Wayne Liebnitzky – Florida Politics

Darren Soto, Alan Grayson set for two CD 9 debates

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto and former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, Soto’s predecessor and challenger this year, have agreed on two debates and two joint forums in the weeks leading to the Aug. 28 Democratic primary.

Soto’s campaign announced Tuesday it was committing to a Tiger Bay Club of Central Florida Aug. 2 debate and a Spectrum News 13 Aug. 8 debate. The Tiger Bay forum, open only to members of the club, is a noon event. The Spectrum forum is set for 7 p.m. and would broadcast on that cable TV company’s 24-hour news channel.

Also, Soto’s campaign said he would be participating in the upcoming July 16 Polk County Progressive Democratic Caucus candidate forum, and a July 31 forum arranged by several organizations including the League of Women Voters of Florida.

Grayson already has committed to those. Last week he accused Soto of ducking the debates and forums, while Soto’s campaign said, essentially, hold on. The pair also previously both participated in a Polk County Democratic Executive Committee forum in June.

Grayson’s campaign noted Tuesday that Soto did not refer to another potential debate to which Grayson committed, offered by WDBO radio/Cox Media Group.

Soto and Grayson are competing to represent CD 9, which covers south Orange, all of Osceola, and eastern Polk counties. Grayson served the district from 2013-17. Soto succeeded him when Grayson chose to run for the U.S. Senate in 2016. Soto beat his wife Dena Grayson and two others in the Democratic primary before beating Republican Wayne Liebnitzky in the general election.

Liebnitzky again is the Republican candidate this year.

Alan Grayson puts up ‘Dump Trump’ billboard for CD 9 race

If there is any doubt that progressive Democrats are ready to campaign against Trump, Alan Grayson already is doing so — as a primary campaign issue.

The former Democratic congressman seeking to win his seat back in Florida’s 9th Congressional District is putting up billboard’s declaring, in huge writing, “DUMP TRUMP,” as a campaign slogan.

At least one has appeared, on U.S. Highway 27 in Polk County, featuring Grayson’s picture and the message: “VOTE FOR ALAN GRAYSON AUG. 28 PRIMARY.”

Grayson declined to provide any details on the billboard campaign.

It could attract angry Democratic voters in a primary election who might otherwise not be doing much to compare Grayson with his August 28 Democratic primary opponent, incumbent U.S. Rep. Darren Soto.

Soto has been critical of Trump. But Grayson always has been one to weaponize criticism. And he’s been firing at Trump a long time. Last year, back when he was still mulling a run this year, Grayson launched an organization and a website, Lock Him Up Now, dedicated to collecting evidence for a Trump impeachment.

The winner of the Democratic primary goes up against Republican Wayne Liebnitzky, who has been supportive of Trump.

Alan Grayson accuses Darren Soto of ducking debates; Soto says he’ll do them

Saying that several potential debates are under discussion for the two Democrats running in Florida’s 9th Congressional District, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson is accusing incumbent U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of ducking them Tuesday.

According to the Grayson campaign, multiple media outlets — including Spectrum cable’s Channel 13 News13 and WDBO-FM News Talk Radio — have inquired, with a wide array of times and places, about getting the two Democrats face-to-face. Grayson’s campaign is dubbing Soto “No-Show Soto” for not accepting.

Soto’s campaign denies any ducking and said debates would happen.

“Congressman Soto will do debates and forums,” Harry Kruglik, Soto’s campaign spokesperson, said Tuesday in a written statement. “We’ll be finalizing and releasing the debate and forum schedule next week.”

Grayson held the CD 9 seat for two terms before running for the U.S. Senate in 2016, rather than seeking another term that year. Soto, a former state senator, won in 2016, first defeating Grayson’s wife Dena Grayson and Grayson’s former aide Susannah Randolph in a primary, before dispatching Republican Wayne Liebnitzky in the general election.

