Ryan Nicol – Page 7 – 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.

Maria Elvira Salazar added to NRCC “Young Guns” program

Florida’s 27th Congressional District candidate Maria Elvira Salazar is officially “On the Radar” of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The group added Salazar to the first phase of its Young Guns program, a sign the group thinks Salazar could hold the seat for Republicans in November.

According to the NRCC’s website: “On the Radar candidates are individuals running in competitive congressional seats. They have met the minimum threshold in campaign organization and show potential to achieve greater status in the program as the cycle progresses.”

CD 27 is undoubtedly competitive.

The decision of longtime Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to not pursue re-election has triggered competitive primaries among both major parties. Nine people, including Salazar, are running on the Republican side. Five Democrats and one Independent have also registered to run.

Currently, the Cook Political Report rates the CD 27 race as “leaning Democratic.” That makes it all the more important for Republicans to field a strong candidate if they want to hold on to this seat.

Salazar is a journalist based in Miami whose previous gigs include anchor roles at both Telemundo and CNN en Español. She received a recent endorsement from conservative activist group FreedomWorks and its PAC, FreedomWorks for America.

The NRCC, a committee focused on electing Republicans to the House of Representatives, notes that admission to the Young Guns program requires candidates to “meet specific goals throughout the cycle to ensure their campaigns are able to operate effectively.”

Salazar isn’t the only CD 27 Republican candidate the NRCC says has cleared that bar. Former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruce Barreiro was also named to the program.

In a statement congratulating Salazar on her addition to the program, NRCC Executive Director John Rogers said, “Her compelling personal story, deep Miami roots, and fundraising prowess have served her campaign well.”

He added, “Salazar is a lifelong resident of Miami who has what it takes to keep this seat red. The NRCC looks forward to watching Salazar’s campaign continue to progress.”

It remains to be seen whether Salazar can come out on top of a crowded field. We’ll have an answer on August 28 when primary voters head to the polls. The general election will follow on November 6.

Ted Deutch endorses Robert Weinroth for Palm Beach County Commission

Democrats just got a helping hand in their efforts to turn a Palm Beach County Commission seat blue: U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch has endorsed Robert Weinroth in the race for District 4.

The contest serves as a harbinger for Democrats’ hopes on a national level, as Republicans have represented District 4 since its inception in 1988.

Despite that, Weinroth is seen as the favorite in the race after Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie was forced to withdraw her bid following a corruption scandal that ended in her arrest.

If Democrats are indeed poised to flip this seat, it could signal good fortunes for the party in November. A high-profile endorsement from Rep. Deutch shows the party is taking this race seriously.

“On the Boca Raton City Council, Bob was a champion on the issues mattering most to constituents,” said Deutch in a statement announcing his endorsement.

“On the Palm Beach County Commission, I know that he will continue his legacy of creating jobs, battling the opioid epidemic, protecting our beaches and the environment, and promoting sensible gun safety policies. I’m excited by the prospect of having Bob as a partner in government on the county level.”

Weinroth was thankful for the support, saying, “I have known Rep. Deutch for many years and I am proud to call him my congressman. In addition to his leadership on legislative issues, he and his staff have always greatly impressed me by their commitment to constituent services. I look forward to continuing our close working relationship once elected to the Palm Beach County Commission.”

Weinroth currently serves on the Boca Raton City Council, but has decided not to run for re-election to pursue the County Commission seat. Weinroth has raised more than $90,000 in the race while his only declared opponent, Republican William Vale, has raised just over $3,500.

Tina Polsky announces new round of endorsements in HD 81 race

Several Palm Beach County leaders are now throwing their support behind Democrat Tina Polsky in her bid to replace House District 81’s Joe Abruzzo, who’s not running for re-election.

The endorsements came from communities in western Palm Beach County: South Bay Mayor Joe Kyles and Vice Mayor John Wilson say they’re backing Polsky, along with South Bay City Commissioner Taranza McKelvin.

They join Pahokee Mayor Keith Babb, Vice Mayor Clara Murvin, and City Commissioners Benny Everett and Felisia Hill.

Belle Glade also saw its share of elected and community leaders supporting Polsky.

Mayor Steve Wilson, Vice Mayor Mary Ross Wilkerson, and City Commissioners Johnny Burroughs, Mike Martin and Larry Underwood are all endorsing Polsky.

Belle Glade Pastor Robert Rease, who leads the St. John First Missionary Baptist Church, is also behind Polsky.

“I’m supporting Tina because she has proven to me that she will be an advocate for all of the people and distinct communities across our district,” Rease said. “Particularly when it comes to economic development, I am confident that she understands the unique needs of western Palm Beach County and the important role agriculture plays in our local economy.”

This wave of local support comes after Polsky earned some serious national backing, with Reps. Ted Deutch and Alcee Hastings both backing her bid for HD 81.

That’s in addition to an endorsement by Rep. Abruzzo himself, whom Polsky is running to replace.

Polsky currently faces one Democratic challenger, Mindy Koch, for the nomination. No Republicans have yet filed to run; Democrats have run unopposed in the previous two elections, making this a safe seat for Democrats.

Belle Glade Mayor Wilson explained why he’s backing Polsky over Koch: “Tina and I have talked about the desperate need for greater funding of our public schools. In the Legislature, she’ll advocate for increased per-pupil spending and better pay for our teachers. Tina has gone from earning my vote to earning my endorsement because I know she’ll make education a top priority.”

Polsky responded to the series of endorsements:

“Economic development and education are two of the most critical concerns facing western Palm Beach County and I will make it my mission to deliver results on both. On economic development, that means working in close partnership with current and prospective employers to foster an environment allowing and encouraging them to invest in our communities through job creation. On education, it means allocating more money for students in our state’s annual budget. I will make good on these promises starting on day one.”

Voters will select the winner of the Democratic primary on Aug. 28.

NTSB releases preliminary report on FIU bridge collapse

A preliminary report shows the National Transportation Safety Board is still searching for answers as to the cause of the deadly Florida International University bridge collapse.

The report highlights areas the NTSB will focus on in determining the cause of the accident, noting, “The NTSB is evaluating the bridge design, the construction process, and the construction materials. In addition, the NTSB is evaluating the emergence of cracks” in certain areas of the bridge.

The report also details actions by workers in the lead-up to the collapse back in March.

The report states workers “de-tensioned” parts of the bridge on March 10. Five days later, on the day of the collapse, “a construction crew was positioned on the structure working on re-tensioning” a portion of the structure “connecting the canopy and the deck at the north end of the bridge.”

That was followed by the collapse which crushed eight vehicles underneath the bridge, killing five people. One bridge worker was also killed. Eight others were injured.

The bridge was set to be completed in early 2019. According to an NTSB lawyer, multiple agencies are pursuing criminal investigations into the collapse.

Sen. Bill Nelson, who serves on the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee overseeing the NTSB, issued a statement following the release of the report complimenting the NTSB for its work on the investigation.

“While we still don’t know the ultimate cause of the bridge collapse, it’s reassuring that the NTSB is already laser-focused on the emergence of cracks on the structure,” said Nelson. “The victims’ families and the public expect nothing less than a thorough examination of this tragic event to prevent it from ever happening again.”

The NTSB’s preliminary report also laid out a timeline for the next stages of the investigation.

“In the next month, the NTSB will be conducting additional forensic examination of several bridge structural components and destructive testing of multiple core and steel samples. All aspects of the collapse remain under investigation while the NTSB determines the probable cause, with the intent of issuing safety recommendations to prevent similar events.”

Miami mayor backs SD 36 candidate Manny Diaz

Current state Rep. Manny Diaz continues his charge to the Florida Senate after pulling in another endorsement from a Miami-Dade County mayor.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez is the latest to back Diaz, announcing his support for Diaz’s Senate District 36 bid.

“I’m honored to have Mayor Suarez’s support,” Diaz, a Republican, said.

“He is an outstanding leader and public servant, and I’m grateful to have him join the other local leaders from across Miami-Dade who have joined our team. I look forward to continuing a strong partnership with them as we serve the best interests of our communities together.”

Mayor Suarez had previously served on the Miami City Commission after he won the District 4 seat back in 2009. He remained in that role until winning the mayoral race last year with an overwhelming 86 percent of the vote.

Suarez also serves as vice-chair of the Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization and is a former president of the Miami-Dade County League of Cities.

Suarez’s family has strong political ties to Miami. His father, Xavier, is a current Miami-Dade County Commissioner and also served as mayor of Miami in the late 1990s.

Diaz hopes the latest endorsement helps propel him from the Florida House to the Senate. He’s already earned endorsements from the mayors of Hialeah, Hialeah Gardens, Doral, Miami Lakes, and Medley.

Diaz has represented House District 103 since 2012 but is now seeking to replace GOP Sen. Rene Garcia in SD 36. Garcia is term-limited.

“Manny Diaz is a compassionate leader who will be very effective in the Florida Senate,” Suarez said. “In the Florida House, he has demonstrated strong commitment to the communities he represents, and I am confident he will serve Senate District 36 with the same determination and responsiveness. I look forward to working with him.”

Diaz is the only Republican who has entered the SD 36 race. Only Muhammad Amin has filed as a Democrat.

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.

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