Scott Powers, Author at Florida Politics

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

Bernie Sanders calls for ‘revolution’ in Florida led by Andrew Gillum

National icon of progressive Democratic politics U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders called for a political and economic revolution in Florida led by Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum as Governor, rousing a crowd Friday at the University of Central Florida.

“This state needs a political revolution,” Sanders declared. “You have a candidate in Andrew Gillum that is going to lead that revolution.

“It’s time we had a government in Washington and a government in Florida that represents all of the people, not just the 1 percent,” Sanders added.

Gillum, too, spoke of  “a progressive revolution, right here in the state of Florida.”

And then he and Sanders each laid out essentially the same progressive playbook: raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and calling for living wages, addressing climate change, committing to environmental protection, declaring health care as a right and seeking universal Medicare, equal rights, investing in education and increasing teachers’ pay, protecting women’s rights to abortion choice, pushing for campaign finance reform, demanding gun law reforms, making commitments to move from fossil fuels to renewable energy, seeking criminal justice reform, restoring rights for convicted felons who served their time, supporting immigration reform and acceptance of immigrants, and for Florida to not be, as Gillum called it, “a show-me-your-papers state.”

“We’re seeing ideas that just a few years ago seemed really radical and fringe, now those are the ideas that the American people overwhelmingly support,” Sanders professed in his 27-minute speech.

“Bernie Sanders has been fighting this progressive battle across this country for decades,” Gillum said in his 16-minute address.

And right back at you, Sanders offered, extolling Gillum as a Governor who can do that in Florida.

“What this is about is looking into your world and trying to figure out what’s going on in the lives of real people. That’s what it’s about,” Sanders. “And after that figure out where you go from here to improve the lives of people who are working. When I look at what is going on in America and what is going on in Florida, it is clear to me we need a revolution to transform what goes on economically, and what goes on politically.”

Most of Central Florida’s leading progressive Democrat revolutionaries joined Sanders and Gillum on stage: State Attorney Aramis Ayala, Orlando Commissioner Regina Hill, Orange County Commissioner Emily Bonilla, and state Reps. Kamia Brown and Carlos Guillermo Smith. The latter worked up the crowd as Gillum’s last warm-up speaker.

They and a crowd of mostly students, which Gillum’s campaign estimated at 1,000, packed the atrium foyer of UCF’s CFE Auditorium.

“In Andrew, you will have a Governor who understands that the future of this state and the future of our country is with the young people,” Sanders told them.

Gillum first must get through the Aug. 28 primary, where polls consistently have shown him trailing the leaders, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, by more than 10 points.

Friday’s rally was all about getting out the vote for Gillum. He and Sanders each took indirect shots at his Democratic rivals, who also include Palm Beach businessman Jeff Greene and Winter Park businessman Chris King, though they did not call them out by name.

They both referred to the quartet of opponents as millionaires, compared with Gillum’s more humble economic status, and Sanders declared you should not have to be a millionaire to run for governor.

And Gillum heated up the crowd with his call for an unabashedly progressive Democrat to run for Governor, part of his standard pitch from the beginning.

“I believe we’re going to see a surge of progressive voters all across the state of Florida who are saying, ‘Enough is enough. We’re tired of Republican Lite. We want someone who fights for our values and our beliefs,'” he said.

Philip Levine launches new ad that looks beyond primary

Gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine, bouyed to the top of the Democratic heap in the latest poll, is launching a new TV commercial that appears aimed at showdowns with Republicans and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, rather than his Aug. 28 primary opponents.

The new 30-second spot “The Challenge,” launched Friday, appears more focused on Aug. 29 and beyond, pairing DeSantis and President Donald Trump as status quo for problems ranging from the environmental threats of offshore drilling to the rise of hate groups.

“If Trump and DeSantis win, nothing will change,” Levine says in the ad. “If we do, we take back our state.”

Nonetheless, Levine’s Campaign Senior Adviser Christian Ulvert characterized the commercial as a primary election appeal to Democratic voters. The latest poll put Levine up slightly on former U.S Rep. Gwen Graham, and up considerably on the others, with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum running third, businessman Jeff Greene fourth, and businessman Chris King fifth.

“2018 is a fight for the future of our state and as Florida Democrats come together to rise to the challenge, we need a candidate who has what it takes to win when so much is on the line,” Ulvert stated in a news release.