Liebnitzky is lined up this year to meet the winner of the August 28 Democratic primary between Soto and Alan Grayson.

CD 9 now covers Osceola County, much of south Orange County, and much of south Polk County.

“It comes as no surprise that ‘No-Show Soto’ is unable to defend his endorsement by the NRA, his two votes against impeachment, his vote to prosecute abortions as murder, or his ‘open-mindedness”’on eliminating Social Security,” Grayson said in a written statement issued by his campaign on Tuesday. “He’s an elephant in donkey’s clothing.”

Grayson has been attacking his Democratic successor, with such references to votes against the interests of progressive Democrats.

Soto has disputed Grayson’s spins on the bills in question, and contended that some date back a decade anyway. Soto was endorsed by the NRA in 2010 when he was in the Florida House of Representatives, and received an “A” grade from the organization, though he has since disavowed any support from the group while pushing for gun control as a congressman.

Grayson once got a “B” from the NRA, Soto’s campaign countered. Grayson also has disavowed the NRA calling it “ruthless” and noting it had run ads against him in a campaign.

Soto also is running up an impressive list of endorsements by progressive groups that had become wary of Grayson, including endorsements from the Human Rights Campaign, Planned Parenthood and Florida Young Democrats, groups that would take issue with the positions Grayson’s campaign cited for Soto.

On Tuesday Soto also rolled out another, the endorsement of the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund, which works to elect candidates who will support sound environmental policies.

Darren Soto picks up Human Rights Campaign endorsement in CD 9 race

The national Human Rights Campaign, the nations’ largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, has endorsed the re-election bid of Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto in Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

The endorsement is part of Soto’s efforts to shore up the progressive wing of the Democratic Party as he prepares for the August 28 Democratic primary showdown with his predecessor in the CD 9 seat, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson.

The winner faces Saint Cloud Republican Wayne Liebnitzky. CD 9 covers southern Orange, Osceola and eastern Polk counties.

JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president of policy and political affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement:

“HRC is proud to endorse Darren Soto for re-election to Congress. Darren has been a strong ally to the LGBTQ community throughout his career, including standing up to the Trump administration’s hateful anti-LGBTQ policies and pushing for progress to expand civil rights and protections under law.

“In Central Florida, he brought community leaders together when the Trump administration rescinded protections from transgender students. He has fought for workforce and housing protections, and he supports legislation to make sure our elders get the care and services they need.

“We need Darren Soto in Washington, and we encourage Central Floridians who support LGBTQ rights to support him.”

Alan Grayson launches new TV ad in CD 9 race

Former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson has launched a second television commercial in his battle for the Democratic primary nomination to return to Congress again in Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

The new 30-second spot starts with a quick visit to Grayson’s roots, as he talks about “growing up in the tenements in the Bronx, surrounded by people who are different from me, and each other.”

“I’m proud to be one of the leading champions for equality of all kinds: social, political, economic and personal. This ad explains why,” Grayson said in a statement released by his campaign.

As images flow past of Bronx tenements, multiracial children playing, and then Grayson as an adult, he says that upbringing helped establish his appreciation of diversity and his beliefs in equality, respect and justice.

Grayson is trying to win back his old seat representing CD 9 and faces his successor, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, in the August 28 Democratic primary. The winner would face Republican businessman Wayne Liebnitzky in November.

“People of different races, different languages, different religions, and I learned from that, that our differences are not something to overcome, but something to cherish,” Grayson says in the commercial. “And with so much in common as human beings, we all deserve equality, dignity and respect.” He concludes the commercial by declaring it to be a message of “justice, equality and peace.”

The ad is Grayson’s second TV commercial, following Progressive Warrior,” which kicked off his campaign last month, showing national progressive leaders extolling his first three terms in Congress, from 2009-’10 representing Florida’s 8th Congressional District, and from 2013-’16 representing CD 9.

Soto’s campaign has not yet launched any television advertising.

