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.

David Richardson calls out Donna Shalala over UM sex assaults

David Richardson, a candidate for Florida’s 27th Congressional District, is calling for an investigation into primary opponent Donna Shalala‘s handling of sexual assault cases when she was president of the University of Miami (UM).

Shalala led the school in 2014 when two of the school’s football players were accused of raping a 17-year-old student in a campus dorm. She’s now also running in the CD 27 race to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Neither JaWand Blue nor Alexander Figueroa faced jail time over the incident after the victim declined to testify.

That victim, identified only as “Jane Doe,” now is suing the university over its failing to protect her after she arrived on campus. The alleged attack took place just days after she arrived to the university.

Then-President Shalala is quoted by the Miami New Times as saying at the time of the attack that after speaking to the victim, Shalala “reassured her of our full support.”

In the lawsuit, first reported by the Daily Business Review, Doe is also claiming UM did not provide proper counseling after the attack. While she did attend counseling, she says she “didn’t really feel that the counselor cared,” according to one of her attorneys.

Now, Richardson says Shalala’s actions as president deserve more scrutiny.

“In the wake of this new evidence, I am calling for a comprehensive investigation into how Donna Shalala and the leadership of the University of Miami has handled all sexual misconduct allegations and what measures were taken to protect students and all the other victims,” Richardson said.

“According to a sexual assault victim’s newly released statement, the University of Miami, under Donna Shalala’s presidency, offered ‘no significant counseling or treatment’ to an underage student after she was raped at the age of 17—even after she personally met with Shalala. Situations like these on college campuses are all too often swept under the rug, but we cannot let that happen this time.”

The university did take action against the players, kicking them off the football team and then expelling them altogether. The pair eventually agreed to undergo sex-offender treatment and perform 100 hours of community service.

Florida Politics reached out to the Shalala campaign for comment, and was directed to remarks given by an attorney representing UM in the matter, Eric Isicoff of Isicoff, Ragatz & Koenigsberg.

He spoke with the Daily Business Review when they broke the original story, saying, “This matter was thoroughly investigated at the time it was reported, and the university took immediate and swift disciplinary action against the two male students involved.”

He added, “It was also reviewed by appropriate law enforcement agencies, and no criminal charges were filed.”

Isicoff says UM officials acted appropriately: “The university intends to vigorously defend itself against this civil complaint, for which the University believes it does not have any liability.”

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell

New ad attacks ties between Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s husband and Ukrainian oligarch

The Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF) is out with a new radio ad hitting Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell over her husband’s business ties to a shady Ukrainian oligarch.

The Daily Beast first reported the ties between the candidate’s husband, Robert Powell, and Ihor Kolomoisky, who has been accused of hiring contract killers and running fraudulent billion-dollar schemes.

Powell reportedly worked as an attorney at several firms owned wholly or in part by Kolomoisky. A 2010 court order also says it appeared Powell “answers” to Kolomoisky. However, Powell told the Miami Herald, “I have never worked for, represented, answered to, or received any payment from Mr. Kolomoisky at any time.”

The ad from CLF, which is a super PAC that supports Republican candidates to the U.S. House, attempted to tie Mucarsel-Powell to those accusations.

The ad’s narrator begins, “A shady Ukrainian businessman. Dirty foreign money. A U.S. congressional candidate. It’s a shocking scandal, and the story of Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.”

Though the story focuses on allegations against her husband, it is worth noting the pair shared an LLC which listed Powell as a registered agent. His address was given as 200 S Biscayne Blvdwhich is an address tied to some of Kolomoisky’s U.S. businesses.

That address has since been removed in the couple’s filings.

“Explosive new reports raise troubling questions about Powell and her husband’s close ties to a shady Ukrainian oligarch,” continues the narrator.

“But that didn’t stop the Powell family from cashing in, with her husband taking $700,000 while working for the oligarch’s firms.”