DeSantis is paired with Trump even though he, too, must win a primary, against Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, long the Republican frontrunner until Trump endorsed DeSantis. DeSantis has been leading almost all recent polls.

The ad does go through the roll of many of the basic Democratic issues in this primary season: “We cannot have drilling,” Levine insists. “Our schools need help. And so do our teachers,” he follows up. “If we don’t expand Medicaid, women and children will suffer,” he continues. “Florida needs stronger gun laws, and we have to stop the hatred that’s tearing us apart.

Then the montage of frightening images of such things as oil spills and hate groups gives way to video of DeSantis and Trump.

Adam Putnam launches new bus tour with faith in grassroots

An upbeat Adam Putnam started his latest tour of restaurants and backyard barbecues expressing confidence in Winter Park Friday that his 16 months of cultivating grassroots yet will pay off in the Aug. 28 Republican gubernorial primary against U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

“I’m pretty excited about a poll that came out right here in Orlando, a local TV station that essentially shows it a dead heat,” Putnam declared, referring to a poll done by Spectrum News 13 that shows. “The only poll that matters comes on election day, and as you can see from the grassroots energy all over the state, I feel very good.”

That poll had DeSantis up 40 to 38, with 16 percent still undecided. The gap was within the 5 point margin of error.

Putnam held one of his “Up & Adam” breakfast talks before a packed and enthusiastic house at the 4Rivers restaurant in Winter Park Friday morning. The event was not unlike countless he’s arranged and spoken at in Orlando and cities and small towns throughout Florida since launching his campaign in the spring of 2017. Yet this summer he watched DeSantis, who until June had campaigned largley through FOX News appearances, zoom past him in polls and start hosting large, raucious rallies after getting the endorsement of President Donald Trump.

Putnam, Florida’s agriculture commissioner, has tried hard to embrace Trump and work him into much of his own campaigning, but

For the past six weeks Putnam, Florida’s agriculture commissioner, has been playing catch-up against Trump’s candidate, DeSantis. Putnam has been trying hard to embrace Trump and work him into much of his own campaigning, while still characterizing the race as a “Washington-centric candidate” versus a “Florida-First candidate.”

That Florida First message, his campaign theme, mixed with Trump references throughout his 4Rivers stop. And he’s turning back to his grassroots appeal in the closing days, while staying on his basic points of pushing technical education, low taxes for small business growth, and intimate knoweldge of the state’s economy and local nuances.

“So we’re going to be bouncing all around Florida, up and down the I-4 corridor, up and down I-75 and I-95 and throughout the Panhandle. We’ll be making multiple stops a day, whether it’s at barbecue restaurants, coffee shops, businesses or people’s back yards,” he said.

“If you want to be governor of the third-largest state, if you want to manage a trillion-dollar economy, you better be willing to roll up your sleeves and be amongst the people,” he said. “Understand their concerns, listen to their challenges, and offer your own vision on how we’re going to make Florida a stronger, better place.”

Lee Mangold snags endorsements from professors union, progressive group

Democratic Florida House candidate Lee Mangold has picked up the endorsements of the University of Central Florida’s United Faculty of Florida and the national Progressive Change Campaign Committee, his campaign announced Friday morning.

Mangold, a Casselberry businessman, is vying against Republican David Smith, a Winter Garden business consultant, in the race for Florida House District 28, representing northwest Seminole County.

“Because of your work and support of labor, teachers, and quality education for our students, the United Faculty of Florida at UCF is proud to endorse you as our candidate for Florida House District 28,” the faculty union stated in a news release issued by Mangold’s campaign.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee was founded by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, one of the leaders of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

“Our 2018 Champions across the country are committed to solving big problems affecting their communities,” Marissa Barrow, a spokesperson for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, stated in another press release. “Selected for their bold vision, these candidates are highly capable leaders ready to make change.”

The group has raised more than $25 million to support its candidates.

“I’m excited and proud to be named as a Champion for issues we all believe in, like taking care of each other through Social Security, ensuring that education isn’t a path to insurmountable debt, and making sure that no one in this country goes without necessary medical care,” Mangold stated. “These are nonpartisan values that we all share, and it’s time we start fighting for them together!”

Alan Grayson, Darren Soto, Wayne Liebnitzky spread on ICE in ‘Political Salsa’ CD 9 debate

When asked Thursday night about what they want to do with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, the three candidates for Florida’s 9th Congressional District had a wide range of opinions.

Either keep it as is, reform it, or throw it out.

