3:00 pm ET UPDATE: Sources at the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) indicate to us that the party has no plans to move its HQ. However, the FDP er these sources will be adding layers to existing field offices and potentially opening new ones in other regions.
According to multiple sources who have spoken to us on the condition of anonymity, a sense that the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) might move its headquarters from the state capital of Tallahassee to Miami later in 2017, is under consideration. FDP Chairman Stephen Bittel who was elected in January is from the Miami area.
For many years, critics of the party including this site have lamented the out-of-touch nature of having a headquarters in Tallahassee. But moving to Miami (instead of a logical shift to Tampa or Orlando) might actually be the final nail in the coffin for a largely irrelevant party on the state level. Make no mistake about it, Miami is a magical place, an international city unrivaled in North America except perhaps by New York City, Toronto, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Miami is also the Florida most outside our state envision and dream of – the best of our state for outsiders. But that doesn’t make it a logical home for Florida Democrats at all.
Some might argue the opposite, that a move to Miami would allow the party to reconnect with its base and be closer to donors. It also would place the party in one of the most cosmopolitan urban areas in the Western Hemisphere. From a logistical standpoint, in theory that would make some sense. But a whole lot of other reasons exist why Miami is the wrong choice, even for outreach to neighboring Broward or Palm Beach counties. We’ll get into that rationale toward the end of this piece.
The most important counties for Democrats to find their feet in are as follows (in no particular order): Volusia, Pasco, Marion, Pinellas, Lake, Sumter, Flagler, Polk, Sarasota and Brevard. These locales are not well-served from Tallahassee but won’t get any more love or engagement in all likelihood from a Miami-based FDP.
While Tallahassee is not a desirable location from which to anchor a statewide effort, Miami might if possible be even less desirable. In November, I articulated the rationale for leaving Tallahassee, but it was made with the assumption that any move would be to the heart of the state, somewhere along I-4. I wrote:
The last four chairs of the Florida Democratic Party have come from the Ocala area or north, leading to a disconnect between the party’s leadership and the areas where Democrats tend to do best in the state. Furthermore, the staff with decision making power being tied to Tallahassee, a place that is unique in Florida’s political culture has clouded decision making.
The counties where the Democrats need to improve performance in order to be successful are all clustered around the middle of the state, yet the party’s HQ is based in the coffin-corner of Florida both geographically and in terms of population.
The discourse in Tallahassee is dominated by lobbyists who convince Democratic operatives and staff in the small fishbowl around the isolated capital that the party cannot compete and win in select legislative races across the state – in parts of the state many staffers and consultants for the party have little familiarity with. Or worse yet, some of these lobbyists have competing interests and have a vested interest in convincing the Democratic Party not play in certain places. The continued double-dipping of Democratic operatives who lobby the legislature on behalf of corporate entities providing “Democratic cover” for these companies lobbying efforts as well a direct pipeline to Democratic legislators (mostly elected from safe seats in southeast Florida) has poisoned the party beyond repair it seems. The Amendment 1 effort which involved some of these operatives was just the latest effort by corporate Florida to weaken progressive policies by employing Democratic cover. In some cases, those who cover for these efforts continue to have influence in the party and in media.
Despite all of the critiques that I made about Tallahassee above, ones which still stand, moving party operations is difficult enough and since you can probably only undertake it once, a move to Miami could be a step back for an FDP that is nearly irrelevant as a statewide force as it is. Why?
Miami is much like New York in that the population is isolated from even areas that are geographically close and attitudes tend to prevail that the city (or county in this case) is the center of the universe. Running the Florida Democratic Party out of Miami could be akin to running a Presidential Campaign out of New York City – now nobody would do that, would they? (Oh yeah…THAT campaign did.) While Miami is from many perspectives a more cosmopolitan and enlightened place than the rest of the state, the elitism tag which is dogging Democrats would be an even easier sell (and more real) if the party and its operations were based in the 305 area code.
Optically, Miami is the wrong move and when you have staffers that are immersed in the local political culture as we have seen in Tallahassee, it creates a disconnect and the disconnect between Miami and the rest of Florida is stronger than in any other locale except perhaps extreme Northwest Florida with its cultural attachment to Alabama (though it can be argued Democrats need to learn to connect with retired and current military voters which would be a necessity in NW Florida). Democrats from south Florida see the Panhandle as a monolith to a large extent, but the areas west of the Apalachicola River are about as different from the areas east culturally and economically as any other change in the state.
The most critical place Democrats need to engage voters is in the largely white, medium-sized counties which all within a tank of gas of Orlando or Tampa. The Exurbs of Tampa and the clusters of counties with between 200,000 and 600,000 people that sit in the Orlando media market are where Democrats MUST turn things around. Moving the party headquarters potentially to Miami does nothing positive to engage those areas.
It can also be argued the consolidation of a large percentage major donors to the FDP and party decision makers in one geographic locale will also be a massive mistake. We’ve complained about the group think in Tallahassee that has skewed FDP thinking in ways that have created losses. In Miami, a city that seemingly has everything (it is truly a massive urban area with just about everything you’d want in terms of events, culture, shopping, etc) the prospect for insular group think is probably greater than in any other spot in the state – much like in New York or Los Angeles. The sort of coastal elitist thinking is why the Democrats are in the mess they are in currently, yet if the FDP were to relocate to Miami it would be a clear indication that the party in the nation’s most critical swing state was doubling down on a failed elitist strategy. It would be like moving the DNC to middle of Manhattan.
Just yesterday, a teacher in Miami-Dade schools told me his students mocked Fort Lauderdale (“where is that? They asked?”) which is no surprise – for years I regularly have had to deal with a mentality from people based in in Miami that other places in Florida don’t really matter -including neighboring counties. Many in Miami feel the same way about Broward and Palm Beach as New Yorkers feel about New Jersey – they don’t need to cross the Hudson for anything. In 2010, The Miami New Times ran an article under the premise that their was no current good reason for Miamians to drive north to Broward County, when discussing a potential water park project in Fort Lauderdale (yet strangely lots of Dade County residents fly out of Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport rather than pay sky high fares on American Airlines from Miami International- maybe Broward is “fly out country,” instead of “fly over country?”).
Yet many residents of Miami-Dade probably have a MORE favorable attitude toward Broward and Palm Beach than toward the rest of the state. One thing I found when working in Miami is that knowledge of the areas of the state north of Jupiter or west of Krome Avenue or US 27 (in Broward) is highly limited. That can be overcome of course, but a condescending attitude that many local have toward the rest of the state (which is shared by many in Broward and Palm Beach) isn’t helpful for a party that needs to reconnect badly with the voters who long made it a competitive statewide force.
Party staff is essentially embedded in the communities they work in – we’ve learned that with the Tallahassee experience. They live and breathe the observations they make locally as well as conversations with the local political “experts” and apply that statewide. Strategic mistakes have been common for a party stuck in Tallahassee but could become even more common and problematic at a time when margins for error are almost nill with a move to Miami.
The party does need to consider a move but it should be focused on Tampa or Orlando for the numerous reasons outlined above.