The ad even references those court documents from 2010, saying Robert Powell was “identified as his right-hand man in documents and federal court records.”

“South Florida voters have absolutely no reason to trust Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s judgment after learning her family has been making hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Ukrainian oligarch accused of ‘contract killings and fraudulent billion-dollar schemes,'” said CLF Communications Director Courtney Alexander.

“Debbie and her husband have a lot of questions to answer after taking dirty foreign money from a shady oligarch. South Florida voters deserve better than Debbie’s bad judgment.”

But the Mucarsel-Powell campaign is pushing back, saying the candidate shouldn’t be blamed for her husband’s business dealings as she tries to unseat U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo in Florida’s 26th Congressional District.

“Now we know Washington Republicans’ strategy in South Florida: attack strong women’s husbands because they can’t defend their own policies and voting records,” said Melvin Félix, communications director for the Mucarsel-Powell campaign.

“They have falsely attacked Mary Barzee Flores’ family and now they’re falsely attacking Debbie’s in an attempt to distract from the poor job they’ve done in Washington.”

That reference to Barzee Flores, a candidate in Florida’s 25th Congressional District, is in response to a recent ad released by her opponent, U.S. Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart. The ad attempts to criticize Barzee Flores over clients at her husband’s law firm, including defendants accused of arranging arms shipments to Iran.

“Debbie has dedicated her career to serving our community, expanding health care access and fighting climate change in South Florida,” added Félix, in an effort to contrast her record with her opponent’s.

“Meanwhile, Congressman Curbelo has been in Washington voting to strip more than 100,000 people in our district of their health care and to remove protections for the more than 300,000 people living in this district with pre-existing conditions. That’s why people are tired of Washington politicians and that’s what Debbie is working to change.”

The CLF radio ad began airing in the Miami market Thursday.

Mucarsel-Powell is competing with former naval officer Demetries Grimes for the CD 26 Democratic nomination.

House

National teachers union backs David Richardson in CD 27

State Rep. David Richardson is earning the support of a nationwide teachers union as he competes with four other Democrats for the nomination in Florida’s 27th Congressional District.

The National Education Association (NEA) has chosen to back Richardson over his primary opponents. Instrumental in recommending him for the NEA endorsement were the United Teachers of Dade (UTD) and Florida Education Association (FEA), two groups which also support Richardson’s campaign.

“As a former teacher himself, Representative Richardson has protected and advocated for Miami-Dade County students, teachers, and our traditional public schools in the State Legislature,” said UTD President Karla Hernández-Mats.

“On behalf of the United Teachers of Dade, I can say we were proud to recommend him and now are excited to support his endorsement by NEA.”

Richardson currently represents House District 113 in the Florida Legislature. He is competing for the Democratic nomination in CD 27 against Knight Foundation Program Director Matt Haggman, former University of Miami academic adviser Michael A. Hepburn, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, and former University of Miami President Donna Shalala.

“Throughout his six years in the state Legislature, Representative Richardson has championed traditional public schools, working to ensure our students have the resources they need to succeed,” said FEA President Joanne McCall.

“He has steadfastly supported teachers, education staff professionals, and protected our pensions along with those of other public employees. David has been an unwavering friend of public school staff and our efforts to unionize and collectively bargain under Florida’s harsh right-to-work laws.”

Richardson has tried to frame himself as the best “progressive” choice in the campaign, as he has also pulled in endorsements from groups like the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida and Progressive Democrats of America.

“I am honored to receive the endorsement of the National Education Association after earning the support of the United Teachers of Dade and the Florida Education Association,” said Richardson.

“I have always advocated for traditional public schools, teachers, and workers’ rights, and now this union is very publicly showing their support for me.”

Democrats have a chance to turn the CD 27 seat blue, with the retirement of longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Analysts now project the race to lean in the Democrats’ favor.

Richardson says he sees this new endorsement as a sign voters will ultimately back him in the Aug. 28 primary.