Speaking at one of four debates at the packed Political Salsa hobnob in Orlando, Republican Wayne Liebnitzky defended the embattled federal immigration enforcement agency, its work and officers as necessary and law enforcement doing the best they could with what they have.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto talked about law changes necessary to rein in excesses while protecting important work ICE does. And Democratic former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson blasted ICE as a federal agency that “has lost its way.”

“ICE deserves to abolished,” Grayson said. “ICE has become what amounts to an agency of viciousness. I never expected any time in my life to see a federal agency caging children, anywhere in the world. And therefore, ICE has lost its way. We should not have federal agents on the federal payroll, paid by the taxpayers, abusing and brutalizing people because they don’t happen to be Americans. That has to change.”

“I believe the solution is to reform ICE,” said Soto. “The reason that ICE is the way it is is that there aren’t laws that are preventing them from doing the things that they do. That’s why we need a Democratic majority in back in Congress, to make family separation illegal, to make zero-tolerance illegal.

“Keep in mind, they also regulate and protect people who are involved in human sex trafficking and other aspects that are important, that we do support. We do need a culture change there, from the top down,” Soto said. “We also need to make sure they are not going into churches, and they are not going after people who are low priorities.”

“No, I will not vote to abolish ICE,” Liebnitzky said. Later he defended ICE agents as law enforcement officers just following the laws, and getting a bad rap, saying, “They’re doing what they’re told to do, by Congress,” adding that President Donald Trump has asked Congress “over and over to do something, and yet they do nothing.”

Their sparring over ICE was one of the few moments of genuine disagreement in debates between Orange County congressional, mayoral, and sheriff’s candidates. The discussions took place during an event where scores of candidates — including Republican U.S. Senate candidate Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic gubernatorial candidates Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine — worked the floors at Acacia, a gathering point for the area’s Puerto Rican community.

The debates did not bring any of the go-for-the-throat moments seen at earlier debates, particularly between Soto and Grayson, and between Orange County mayoral candidates Sheriff Jerry Demings, Commissioner Pete Clarke, and businessman Rob Panepinto.

Nor were there many moments of new revelation, 11 days before the Aug. 28 elections.

Panepinto had one of the few notable moments to shine when the mayoral candidates answered questions on specifics about what they would do to address Orange County’s affordable housing crisis.

Panepinto declared the county no longer can wait for (or count on) state help, then laid out details of his $20 million-a-year, seven-point plan for the county to promote affordable housing. Demings and Clarke mostly called on the state to do its job, giving generalized answers about looking for possible zoning and permit-processing reforms.

“We’ve been looking to Tallahassee for a long time to solve this problem,” Panepinto said. “Yes, they should fund the Sadowski [Affordable Housing Trust] Fund. Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. I’ll continue to go up there and fight for it. But I think we owe it to our people to solve the problem here locally.”

Orlando Police Chief John Mina and retired Florida Highway Patrol Chief Joe Lopez, both running for Orange County Sheriff, mostly agreed on many items ranging from their opposition to the sheriff’s office ever actively enforcing federal immigration law, to their commitments to reduce violence against and by law enforcement officers. But they split squarely on their views of red-light cameras.

“I would be in favor of it, as long as the system is run properly and there are many, many checks and balances, and the person has the opportunity to go before a hearing officer and in front of traffic court to fight a red light traffic ticket, which we do in the city of Orlando,” Mina said.

“Very simple: no! I do not support them,” Lopez offered. “I don’t think it works. I think it creates problems,” he said citing studies indicating they increase rear-end traffic accidents.

“It’s a cash cow, that’s all it is,” he added.

Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Miller shared the debate dais with progressive Democratic challenger Chardo Richardson, as incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy and Republican candidates Scott Sturgill and Vennia Francois skipped the event, even though it was held in their district.

Miller and Richardson stood on far opposite sides of the political spectrum. Miller argued for capitalism, low taxes, and freeing up businesses; Richardson, mounting a left-wing (albeit long-shot) Aug. 28 Democratic primary challenge to Murphy, pressed his Democratic socialist platform, including universal Medicare and raising the minimum wage “to a living wage.”

The pair were far enough apart that they offered grace and respect to one another, Richardson expressing appreciation for Miller’s service in Tallahassee, and Miller for Richardson’s service in the U.S. Marines, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Scott made a late, brief appearance, mostly meeting with a few people in crowded hallways.