Darren Soto picks up nods from fire fighters, police unions

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto has received the endorsements of two first-responders unions, for firefighters and law-enforcement officers, his campaign announced Tuesday.

The Orlando Professional Fire Fighters International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1365 and the Central Florida Police Benevolent Association have each endorsed Congressman Darren Soto for re-election in Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

Soto faces a tough primary battle against his predecessor, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, who’s seeking to take back the seat he held from 2013-’16. They face off in the August 28 Democratic primary, with the winner going on to face Saint Cloud businessman Wayne Liebnitzky in the November election.

The district covers south Orange County, Osceola County, and east  Polk County.

“Law enforcement officers in Central Florida have no better friend than Darren,” Central Florida PBA Political Director Ron Beardslee stated in a news release issued by Soto’s re-election campaign. “He understands what it takes to protect and serve the people, and he fights to get us what we need. Whether it’s getting us funding for our officers and staff, equipment to do the job, or keeping guns away from dangerous people, Soto has our back. And we’ll have his. The Central Florida PBA is proud to endorse Congressman Darren Soto for re-election.”

In the same release, Fire Fighters Local 1365 President Ronald Glass called Soto, “an experienced public servant with a clear vision for the needs of Firefighters and the citizens of Orlando alike.” In Tallahassee, Soto advocated for the families of fallen firefighters, passing legislation to provide a death benefit and health insurance to those families when their loved one died in a training exercise.

Darren Soto gets Joe Biden’s backing in CD 9 race

Former Vice President Joe Biden has endorsed Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto in his re-election campaign, giving the freshman congressman another big backer from the Democratic establishment for his primary fight with his predecessor, former U.S. Alan Grayson.

In a statement released by Soto’s re-election campaign Tuesday, Biden, the presumed front-runner among Democrats considering running for president in 2020, praised Soto’s legislative efforts but also compared him with himself, reflecting on his image as a former working-class guy who never forgot his roots.

“Darren grew up in a neighborhood like I did, where a job was about a lot more than a paycheck,” Biden stated in the news release. “He knows that to have a strong economy we must strengthen and grow the middle class and that is why I am a proud to support Darren Soto, a proven progressive, for re-election.”

Soto grew in a small town in New Jersey as his father worked and went to night school. Grayson also emerged from a working class background.

Soto faces Grayson, who held the seat from 2013-’16, in the August 28 Democratic primary. The winner takes on Saint Cloud businessman Wayne Liebnitzky in November. They’re all running in Florida’s 9th Congressional District, covering southern Orange County, Osceola County, and eastern Polk County.

“Darren Soto is a highly effective legislator who keeps his head down, works hard, and delivers for his constituents. Central Floridians couldn’t have a better person representing them in Congress,” Biden stated. “Darren helped President [Barack] Obama and I get elected twice and now he is working to protect the progress we made and help build upon it. We need Darren in Congress to keep our kids safe from guns; defend Social Security, Medicare, and Obamacare; protect our environment; and fight for our values.

“Darren grew up in a neighborhood like I did, where a job was about a lot more than a paycheck. He knows that to have a strong economy we must strengthen and grow the middle class and that is why I am a proud to support Darren Soto, a proven progressive, for re-election,” Biden added.

Three Central Florida congressional candidates top $1 million in net worths

The latest personal finance reports for candidates running for Congress in Central Florida find the Florida’s 7th Congressional District race includes two candidates with net worths of more than $1 million, incumbent Democrat U.S Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park and Republican challenger Scott Sturgill of Sanford.

They and Democratic former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, who this year is seeking to win back his seat in Florida’s 9th Congressional District, are the only clear millionaires among the dozen candidates running in Orlando’s four congressional races, according to personal financial disclosures on file at the U.S. House of Representatives Clerk’s office.