“Working people around this country are sick of being sold out by the corporate Democratic establishment and want to elect courageous progressive candidates to lead the way in Congress.”

Miami commission OKs ballot referendum for new soccer stadium

Miami city commissioners voted 3-2 Wednesday to approve a November ballot referendum that could pave the way for a new soccer stadium.

A group including former soccer superstar David Beckham is proposing the stadium be built on Miami’s Melreese Country Club to host the city’s new Major League Soccer franchise.

Wednesday’s vote did not finalize that plan, however.

Currently, the city’s charter requires competitive bidding for such a project, meaning Miami would have to consider other proposals on what to do with that land located near Miami International Airport.

The vote was on whether to approve a referendum that lets residents vote to change those bidding rules, allowing the city to accept a no-bid contract from the Beckham group.

If the now-approved referendum is victorious in November, that will pave the way for the stadium to be built, pending a final vote by the commission.

The final vote to approve the plan would need to earn the support of four out of five commissioners to surpass the “supermajority” threshold.

Beckham’s group aims to build much more than just a stadium. The proposal covers more than 70 acres and includes office space for shops and offices, as well as youth soccer fields. All told, promoters of the project predict more than $40 million of tax revenue generated annually.

But not everyone is on board.

Many spoke out for and against the stadium deal during a public comment period last week. And a lawsuit has also been filed against the city of Miami, arguing officials have not followed the law while evaluating the proposal.

Wednesday’s vote was secured after the group, which includes MasTec executive Jorge Mas, agreed to pay all workers at the complex a minimum wage of $15 per hour. However, some workers will start out at just $11 per hour, with wages rising each year until they reach the $15 mark.

That promise by Mas secured the vote of Commissioner Ken Russell, who had previously been hesitant to approve the referendum. Commissioners Joe Carollo and Keon Hardemon also voted in favor, while Commissioners Willy Gort and Manolo Reyes opposed the move.

Mario Diaz-Balart attacks law firm of opponent’s husband in new ad

The Mario Diaz-Balart campaign is out with a new ad attempting to savage his Democratic opponent over cases taken by attorneys at her husband’s law firm.

The ad is titled “Just Wrong” and takes aim at his only declared opponent, Mary Barzee Flores. The ad focuses on her previous opposition to increased sanctions on Iran following U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.

“Why does Mary Barzee Flores strongly oppose sanctions on the terrorist anti-American regime in Iran?,” asks the ad’s narrator.

“Could it have to do with her household income? At BarzeeFlores.com the firm brags of handling international arms conspiracy cases.”

That’s a reference to the website of the law firm where Barzee Flores’ husband, Hector, works.

“They boast about defending criminals that arranged millions of dollars of arms shipments to Iran in violation of the U.S. arms embargo. Making money at the expense of our national security, and now wanting to represent us in Congress, is just wrong.”

The firm does list those items among the many cases its lawyers have handled, though it’s not clear anyone is “boasting” about them.

POLITICO Playbook Florida’s recap of the ad also included this note: “Of course, law firms defend the accused as part of our justice system. So expect some umbrage from Barzee Flores and lawyers in general.”

Barzee Flores responded to the ad on Twitter, taking shots at Diaz-Balart’s record in Congress.

Time will tell if the attack ad against Barzee Flores will stick. Diaz-Balart has held the seat in Florida’s 25th Congressional District comfortably for years. As of now, prognosticators predict that will continue.

Watch Diaz-Balart’s new ad below.

Two state pols endorse Donna Shalala for Congress

Former University of Miami President Donna Shalala has been endorsed by a pair of state Democrats as she seeks a move to Congress.

State Reps. Joe Geller and Javier Fernandez say they’re backing Shalala in the crowded Democratic primary in Florida’s 27th Congressional District.

“Donna Shalala has the leadership and progressive values we need in Washington,” said Geller, who represents House District 100.

