Most notably, given the controversy over the means by which Bret Berlin helped Stephen Bittel ascend to chairmanship, it’s remarkable Berlin was appointed a State Vice Chair and a member of the Rules Committee. The SVC role might be overlooked as typical—but Rules Committee? That seems a bridge too far given that the process by which Bittel came to be chair was fraught with allegations of rule violations.
Same goes for at-large appointee Stephanie Grutman who whipped votes for Bittel by signing-up new members to the Miami-Dade DEC. The bad-fath, absentee memberships left the DEC unable to meet quorum, kneecapping its ability to get business done. Does this seem to be the behavior of someone who cares deeply about the party’s success? Or, simply the success of certain people?
But hey, this sort of thing isn’t unexpected, so I tabled my concerns…until last night, when an official party member came forward with his concerns about the committee appointments.
In an open letter to FDP Chair Stephen Bittel, State Committeeman Sanjay Patel from Brevard County addressed a number of irregularities in the appointments. The document, published on Patel’s Facebook page, has readers shocked to learn that more than a hundred applications in all (3 from the Brevard DEC)* were passed over so that a disgraced Democrat with a history of campaigning for Republicans, could be rewarded with (not one, but) two committee appointments.
The appointee, Bill Rettinger who was forced to resign from the party’s DEC because of loyalty oath violations, is now a member of both Clubs and Caucuses, and Campaign Committees.
Appointing someone with a history of campaigning for Republicans to the state party’s Campaign Committee invites disaster. How can Florida Democrats feel secure that Rettinger won’t disclose the party’s state campaign strategy to Republican friends? Can Florida Democrats be certain Rettinger won’t steer Dem candidates from races where a Republican buddy would like to run unopposed?
There’s numerous ways this will come back to haunt the party, aside from the fact that perfectly loyal Democrats were passed over to make room for a guy with a history of batting for the other team.
Too often I’m asked if it doesn’t seem like “Democratic Party elites collaborate with Republicans,” and, would that “explain why we perform so badly in state races?” The notion is that our losses are so massive it requires a “gentleman’s agreement” between business interests to keep Florida in the hands of the GOP. I’ve always said that’s nonsense—there’s no evidence to support such a hypothesis. Maybe I need to rethink that now.
At the very least, it’s fair to say that the worst of these appointments leave the the business of the party, especially rule-making, open to ongoing criticism.
Here’s Sanjay Patel’s letter in its entirety:
AN OPEN LETTER to Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel
Since you requested feedback on your committee appointments within seven days, I wanted to share mine as soon as possible.
First of all, you’ve appointed three individuals from Brevard to serve. I was surprised to learn that none of these were chosen from among the nearly 150 members of our local DEC, nor even among the 100+ more who have submitted applications. Instead, you chose three who have resigned – one “due to time constraints,” another “due to family obligations,” and a third, as you know, whom I personally asked to resign after several members complained of his multiple violations of the loyalty oath.
As the grievance we filed with the FDP shared, Bill Rettinger openly campaigned against a Democratic incumbent for a mayoral candidate who is a vocal Trump supporter. Perhaps even more sadly, he was a vocal opponent of Democrat Maria Victoria DeChristofano, and instead supported her Republican challenger Brian Jacob Anderson. Bill told me multiple times that he feels this Hispanic teacher who holds a PhD was “unqualified” to serve on City Council. Ultimately she lost an election in which nearly 45K votes were cast by 219 votes to the Republican Bill supported. Yes, just 219 votes.
I’m sure his party disloyalty will make him a valuable addition to the Florida Democratic Party Campaign Committee, as well as the Club & Caucus committee.
We did our very best to address these issues quietly and professionally. The Florida Democratic Party was privately advised of these loyalty oath violations and Bill Rettinger agreed to quietly resign from the Brevard DEC after cussing out and threatening me. With encouragement from Dave Dew & Nicholas J. Pellito, we fully intended to let this go as we believed it had been addressed.
Now, however, since you have made it clear that you intend to reward party disloyalty with power – I feel forced to share this information publicly in hopes that this feedback will not be ignored. Or perhaps it’s not party disloyalty, but rather loyalty to you, that earned him these honors, given that he served on the judicial committee that turned a blind eye to the apparent rules violations in Miami that led to your own ascension to office.
I’d also like to register my disappointment in your appointments of:
* Bret Berlin, who stepped down from the State Committeeman position to which he was elected and made the now infamous midnight motion which created the opportunity for you to run for Chair; and
* Stephanie Grutman, a lobbyist who works for Trump’s top Florida fundraiser, Brian Ballard, and who whipped the votes and laid the groundwork for you to become Chair of the Florida Democratic Party.
Surely you understand that Bret’s appointment to FDP Vice Chair and, ironically, to the Rules Committee, and Stephanie’s appointment as an At-Large Member could appear to be quid pro quo.
In an effort to ensure the public’s trust in the integrity of our Party and avoid even the perception of impropriety, I respectfully request that Bill Rettinger, Bret Berlin and Stephanie Grutman be removed from all statewide appointments. In addition, to ensure our county is represented by elected DEC members, I request that that at least two members of the current BrevardDems are appointed to statewide committees, to equal the remaining number of non-member appointments in our County (i.e., Mary Greene & Beth McMillen).
Finally, I support the requests of fellow State Executive Committee members who have asked to review these committee appointments to ensure diversity and adequate small county representation.
BrevardDems is deeply committed to earning public trust so that we can win future elections, and we believe Florida’s Democrats deserve our very best effort to build a party that is truly reflective of our values.
State Committeeman, Brevard County Democratic Executive Committee
PS: If you agree with this post, please LIKE and SHARE, then email Stephen Bittel directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*correct from earlier version.