Ryan Nicol – Florida Politics

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to ryan.t.nicol@gmail.com.

FAU tries to even score with Palm Beach Post after critical story

Call it “I’m rubber, you’re glue” media criticism.

Florida Atlantic University is hitting back at Palm Beach Post reporter Kenny Jacoby for what the university calls “inaccurate and misleading” coverage of the school’s own erroneous reporting of its number of female athletes. That’s after the Post caught FAU filing a false report with the Department of Education.

Here’s the rub: The public university is complaining the story included “knowingly inaccurate data,” even though “the article was ABOUT ‘knowingly inaccurate data,’ ” as fellow Post reporter Andrew Marra later tweeted. “Revealing the false numbers was the entire point of the article.”

The original piece, “Gender equality? FAU gave feds false numbers, ranked near bottom,” details serious errors regarding the school’s reporting of its number of female athletes.

From the Post’s report: “In 2016, women represented more than half of the Boca Raton school’s enrollment but only 31 percent of its athletes. The percentage was the lowest of all 127 schools participating in the highest level of college sports. Just one year later, FAU claimed it had erased its female participation gap. It told the U.S. Department of Education in 2017 that 51 percent of its athletes were women.”

This is important because under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, which requires colleges to provide women and men the same opportunity to join a sports team and to provide similar funding to those teams. FAU’s 2016 numbers showed they were falling far short of those requirements, whereas by 2017 they appeared to make up a miraculous amount of ground.

However, it turns out that those 2017 numbers were wrong, a fact admitted by FAU. The university blamed the mistake on a “clerical error” made by an employee no longer at the school.

According to the Post, FAU did not name that employee. FAU’s report lists Brian Battle as the reporting official, and Battle remains employed by the school. However, according to the Post: “Lisa Metcalf, a spokeswoman for FAU, said another staff member filed the report on Battle’s behalf and he was unaware of any errors at the time.”

In a revised report sent to the Education Department, FAU now says 43 percent of its 2017 athletes were women and 45 percent of its sports scholarships were given to women. The Post notes no details were provided by FAU regarding how they arrived at the new numbers.

The Post’s reporting prompted FAU to release a statement in response to what the university called “inaccurate and misleading reporting.”

From the statement: “Following the reporter’s initial inquiry regarding information in the report, FAU became aware of inaccuracies in the data and alerted the reporter, prior to publication, of the clerical errors made by a former employee of the university.

“FAU offered to provide the updated data expeditiously to the reporter, but the reporter intentionally ran the story based on knowingly inaccurate data, rather than waiting for the updated report.”

That confrontational tone echoes that of President Donald Trump, who routinely rails against the media for “false” stories that paint him or his administration in a negative light. Often, those reports turn out to be true. But it’s an surprising approach for a public university, taking what is typically used by Trump in the political arena and using it to attack a local press staple.

The Post didn’t take the school’s response lying down, responding with an editorial noting FAU’s “inaccurate data” was the point of the original story.

The editorial also called into question FAU’s benign explanation for the mistake.

“How did this former employee manage to file a report to a federal agency that completely obliterated the athletic department’s female participation gap without the ‘reporting official,’ Brian Battle, or any other higher-level supervisor taking notice? How did such a glaring improvement not raise a red flag among administration officials?”

It remains to be seen what will come of FAU’s false report to the Department of Education or whether its revised numbers will stand up to scrutiny. It’s also unclear whether the university will face any repercussions beyond some bad press, as Title IX violations are often not enforced.

“So if I understand correctly, @FloridaAtlantic officials are upset that @kennyjacoby declined to collude with them to whitewash their numbers—which they concede were false—before publication,” Marra tweeted. “For this, apparently, they decided to disparage him as ‘inaccurate and misleading.’ “

David Richardson again hammers CD 27 opponent Donna Shalala in new ad

State Rep. David Richardson, a candidate for Florida’s 27th Congressional District, is out with another campaign ad slamming Democratic primary opponent Donna Shalala, this time over her ties to the Lennar Corporation and donations to Republican politicians. It’s the third ad targeting Shalala launched by the Richardson campaign this week.

The Lennar Corporation, based in Miami, is one of America’s biggest homebuilders. Analysts say it played a part in the mid-2000s housing crisis by overbuilding and issuing large numbers of subprime mortgages. Shalala served on the board of Lennar for the duration of the crisis, from 2001 to 2012.