“She has the experience and expertise to shake up Washington and get things done for the people of South Florida. As the former Ranking Member on the K-12 Subcommittee in the Florida House of Representatives, I admire her track record and her long fight for our children, and I look forward to working with Donna to improve our education system and implement policies that put our kids first.”

Shalala is competing with four others for the nomination. Former Knight Foundation Program Director Matt Haggman, former University of Miami academic Advisor Michael A. Hepburn, state Rep. David Richardson, and Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez are also running.

“No one fights harder than Donna Shalala, and I had the opportunity to witness that as a University of Miami law student and on the campaign trail for my special election,” said Fernandez, who serves House District 114.

“While we walked the neighborhoods, we discussed the issues facing our communities, from health care to sea level rise, and from gun reform to immigration reform. What I soon realized was Donna has the experience South Florida deserves and the knowledge to get things done.

“We are facing challenging times, and as a father I know we need leadership who will fight for our kids – whether at the border or at our schools. Donna is the progressive leader that is ready to fight and stand up for us on day one.”

Shalala is seeking to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is not pursuing re-election. Her retirement has opened up the race for Democrats, with watchers rating the race as “leaning Democratic.”

“It is a great honor to receive both Rep, Geller’s and Rep. Fernandez’s endorsements,” said Shalala.

“It is humbling to simultaneously receive the support of both an experienced, veteran lawmaker like Joe Geller and of Javier Fernandez, one of the great young talents of our local Democratic Party. We are all united by a strong commitment to progressive values, and I am happy to count them as both supporters and friends.”

Nine Republicans and one nonaffliated candidate are also in the CD 27 race. The primary will be held on Aug. 28.

Deede Weithorn earns endorsements from pro-choice groups

Former Miami Beach City Commissioner Deede Weithorn announced a new set of endorsements from pro-choice groups as she continues to run for House District 113.

Weithorn secured support from both EMILY’s List and Ruth’s List, her campaign announced Tuesday. EMILY’s List aims to promote the election of pro-choice women throughout the country, while Ruth’s List does the same here in Florida.

“Ruth’s List is proud to endorse Deede Weithorn for the Florida House of Representatives because we need more women in Tallahassee who will fight for reproductive rights, equal pay for equal work and paid family leave,” said Pamela Goodman, executive director of Ruth’s List Florida.

“We know Deede will be a fierce advocate on these issues and an excellent representative for Miami Beach, downtown Miami and Little Havana.”

Weithorn is running to replace outgoing state Rep. David Richardson, who is running for Florida’s 27th Congressional District.

“I’m thrilled to receive endorsements from both EMILY’s List and Ruth’s List,” Weithorn said.

“These groups and the brave women who form their ranks have been on the frontline in the fight against Republican attempts to roll back reproductive rights and I intend to fight alongside them in the Florida House.”

Florida has become a focus of the abortion debate after the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy and subsequent nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace Kennedy.

Democratic candidate for governor Gwen Graham has warned that Roe v. Wade could be overturned, which would send the battle over abortion rights to individual states.

Weithorn is competing for the Democratic nomination in HD 113 with fellow ex-Miami Beach City Commissioner Michael Grieco and attorney Kubs Lalchandani. Jonathan Parker, a lawyer and entrepreneur, is the only Republican filed to run.

The district leans heavily Democratic. HD 113 covers parts of Miami-Dade County including Miami Beach and North Bay Village.

Florida Medical Association PAC backing Daphne Campbell

State Sen. Daphne Campbell has secured the endorsement of the Florida Medical Association PAC (FMA PAC) as she continues to try to hold off primary challenger Jason Pizzo.

“The FMA PAC happily endorses Sen. Daphne Campbell for re-election,” said the group’s president, Dr. Mike Patete. He also referenced Campbell’s status as a registered nurse.

“As a member of the health care team, Sen. Campbell has a deep understanding of the issues that affect the physician community. We hope to continue working with her as we strive to make Florida the best state to practice medicine.”

