs a huge financial lift to overcome the structural advantages Republicans currently hold.
    I ask every Democrat who regularly made monthly donations to their favorite Candidate, Organization or Party in 2015 or 2016 or both and no longer does to begin again by donating that same amount to your local County DEC. Each grassroots activist understands that is the grassroots financial engine and the best place for that money is in your neighborhood.
    Also realize in Florida that’s not enough.

    Electors please weigh each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses and vote for the Candidate who has a track record that matches up with our Party’s current greatest need.

  7. Loren Londner · · Reply

    I believe that the best place for one’s money is not necessarily one’s neighborhood, if that neighborhood is already strongly Democratic. We, as a Party, need to have a strong, clear message that resonates with workers in Red Counties as well. It’s time to expand our target audience. Dave Aronberg did this very successfully in his run for State Senate where five of his District’s counties were RED. It can and should be done throughout the state. And the head of the Party needs to be a very visionary and strong CEO to do it.

    1. mike coleman · · Reply

      Loren, everywhere in Florida “is someone’s neighborhood” and Dave Aronberg’s five county district was the famous “barbell” district with where it’s length was primarily one highway going from Palm Beach County to Lee County.

      Only those living on the one highway that crossed through 3 Red counties were in the State Senate District. The west end of the District was Lee County which is bright Red today as it was when Dave Aronberg won in 2002 and 2006.

      At the inception of Florida Senate District 27 the District had a reasonably safe Democratic registration margin. By 2010 the Democratic registration margin had been significantly reduced as
      Lee County’s population has been one of the fastest growing in Florida.
      By 2010 State District 27’s final election before redistricting took place was an entirely different political landscape than in 2002,
      In 2010 a fairly popular Wellington City Commissioner won the election over a Democrat from Lee County.
      Subsequently, that newly elected State Senator moved to Lee County where formidable and growing political powerbase had evolved.

      By 2012 this infamously gerrymandered district (which is quite unconstitutional since passage of the Fair District’s Amendment) is no more.

      As to the thought concerning little money is needed to be spent in Democratic areas nothing could be further from the truth and will forever be so until the turnout percentage in Democratic areas in every election consistently exceeds Republican turnout.

      In 2018 we will have a “Voter Retention” election that is easily defined by the fact that far less Voters will participate.
      These elections generally see turnout drop by an average of 33%,
      The Party that gets the largest percentage of it’s base to Vote in 2018 will have a decided advantage, especially with strong well funded Candidates with appealing messages.

      So far this Century that Party hasn’t been the Democratic Party.
      Changing this fact changes Florida’s Government on a Statewide basis but it doesn’t mean Democrats can control the Legislature by any means.

      Democrats in Florida must come to terms with the fact that three Counties in SE Florida have Democratic registration advantages that is approximately twice the size of Florida’s entire Democratic regsitration advantage.

      Our challenge is clear throughout Florida.
      Democrats in Red and Purple Counties of all sizes share the exact same challenge which is simply to have their turnout percentage to be higher than that of the Republicans.

      Our Candidates and Campaigns must be capable of persuading the NPAs in sufficient numbers to achieve their victory margins and the Democratic Party and it’s allied DEC’s are challenged to out vote the Republicans.

      Sounds simple, but it isn’t without heeding our President’s words from last night’s address to the nation,
      We need to have a whole lot of individual activists who are self starters combined with whole lot of coordination and direction.

      This type of activity also requires sustained and reliable revenue streams equal to a minimum of $3 per registered Democrat per year and twice that amount would yield even better results.

      Republicans and their allies deliver that type of financial support year in and year out and they have a winning streak that has gone on for far too long.

      We can end that streak but we have to do it together.

  8. “In his campaign, he has exceeded every expectation and shown the leadership skills needed to thrive as FDP Chair. ” Well, he never showed up at a Steering Committee Meeting of the Miami Dade DEC, never attended a DEC meeting to speak or have input, so far he has done nothing except a sleazy backroom deal with Bret Berlin. It has been reported that Bittel paid Juan Cuba and his “consultng firm” over $200,000 in the past several years. And if Sen. Bullard did not raise money, as this article claims, where was Richie Rich to pick up the slack…Have real facts, not opinions.

  9. Artilles fist of flury · · Reply

    I’m sure Sean is looking to be the new data director by sucking up to Bittel.

    1. The FDP has a wonderful Data Director in Hannah Murphy who I hope they keep. I have zero interest in being FDP Data Director and would make significantly less money doing that job than I currently make consulting.

  10. […] Party (FDP).  I recently wrote a summary of some of the candidates running for FDP Chair (click here for a refresher), and since that was published I have had the pleasure of speaking with four of the candidates […]

  11. […] regarding his candidacy for FDP Chair.  I wrote about fundraising being the main job of FDP Chair (click here to see) earlier this week, but the other main job of FDP Chair is to be the CEO of the organization.  Mr. […]

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