The ad says Shalala “sold out progressive values for personal profits. Shalala gave thousands to pro-gun, pro-life, anti-gay Republicans, profited off the housing crisis, made millions from health insurers and opposed Medicare-for-all.”

Richardson’s critique of Shalala’s shifting position on Medicare-for-all was the focus of his first two ads. Shalala previously said she did not support universal health care, but now says she is in favor of Medicare-for-all.

The new ad also attacks Shalala for her past political donations to Republican campaigns. The criticism is one Richardson also lobbed at last weekend’s Democratic primary debate held on the University of Miami campus.

During the debate, Shalala was asked audience-submitted question about her past donations to Florida House Republicans. She answered by saying, “I gave much more to Democrats, hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democrats compared to what I gave to Republicans while I was president of Hunter [College] and they were representing this district.” In a comment directed toward Richardson, Shalala noted “other candidates have given to Republican candidates.”

Richardson replied by contrasting his donations with Shalala’s. “10 years ago I have $250 to a Republican running in Massachusetts for Congress because they were fighting their own party to extend LGBT rights.” He contrasted that with Shalala’s past donations to former state Rep. Frank Artiles, who resigned last year after using racial slurs and misogynistic language in a conversation with Jacksonville state Sen. Audrey Gibson.

Richardson’s new ad touts him as a “courageous progressive.” Along with his framing of Shalala’s past positions, Richardson is clearly trying to position himself to the left of Shalala as the Democratic primary continues.

He also had harsh words for Shalala to go along with the ad.

“I owe it to the voters to hold Donna Shalala accountable for what she is: a double-dealing corporate Democrat,” he said. “The community has the right to judge my unwavering progressive record against Donna’s history of putting profits over principle. As a forensic auditor, I learned to always follow the money. In this race, I’ve followed it to the boardroom of Lennar and beyond. We need a courageous Progressive who is willing to stand up to big corporations, not serve on their board of directors.”

The primary election will be held Aug. 28. Matt Haggman, Michael Hepburn, and Kristen Rosen Gonzalez are also competing for the nomination.

The CD 27 race is open due to the retirement of longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Eileen Higgins surprises in Miami-Dade Commission race

The race for the Miami-Dade County Commission District 5 seat is headed to a runoff after a surprising first-place showing from business owner and first-time political candidate Eileen Higgins.

Higgins, who was backed by Democratic party leaders in South Florida, ended up with just under 35 percent support. That bested Zoraida Barreiro, whose husband held the seat before deciding to run for Congress. That decision triggered this special election. Barreiro, who works as a health care executive, pulled in just over 33 percent of the vote.

Because no candidate surpassed 50 percent support, the top two finishers will head to a runoff election to be held June 19. Higgins took to Twitter Tuesday evening to celebrate saying, “We did it. One down. One to go.”

Alex Diaz de la Portilla finished a disappointing third with just over 27 percent of the vote, leaving him out of the runoff. That’s despite his history as a former state representative and an endorsement from the Miami Herald editorial board. Spanish-language TV actor Carlos Garin came in fourth with less than five percent.

Former District 5 Commissioner Bruno Barrerio‘s departure to run for the Republican nomination in Florida’s 27th Congressional District could now leave his former in the hands of a Democrat. Higgins was supported by several of the Democratic CD 27 candidates, some of whom congratulated her on Twitter following her first place finish Tuesday night.

It will be interesting to see if Higgins can carry the momentum through June and come out on top once again. It’s possible Republican voters consolidate and that Diaz de la Portilla’s share mostly shifts over to Zoraida Barreiro, pushing her over the edge.

The winner will represent District 5 for the remaining two years of Bruce Barreiro’s terms, after which they will be allowed to run for re-election twice.

Dave Aronberg endorses Democrat Lauren Baer in CD 18

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg has announced his support for Democrat Lauren Baer in the race for Florida’s 18th Congressional District.

The endorsement is yet another big get for Baer, who has previously been endorsed by former Rep. Patrick Murphy and current Rep. Ted Deutch.

She even picked up a recent celebrity endorsement, earning a shoutout from Rosie O’Donnell.

Baer is one of two Democrats running for the right to compete against incumbent U.S. Rep. Brian Mast.

She’s facing off against former U.S. Navy Officer Pam Keith in the Democratic primary. This isn’t Keith’s first run for federal office, as she ran for U.S. Senate in 2016. She lost in the Democratic primary to Murphy, who is now endorsing her CD 18 opponent.