The PAC is the political arm of the Florida Medical Association, which represents medical and osteopathic physicians throughout Florida.

“I am happy to have the support of Florida physicians in my re-election campaign,” said Campbell of the endorsement.

“As a registered nurse, I offer a unique perspective in the Florida Senate on health care issues. I look forward to continuing working with physicians in creating a health care system that works for all Floridians.”

Campbell attended nursing school in Haiti before moving to Florida.

Her campaign for the Senate District 38 seat was also recently endorsed by the Florida Police Benevolent Association. Pizzo, a Miami attorney, is challenging Campbell for the Democratic nomination in SD 38 after he lost to Campbell in 2016.

The two will face off in the Florida primary Aug. 28. No Republicans are filed to run in the race.

David Richardson embarking on two-day tour of Cuba

State Rep. David Richardson kicked off a two-day listening tour in Cuba’s capital today as he continues to campaign in the race for Florida’s 27th Congressional District.

The Richardson campaign says the focus of the Havana tour is “to learn more about economic and societal developments in the wake of changes in U.S. relations with Cuba.”

Richardson currently represents House District 113, which includes Miami-Dade County’s Little Havana. CD 27 also covers Miami Beach and Kendall.

“A half-century of isolation did not achieve progress for the everyday Cuban, so I fully support a position of engagement with Cuban civil society,” said Richardson of his overall vision on U.S. policy toward Cuba.

“Despite President Donald Trump‘s attempts at reversing his predecessor’s progress on foreign policy, I am going to see firsthand how rolling back travel and trade restrictions has changed the lives of the Cuban people, helped private Cuban entrepreneurs, and strengthened the connection between the residents of Little Havana and Havana.”

On Richardson’s schedule is a meeting with film director Rafael Ramos, owner and manager of Café Madrigal, a popular spot among the LGBTQ community. Richardson is one of two first openly gay members of the Florida legislature.

“The two will discuss the status of the LGBTQ community within Cuban society and how it has changed since the opening of relations with the U.S.,” according to Richardson’s campaign.

Richardson is also seeking to meet with Cubans regarding the state of the small business community. He has also scheduled a tour of the Lizt Alfonso Academy, a prominent women-led dance company that enrolls local youth.

Five Democrats, including Richardson, are competing for the party’s nomination in CD 27. Also running are former Knight Foundation Program Director Matt Haggman, former University of Miami academic Advisor Michael A. Hepburn, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, and former UM President Donna Shalala.

The race will be open as incumbent U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is retiring. The CD 27 primary will take place Aug. 28.

Florida Medical Association PAC endorses Robert Asencio

Incumbent state Rep. Robert Asencio earned another boost in his re-election bid, pulling in support from the Florida Medical Association PAC.

The group serves as the political arm of the Florida Medical Association, which advocates on behalf of the state’s medical and osteopathic physicians.

“The FMA PAC proudly endorses Rep. Robert Asencio for re-election,” said Dr. Mike Patete, the group’s president.

“As a member of a key health care committee in the House, we have gotten to know Rep. Asencio and worked together with him on important legislation. We hope to continue this collaboration next session.”

Asencio, a Miami Democrat, represents House District 118, which covers a portion of Miami-Dade County including Tamiami and Kendall. He is on the Health Quality Subcommittee, among others.

“It is a true honor to receive the endorsement of the Florida Medical Association,” said Asencio.

“Our state has some of the best medical institutions run by world-renowned medical practitioners. I look forward to continuing our work together in the Florida House to prioritize patient care and ensure everyone in Florida has access to high quality medical care.”

Asencio’s seat is being challenged by Republican Anthony Rodriguez, a Kendall business owner. The pair are about even in overall cash on hand through June.

Both candidates are running in uncontested primaries, guaranteeing them a spot on the Nov. 6 ballot.

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