The Governor left shortly after being confronted in a corridor by Central Florida progressive political activist and former congressional candidate Susannah Randolph. He was ushered toward the stairwell while she tried to demand an answer on one of her questions.

On the other hand, Scott’s opponent, Democratic U.S. Sen. (and Orlando resident) Bill Nelson, was a no-show.

Levine and Gillum worked the floor of the main room, filled with hundreds of people and scores of candidates for county, state, and federal races packed the auditorium.

Political Salsa was sponsored primarily by the Suarez Group of Cos. and the Puerto Rico Bar Association of Florida, drawing a sizable Hispanic attendance.

The Soto-Grayson-Liebnitzky debate stayed civil, a dramatic departure from previous CD 9 debates where Soto and Grayson trashed each other’s records and called each other names, all but drawing actual blood. The closest to personal attacks came when Liebnitzky chided the two Democrats for talking so much about their records.

They were coming off sounding like their only concerns were themselves, not the district and its residents, he said.

Neither Soto nor Grayson took his bait.

Jeff Greene pledges to stand against bigotry, racism, hatred

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Greene said Thursday that his Jewish identity triggers revulsion for the levels of tolerance President Donald Trump exhibited toward rising hate groups, and he vowed not to tolerate any bigotry, racism, or hatred in Florida if elected governor.

Greene was speaking Thursday morning before a gathering at the Roth Jewish Family Center in Maitland, in an event organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando. He sharply criticized the President’s response to the Charlottesville, Virginia, rallies by neo-Nazis and white supremacists last year and since as affronts to all and something he felt personally.

“With the president saying, ‘There’s good people on both sides,’ it made me sick to my stomach,” Greene said. “I have a very, very deep and strong Jewish identity, and I can tell you if I’m governor of Florida I would never tolerate any kind of bigotry, racism or hatred in this state.”

The declaration came up almost as an aside as Greene was offering his thoughts on Israel. That discussion led him to offer some faint praise toward Trump for supporting that country but also some light criticism of the hard-line approach toward security shared by Israel Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu and Trump.

Greene faces Democrat Philip Levine, who’s also Jewish, plus Gwen Graham, Chris King, and Andrew Gillum in the Aug. 28 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

“Obviously, we’re all happy when Donald Trump is getting along with Bibi, which is better than the alternative,” Greene said when asked about Israel.

Greene noted that he has been to Israel many times, including as a student studying there for six months and more recently. He has met with both Netanyahu and the late former Israel President and Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

“I think moving the capital to Jerusalem sounds great, but we’ll see. Hopefully, it doesn’t backfire and we have more problems,” Greene said.

He cautioned that the plight of Palestinians must be considered, saying, “we can’t just ignore what’s there.”

“I’m glad that the President says, ‘I’m standing with Israel.’ But … we still have to have solutions. And that’s the problem. The way to solve the problem is to give them hope,” Greene said.

“You know, you go to the West Bank and visit businesses there who are doing well: They’re not interested in blowing anything up. They want their kids to have educations and iPhones and become pediatricians,” Greene said. “In Gaza, it’s pretty hopeless. And we have to figure out a way … of getting the whole Middle East behind making Gaza successful economically, so that people aren’t as interested in throwing bombs.”

Then he added, “But as long as they have textbooks that talk about taking Israel off the map, we have a problem, as long as they have streets named after bombers.”

HD 47 primary gets uglier as Stockton Reeves mailer notes Mikaela Nix youthful arrest

House of Representatives candidate Stockton Reeves VI has put out a mailer declaring that his Republican primary opponent Mikaela Nix had been arrested as a young woman and charging that she has been hiding her past.

Nix and Reeves are locked in an increasingly ugly Aug. 28 Republican primary battle seeking to succeed outgoing Republican state Rep. Mike Miller in Florida House District 47. Several mailers in the past couple of weeks have ramped up attacks.

This time, Reeves’ mailer is not only drawing outrage from its target, Nix, but also from the Democrat awaiting the winner of their Aug. 28 Republican primary. Anna Eskamani declared, “I’m speechless,” in a text to Florida Politics, before tweeting, “This is a really ugly attack and a clear reflection of how low GOP candidates will go to win.”

The district covers north and central Orange County, including downtown Orlando.

Reeves, of Winter Park, said that he has been the target of negative mailers, too, sent by the third-party political action committee Floridians for Fiscal Responsibility, which is run by Nix’s campaign consultant, John Dowless. They have questioned holes in his financial disclosures and implied the possibility of illegal loans and pointed out an ethics complaint sustained against him in 1994. He says he’s just responding in kind.

Nix countered Monday that he started the mud-slinging, with his mailer declaring that she had been a Democrat and that she rarely voted in primaries. Her campaign is responding, she said.

[Reeves previously responded that he is filing an addendum to his financial disclosure to clarify and the 1994 complaint was the result of a mistake. Nix previously responded that she changed parties in college when she learned more about what they stand for.]

“She’s coming at me with all guns ablazing, and this is part of the record,” Reeves said.

“If someone is slinging mud at me… I am slinging back,” she said.

Reeves’ new mailer declares, “Mikaela Nix A record of breaking the law” and “Tallahassee doesn’t need lawbreakers trying to be lawmakers. Mikaela Nix’s judgment is too dangerous for Florida.”

Reeves contends he is setting the record straight about Nix, whom he insists has never been straight with voters about who she is.

“Between this, the primary elections, the switched parties, don’t play like something you’re not,” he said.

Nix said she has acknowledged the arrest.

The mailer cites an arrest of Nix when she 18, for petty theft in Miami-Dade County. The charge was dropped, and the original arrest record expunged. Nix said she was out with college friends, and there was peer pressure, and, it’s a common story.

“Of course it was disclosed,” said Nix, now a lawyer. “This is not something I am hiding behind. This is something that happened to me when I was 19 years old, a knucklehead.”

Nix argued that if the arrest record is expunged, that’s legally as if it never happened. Reeves counters: not so.

She then counter-charged that he was once arrested for an open container violation in Alachua County in 2003.

Reeves at first said he had never been arrested. But when confronted with details, he acknowledged it, saying he didn’t consider it an arrest. He said he was stopped for carrying a beer bottle while leaving a University of Florida stadium parking lot and was cited with a notice to appear, but was not physically arrested.

 

As his praise continues to haunt, Jeff Greene insists, ‘Donald Trump can’t stand me’

With rival Philip Levine still trying to hang President Donald Trump around his neck, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Greene lashed back again Thursday morning, insisting that he detests his Palm Beach neighbor, and vice versa.

“Donald Trump can’t stand me,” Greene said. “I know him. I don’t have much of a relationship with him. I haven’t had lunch or dinner with him. But I’ve met him many, many times. He knows if I’m Governor of Florida I’m not going to be his friend.”

The issue of Greene’s attitude toward Trump has been a major undercurrent in Greene’s campaign since even before he entered the race in mid-June, with him frequently having to defend his statement on FOX Business News, shortly after the 2016 election, calling Trump “a great guy” and offering support.

Some of the other Democrats running, Chris King, Gwen Graham and Andrew Gillum, also have at least raised eyebrows about the comment in debates and campaign statements.

Greene’s former support of the President continues to haunt, coming up as a hot topic from a professed undecided voter who challenged Greene over it Thursday during a stop in Central Florida.

Trump’s power in the primary has been well documented as his endorsement of Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis helped rocket him toward the top heading into the Aug. 28 primaries, and Democrats are battling over the negative power Trump has with Democrats.

Greene has launched multiple TV ads, mailers and public statements trying to counter that with his declarations that as Governor he would be Trump’s worst nightmare; then to counter Levine’s TV ads reminding every one of Greene’s statements; then to punch back, charging that Levine, too, had made at least conciliatory if not praising comments about Trump, even though Levine was a front-line campaign surrogate for Democrat Hillary Clinton in that race.

“Obviously, if you Google you’ll see all the [anti-Trump] stuff I did during the [2016] campaign,” Greene insisted.

Yet the issue still is resonating with Democratic voters, to the point that it might take a hostile Trump tweet to remove it from Greene.

It came up Thursday when Greene was speaking to a gathering at the Roth Jewish Family Center in Maitland, in an event organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando, from an audience member who’d seen Levine’s ad, and was concerned.

Greene brushed off the initial comment, again, as something respectful that someone should say whenever a new president takes office.

“Unfortunately that quote is being thrown all over the place,” Greene said. “It’s par for the course.”

Poll: Philip Levine atop what’s looking like two-person race with Gwen Graham

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham are going down to the wire in what is starting to look like a two-person race in the Democratic primary battle to run for governor, with Levine holding a lead among the most likely of voters, a new poll shows.