Aronberg spoke highly of Baer in a statement announcing his support.

“Our community is facing many challenges. From the opioid epidemic to threats to our environment, we need a representative in Washington who will seek common sense solutions and actually accomplish them. I am proud to endorse Lauren Baer, who has the experience of bringing people together in these divisive political times.”

Baer is an attorney who previously served as a senior adviser in the Obama administration, working with Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry.

Baer and the Democrats feel they can target Mast as part of their efforts to take back the House. Mast was recently elected to the seat in 2016, defeating his Democratic opponent by about 10 percentage points. That’s a decent gap, but one that can be closed if Democrats overperform this November.

Mast was recently passed over for the position of Veterans Affairs Secretary, leaving him free to run for re-election. He faces two challengers in a Republican primary in Dave Cummings and Mark Freeman. But Mast is widely favored to win the Republican nod.

The Florida primary election will be held Aug. 28.

Democrats reserve nearly $2M for Miami TV ads

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has reserved more than $1.9 million for TV ads to support House candidates in the 2018 midterms. The ads will run during the fall as the campaigns seek to finish strong in the run-up to election day.

That move follows an even bigger buy from the National Republican Congressional Committee, which will spend $3.2 million in the Miami market.

South Florida will be the site of a handful of competitive Congressional races. One of the highest profile will be the open race for Florida’s 27th Congressional District.

Longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has decided not to run for re-election. That’s prompted a number of entrants into the race, with nine Republicans, five Democrats and one independent registered to run.

Democrats also have their eyes on seats held by Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart. In Broward, Democratic Reps. Alcee Hastings, Ted Deutch and Debbie Wasserman Schultz will try to fend off Republican challengers.

The nearly $2 million ad buy is part of a $12.6 million countrywide campaign by the DCCC.

Other major areas where ads are set to run are Minneapolis-St. Paul, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. More than $66 million was spent on TV ads by the DCCC in the 2016 cycle, meaning there may be plenty more money to come.

The DCCC will be aided by the House Majority PAC, which also supports Democrats. That group has already reserved $1.1 million in TV ads for the Miami market.

Broward School Board member won’t seek re-election amid challenge from mom of Parkland victim

Abby Freedman of Parkland has decided against running for re-election to the Broward County School Board. Her decision comes after Lori Alhadeff, the mother of one of the victims of February’s shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School, announced she would challenge Freedman for the seat.

That leaves Alhadeff alone in the race for District 4, as no other candidates have filed to run.

Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa died in the shooting, made her announcement last week in a news conference alongside Ryan Petty. Petty, who also declared his intention to run for a School Board position, lost his daughter Alaina in the shooting. Both victims were 14 years old.

Freedman had served on the school board since 2012. Last month, Freedman said she still planned on running for re-election but had not yet formally filed.

Both Alhadeff and Petty have criticized the School Board for its policies that some say failed to stop the shooter from carrying out February’s attack. They specifically brought up the PROMISE Program, with Alhadeff saying, “The PROMISE Program needs to be revamped and we need to meet somewhere in the middle with our discipline policies.”

However, both stopped short of calling for Superintendent Robert Runcie‘s resignation, saying they would be willing to work with him to improve the county’s disciplinary programs.

The Broward County School Board primary election will be held on August 28, with the general election set for November 6.

Medley mayor endorses SD 36 candidate Manny Diaz

Roberto Martell has become the fifth Miami-Dade County mayor to back Manny Diaz in his bid for Senate District 36.

“There is no question that Manny Diaz is fully prepared to be an outstanding senator,” said Medley Mayor Martell. “His time in the Florida House has been characterized by forward thinking, hard work, and attention to constituent needs. He has been a strong partner for the Town of Medley, and I look forward to continuing to work with him.”

Diaz has represented House District 103 since 2012. He’s now looking to serve SD 36, which covers parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties. If successful, he’ll replace outgoing Sen. Rene Garcia, who is term-limited.

Aiding Diaz in that pursuit is the growing support of Miami-Dade mayors. Last week, Diaz added endorsements from Doral Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez and Miami Lakes Mayor Manny Cid. Diaz has also previously been endorsed by Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez and Hialeah Gardens Mayor Yioset De La Cruz.

Diaz can now count the Medley mayor among his supporters. Mayor Martell was elected back in 2012 and re-elected in 2016. He’s the founder of Martell Construction and also started the Town of Medley Chamber of Commerce in 2010.