Incumbent U.S. Reps. Val Demings and Darren Soto, both Orlando Democrats, have filed for deadline extensions and have not yet filed their financial disclosures. U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, a Rockledge Republican, has filed but his report has not yet been posted. Likewise, Republican CD 7 candidate Vennia Francois sought an extension, while Republican CD 9 candidate Wayne Liebnitzky filed a waiver, indicating he has not yet crossed the campaign finance threshold that would require a personal financial disclosure report. None of them had reported topping $1 million in minimum net worth in previous years.

Murphy, including assets and income from her husband, Winter Park businessman Sean Murphy, reported the net worth for the couple at between $2.2 million and $6.6 million.

Sturgill reported assets of between $1.6 million and $6.4 million and did not report any liabilities.

State Rep. Mike Miller, battling Sturgill and Francois for the August 28 Republican primary nomination in CD 7, covering Seminole County and north and central Orange County, reported a net worth that could be as high as $1 million, but that would assume almost all of his assets at maximum levels and liabilities at minimum levels.

Congressional financial disclosure reports require candidates and members to provide only ballpark ranges on the values of their assets and liabilities, and of earned income. The official forms offer check boxes for such ranges as $50,001-through-$100,000, $100,001-through-$250,000, etc. While sometimes the candidates volunteer more specific figures, usually their net worths can only be estimated as somewhere within broad ranges, based on those reports.

U.S. Rep. Murphy’s and husband Sean Murphy’s income last year was anywhere from $644,000 to $4.3 million, based on the ranges in the boxes she checked, and including her $174,000 salary as a member of Congress.

Much of the Murphys’ income derives from real estate development investments that appear, based on the projects’ names, to be located in the rapidly-growing northeast corridor of the San Antonio, Texas, metropolitan area. She reported at least $300,000 in income, and as much as $3 million, from those investments last year, all in her husband’s name. She also reported additional real estate development investments that appear to be in other parts of Texas and in the Waterford area of Orlando, though they’re generating far less income.

She also reported his receipt of at least $100,000 from a holding company associated with his family’s investments in the Full Sail University family of companies in Orlando.

Sturgill’s primary assets and sources of income are in his companies, the Barfield-Sturgill Ventures Inc., a holding company for his first-responders’ equipment company Durable Safety Products; and the DSP Partners LLC holding company. His assets in the former are worth between $1 million and $5 million; in the latter, $500,001 to $1 million.

Those two companies and his wife’s salary combined to provide the Sturgills with about $300,000 in income last year.

Miller’s reported assets, ranging between $318,000 and $1.3 million total, were all in various investment funds. He also reported a mortgage, a car loan, and a student loan as liabilities.

CD 7 Democratic challenger Chardo Richardson listed less than $18,000 in assets, student loans as his only liabilities, and an income of $33,750.

Grayson, who is running against Soto in the Democratic primary for CD 9, covering south Orange County, Osceola County, and east Polk County, reported a net worth that appears far lower than what had been reported in previous financial disclosures. His 2018 report shows his net worth ranging from $3.8 million to $13.9 million. Previous campaign finance reports had shown his net worth with a minimum of $13.9 million as recently as 2014.

Most of Grayson’s money was reported invested in various investment funds, including as much as $1.1 million combined in three of the Sibylline Funds that he had founded. He originally had named those funds after himself, a matter which had led to controversy during his 2016 failed run for the U.S. Senate, and which forced him to rename them after the mythological Greek profit Sibyl.

Grayson reported an income last year of between $1 million and $2 million from wife Dena Grayson’s pharmaceutical research firm MedExpert Consulting, and Velocity Daily Inv ETF.

Wade Darius, a Democrat challenging Demings in the Democratic primary in Florida’s 10th Congressional District, covering west Orange County, reported only a small balance in a 401K program as an asset, and student loans as his only liabilities.

He listed a combined income of about $190,000 from his salary with SunTrust Mortgage, earned income from his Team Darius Homes, and business income from E-Source Tax Express.

Democrat Sanjay Patel, who is running against Posey in Florida’s 8th Congressional District, covering the Space Coast and east Orange County, reported assets between $348,000 and $896,000, including investments in NetFlix and Starbucks, and money held by various investment funds. The only liability he reported was a student loan, of as much as $50,000. He reported income, derived from early distributions from his investments, of about $55,000 last year.

Darren Soto picks up Emgage Muslim group endorsement in CD9 race

Orlando U.S. Rep. Darren Soto has picked up the endorsement of a national Muslim civil rights group in his quest for re-election, announcing Thursday that the Emgage PAC is backing him because of his efforts on behalf of Muslims caught up in the White House’s Muslim policies.

“On the first day of President [Donald] Trump’s hateful, useless Muslim ban, friends and family of Muslims in Central Florida called Congressman Soto because their loved ones were being held at the Orlando Airport. Soto rushed down there and was able to help them re-enter our country even as others were being turned away at airports around the country,” his campaign stated in a news release. “Since then, Soto has worked with Emgage to fight the Muslim ban and other discrimination and helped gain approval to build a Muslim American Community Center in Orlando.”

Emgage (formerly EmergeUSA) is a national organization, which Soto’s campaign says has a strong Central Florida presence, dedicated to increasing the civic engagement of Muslim Americans. The organization strives to “build the political awareness and capacity of Muslim Americans to engage on key policy issues,” according to its website.

The endorsement continues the Soto campaign’s efforts to build up backing from progressive and Civil Rights leaders, including that last week of U.S. Rep. John Lewis, as a potential political firewall against the Democratic primary challenge being brought by his predecessor, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, who has some national backing as a progressive bulldog.

The winner of the August 28 Democratic primary will face Saint Cloud businessman Wayne Liebnitzky.

“Soto is proud to stand with Muslim Americans, and all Americans who believe that a welcoming, inclusive culture is what truly makes America great,” the Soto campaign release stated.

Alan Grayson up with TV ad featuring Martin Sheen, Michael Moore

In his two tenures as a progressive bulldog in the U.S. House of Representatives Alan Grayson made a few high-profile friends and now he’s featuring them in a new TV commercial, the first in the Democratic primary battle for Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

The new ad “Progressive Warrior,” which begins airing Wednesday in the Orlando TV market, features actor Martin Sheen, documentary movie maker Michael Moore, and political commentators Chris Hayes and Ed Schultz, among others, extolling Grayson for courage, leadership, and effectiveness in Congress.

“Alan Grayson is undoubtedly, the progressive warrior,” Schultz declares from some past broadcast of his MSNBC show, as pictures of Grayson and short clips of video roll out.

Grayson is battling with Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando, who took the CD 9 seat in 2016, defeating Grayson’s wife Dena Grayson in the Democratic primary as Alan Grayson was losing the Democratic primary for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat held by Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. This year’s August 28 Democratic primary winner takes on Republican Wayne Liebnitzky of Saint Cloud in November.

CD 9 covers Osceola County, east Polk County, and south Orange County.

The Grayson campaign did not provide details for how much it is spending or how long or how often the spot will air. Early filings with the Federal Communication Commission show that the campaign has paid $1,334 to reserve 39 spots on WESH TV Channel 4 in Orlando through the end of May. Wednesday morning there were not yet any contracts posted on the FCC site involving other TV stations.

“People have told me, over and over again, that I’m saying what they’re thinking but nobody else is saying,” the Grayson says at one point in the commercial.

That’s followed by Sheen, the liberal activist actor who played the president in the “West Wing” series in the 2000s, saying, “We need that kid of courage and leadership.”

Moore, the liberal activist film producer, then offers, “Stands up for what he believes in, stands up for the rest of us, isn’t afraid to speak his mind.”

Grayson also makes, in the 30-second spot, his frequent statement that he has passed more legislation, largely through amendments, than any other member of Congress. A news release announcing the commercial states he passed 121 pieces of legislation in four years, under Republican leadership.

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