The poll, from SEA Polling and Strategic Design, has Levine leading Graham by seven points among the most likely of Democratic primary voters, but just barely ahead of her among voters who already have cast ballots.

And the other three major Democratic candidates have fallen back, slipping toward out of reach of the top spot with voting already underway and just 13 days left before the Aug. 28 Election Day.

The SEA poll has Levine leading Graham 30 to 28 percent among those who already have voted, with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum running a distant third with 15 percent, businessman Jeff Greene getting 14 percent; and businessman Chris King just 3 percent.

Among those voters who self-rated their chances of voting as five out of five, Levine opens up a lead on Graham, 31 percent to 24 percent, with Gillum and Greene back in the mid-to-low teens, and King still in the low single digits. Among all 600 Democratic voters surveyed by SEA, the relative standings and patterns remained the same: Levine, 27; Graham, 24; Gillum, 15; Greene, 13; and King, 3.

The poll was conducted Saturday through Tuesday, live interviews of 600 Democrats, with an overall margin of error of 4 percent. The poll was conducted for an undisclosed group of Democrats not directly affiliated with any of the five campaigns, according to SEA President Thomas Eldon.

The results show four trends from the previous two Democratic gubernatorial polls SEA conducted in early and late June, Levine and Gillum up; Graham and Greene down.

This is the first major poll publicly released since Greene launched his attack ads on Graham.

“Greene’s decision to go negative against Gwen Graham appears to have brought her back to the pack, but also seriously diminished his chances as he has dropped into the fourth place in the low teens,” Eldon stated in a memo.

Among factors still to be watched: Gillum’s grassroots campaign, aimed at stirring up voters among Democrats who normally don’t get out to primaries, especially in off-year elections; and Graham’s expectation to attract the votes of undecided women awakened by the #MeToo movement this year.

Yet they could cancel each other out. Eldon said that there appear to be “balloon” effects seen in the polling movements involving Levine and Greene as one pair, and Graham and Gillum as another: when one goes up, the other goes down, he said.

Hospitality union launches ad bashing Gwen Graham on megamall

Florida’s major labor union for hospitality workers, UNITE HERE, is launching a new television and internet commercial attacking Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham over her family’s involvement in the American Dream Miami megamall.

The 30-second spot, “Mega Mall Millionaire Gwen Graham,” from the union’s political action committee, charges that she has a $14 million stake in her family company, which is selling land for the controversial mall being planned in Miami-Dade County.

“While Gwen and her family make millions, Florida will be stuck with poverty wage jobs, endangered wildlife, and massive traffic congestion,” a narrator charges in the ad.

And it charges that would be happening even though she is campaigning on improving wages and protecting the environment.

“Sorry Gwen, but actions speak louder than words,” the narrator concludes.

UNITE HERE, which represents more than 260,000 mostly service industry workers across the country including at least 30,000 hospitality workers at Walt Disney World, other Central Florida resorts, and in Miami, has endorsed one of Graham’s rivals, Philip Levine, in the Democratic gubernatorial race.

Most recent polls have shown Levine and Graham well on top of the pack of five major Democrats that also include Andrew Gillum, Chris King, and Jeff Greene. Levine, King and Greene also have attacked Graham for her relationship to the mall, Greene doing so in statewide TV commercials that Graham then countered with rebuttal TV commercials.

Graham’s positions: She stepped down from any involvement in her family’s businesses years ago; the Graham Companies are selling some of the land for the mall’s development, but otherwise are not involved; the mall’s site is actually well within the area already planned by Miami-Dade County for development, not anything that sprawls into unplanned territory.

American Dream received approval from the Miami-Dade County Commission in May after a contentious battle during which opponents, citing its proximity to the Everglades watershed and other factors, dubbed it the “American nightmare.” The mall is being developed by Triple Five Worldwide Group of Edmonton, Canada.

UNITE HERE already has attacked Graham and her family’s company over their involvement, with earlier statements supporting Greene’s attacks.

“We think that Gwen Graham can’t hide behind the fact that it’s her family who’s involved in the project,” Wendi Walsh, Secretary-Treasurer for UNITE HERE Local 355 in Miami, said in a news release. “She skirts the issue at every turn.”

In that release, the union said it is spending six figures to target more than 800,000 Democratic voters, mostly in South Florida. In addition to advertising on social media and websites, they’re buying 50 30-second ad spots during morning and evening shows on CNN, MSNBC, OWN and BET in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area.

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