“Mayor Martell is an outstanding leader,” said Diaz. “It’s been a privilege to work with him on behalf of the citizens of Medley, and I’m honored by his endorsement. I look forward to continuing to partner with him and all the local leaders in Miami-Dade County.”

Diaz is the favorite to take the SD 36 seat. He’s the only Republican registered to run and has pulled in impressive fundraising totals, crossing the $500,000 mark in his most recent filing. Muhammad Amin, the only Democrat who has filed to run, has not yet declared any fundraising information with the Florida Division of Elections.

David Richardson targets Donna Shalala in twin CD 27 ads

David Richardson, one of five Democrats running in Florida’s 27th Congressional District, is out with two new TV ads attacking one of his primary rivals, former University of Miami President Donna Shalala.

The two ads, titled “Dollars for Donna, Nothing for Us” and “Colbert,” hit Shalala over her past stance against universal health care.

The ads both feature a clip from Shalala’s 2007 appearance on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” where she was asked by host Stephen Colbert whether she was “one of those universal health care people.” Shalala replied, “No, actually, I’m not.”

That’s in contrast to Shalala’s position now.

At the CD 27 Democrats’ second debate on Saturday, all five candidates said they supported a Medicare-for-all program. Shalala was confronted by Richardson for her newfound support. “There’s been some new revelations today. Donna, I never knew you supported Medicare-for-all until today.” Shalala responded, “I’ve been for it from the beginning. It’s on my website.”

It’s not clear whether Shalala was referring to “the beginning” of the campaign or some time before that. But she clearly had different views back in 2007.

Nevertheless, Shalala did advocate for universal health care at the debate, saying, “Medicare has to be enhanced before we do it for all. It doesn’t have long-term care, it does not have dental benefits and it doesn’t have eyeglass care. So I want universal healthcare and enhanced Medicare for all.”

Richardson’s new ads also target Shalala for serving on the board of UnitedHealth, a gig that netted her millions of dollars. Richardson uses that, along with Shalala’s previous opposition to universal health care, to argue she “sold out progressive values for personal profits.”

The ads contrast that with Richardson’s legislative record, arguing he will be a more progressive candidate for CD 27, noting his push for Medicare-for-all, support for an assault weapons ban, and his work on reforming private prisons.

Richardson commented on the ads’ release, trying to frame the CD 27 contest as between he and Shalala: “It’s now a two-person race between Donna and myself, and it is my responsibility to show the voters that while Donna has been about dollars, I’ve been about progressive change.”

This isn’t the first time Richardson has gone after Shalala. He hammered Shalala for missing out on the Democrats’ first debate last week. Shalala said she had a scheduling conflict, as she attended a film screening that evening. But event organizers, “Democrats of South Dade,” said she had confirmed to attend the event only to later withdraw.

The candidates also battled a bit at Saturday’s second debate. But for the most part, candidates were in lockstep on the issues. These new ads by Richardson could forecast a change in the race, where candidates start scrapping a bit more in order to differentiate themselves to primary voters.

The CD 27 race is an important one for Democrats as longtime Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is retiring, making this a good pickup opportunity for Democrats. The primary will be held on Aug. 28, followed by the general election on Nov. 6.

Controversial comments from HD 98 candidate Michael Gottlieb could cause problems with Democratic voters

Broward lawyer Michael Gottlieb, one of five Democrats running in House District 98, could face a backlash from voters over a series of controversial comments from both his personal and professional past.

Like many defense attorneys, Gottlieb has handled his share of unsavory cases. In 2012, Gottlieb defended an off-duty cop who solicited an undercover officer for sex. And back in 2001, Gottlieb represented a cop who had sex with a 16-year-old girl in exchange for her freedom following the girl’s arrest. Both men were eventually sentenced for those crimes.

Those are just a handful of the controversial clients Gottlieb has taken on. A lawyer’s previous work representing less-than-model citizens isn’t a new issue facing Democrats. Hillary Clinton took similar questioning during her 2016 run for the presidency.

Instead, it’s Gottlieb’s comments outside the courtroom that could raise more serious questions for voters. In 2016, Gottlieb defended a cop accused of raping a woman during a traffic stop. In a separate civil suit, to which Gottlieb was not a party, that officer was forced to pay $4.5 million in damages by a federal judge. Gottlieb responded to the judge’s ruling, saying, “There was only one side of the story. There was nobody there discrediting them,” referring to the victims. “There’s always another side to the story.”

In 2013, Gottlieb represented Doug Eatona photographer accused of possessing child pornography and having sex with a 15-year-old prostitute. Gottlieb admitted his client hired the young girl through an escort service, but said it wasn’t Eaton’s fault the girl was underage. “It’s alleged that he had procured some girls for prostitution through an agency,” said Gottlieb. “My understanding is those agencies always advertise that the girls are of age, of legal age, to be quote-unquote escorts, so seemingly it would make sense that he had no notice that anybody was underage or that he was committing any illegal acts.”

Of course, prostitution itself is an illegal act, regardless of the age of the participants.

Then there is the case of Augustine Bollo, a Weston podiatrist who was convicted of molesting a 15-year-old girl in 2016. Bollo was a longtime friend of the victim’s family, and accused of paying the girl to get her to stay silent.

“I know his wife and family fully support him and stand by him,” Gottlieb said of Bollo back in 2012 when he served as Bollo’s attorney. Gottlieb also called Bollo a “good father” and insisted the victim was simply looking for a “payday.”

Bollo was eventually sentenced to more than four years in prison by a Broward judge following his conviction.

Gottlieb’s history of questionable comments was not simply in defense of his clients.

In late 2016 he posted a picture on Facebook from a Miami Dolphins game picturing two young women. He added the joking caption, “They keep blocking my view.” A series of comments were posted below the photo referencing the women’s appearance, such as “eye candy,” “they ARE the view,” and “Sideboob action going on there, nice view over the game lol.” Gottlieb “liked” all of those comments.

Gottlieb even joined in, replying to several comments. “Thankfully they aren’t wearing New England gear,” he said of the women. “I’d be forced to make them take it off.” When another commenter wrote, “They are not wearing sensible stadium footwear,” Gottlieb replied, “They have feet?”

It will be interesting to see how Gottlieb’s past comments, made as recently as 2016, will play in a Democratic primary occurring in the midst of the #MeToo movement.

Fellow Democrats Andrew Dolberg, Elaine Geller, Stephen Korka, and Daniel Stallone have filed to run for the HD 98 seat. The winner will replace Katie Edwards-Walpole, who decided not to seek re-election. The Democratic primary will take place on August 28.

Democrats see Palm Beach County race as predictor of ‘blue wave’

For some time now, Democrats have had high hopes for the upcoming midterms, buoyed by generic ballot numbers and results of several special elections since President Donald Trump took office.

Now the party is seeing the same signs in a race for a Palm Beach County Commission seat that’s playing out much differently than expected.

The race to watch is the District 4 seat. Only three people — all Republicans — have held the seat since its creation in 1988.

Until last month, this race was expected to be a contest between Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie and Boca Councilman Robert Weinroth. But that changed when Haynie, a Republican, was arrested after allegedly hiding hundreds of thousands of dollars from developers and then lying about it. She has withdrawn from the race and now faces up to 23 years in prison on counts including official misconduct and perjury.

That leaves Weinroth and Democrats feeling confident they can take the typically Republican seat. But much like the U.S. Senate race in Alabama, there are events specific to this race so far which make it tough to draw out any larger conclusions about November. Not every Republican opponent is going to get arrested in the middle of the race.

Instead, it’s what Republicans have chosen to do in the aftermath of Haynie’s exit that has Democrats excited. At least two high-profile Republicans have declined to step in to challenge Weinroth. That’s despite the fact that the seat was won by the Republican candidate, Steven Abrams, with 59 percent of the vote back in 2014.

Nevertheless, Republicans seem to be backing off. Boca city councilman Scott Singer is choosing a run for mayor instead of county commissioner. And state Rep. Bill Hager, whose House district covers much of the county commission district, also declined to run despite the fact he is term-limited in the House.

That the GOP seems so ready to concede this longtime Republican seat is notable. The only challenger to Weinroth is William Vale, who has raised just over $3,500 as of May 3. By contrast, Weinroth has pulled in more than $81,000, including nearly $24,000 just last month. He has more than $76,000 still on hand.

Weinroth was outraising Haynie as well, even before her arrest. He has also now collected enough signatures to get his name on the ballot without being forced to face a qualifying fee.

So far, all signs point to this longtime GOP seat turning blue. If Democrats can replicate this pattern across the country, they’ll have much to cheer about come November.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons