Orlando – Page 4 – Florida Politics
Philip Levine

Philip Levine stakes I-4 presence with Central Florida coordinator

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine has staked his presence in the I-4 corridor with the announced hiring Wednesday of Jonathan Santiago as his Central Florida regional coordinator.

Santiago has worked as a Central Florida regional organizer on the last two statewide operations for Hillary For America’s 2016 Florida team and the Crist for Governor campaign in 2014.

“Jonathan is a veteran of Central Florida politics whose organizing and grassroots knowledge will enforce the campaign’s mission to reach voters in every community across the state,” Levine’s Campaign Manager Matthew Van Name stated in a news release. “We’re excited to expand our team with dynamic young talent that will allow the campaign to build momentum and continue its strategy of engaging with voters in all of Florida’s 67 counties.”

The move by Levine, who is based in Miami, comes as Democratic rivals Chris King and Gwen Graham established their campaign headquarters in Orlando, the critical Democratic fulcrum in the always-critical I-4 Corridor. Fourth Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum also staked his own presence Tuesday night with a downtown rally featuring a rousing introduction from state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, the Orlando Democrat who chairs the state Legislative Progressive Caucus.

“I am fired up and ready to get to work to elect Mayor Philip Levine as our next Democratic governor of Florida because his record shows someone who will fight for all communities, including mine,” Santiago stated in the release.  “We saw firsthand last year how Mayor Levine stepped in to help mobilize relief efforts for Puerto Ricans and took on Donald Trump when his administration failed to act swiftly. There is no doubt that the people are ready for change in the Governor’s mansion in 2018 and I am ready to put in the elbow grease and work hard to elect someone who will govern in a way that truly reflects the values of our diverse communities across our state.”

Rick Scott: I don’t intend to fit in

Gov. Rick Scott sought to reclaim his image as an outsider when he announced Monday morning in Orlando that he is running for the U.S. Senate.

Scott ended more than a year of little suspense as he formally announced his Republican bid for the Senate seat held by Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. He did so on the eighth anniversary of his announced run as a true outsider for the Florida’ governor’s office, and made it clear he’s intending to capture that same tone.

On Monday Scott made no specific references to Nelson, though he railed against career politicians, a label Nelson can wear as someone who’s been in public office since the 1970s. And he made no reference at all to President Donald Trump, whose unpopularity could become Scott’s greatest challenge with voters who know the president and governor have been close.

Instead, he chose to turn back the clock to 2010 when he came out of no where, talked  of nothing but jobs, brushed aside Florida’s Republican establishment, and then won the governor’s office. He even finished his announcement rally Monday with his trademark slogan from that campaign, shouting, “Let’s get to work!”

Scott made his announcement in front of a couple of hundred supporters crowded into the warehouse area of ODC Construction in Orlando.

“When you go to Tallahassee and make real change, guess what happens? The first they are is mad at you. They say you don’t fit into Tallahassee. I think that’s true,” Scott said. “I didn’t fit in in Tallahassee because I didn’t play the insider game. I never intended to fit into Tallahassee. And guess what? I’m not going to fit into Washington either.”

Scott repeatedly called for “shaping up” Washington, and he even called for term limits, something that apply to Nelson, who’s seeking his fourth term representing Florida in the U.S. Senate.

Other than the term-limits support and pledging to continue his jobs push, Scott made no promises and offered few policy statements or philosophies. He did not meet with the media, though he did answer a couple questions shouted at him as he pressed through the throng to leave after his speech.

“It’s going to be fun,” he said when asked about getting back on the campaign trail. “I’m going to work hard to get my message out. I’ll be coming out with a variety of proposals over the next several months. It starts with: we’ve got to get rid of career politicians.”

Nelson responded earlier Monday with a written statement: “I’ve always run every race like there’s no tomorrow – regardless of my opponent. While it’s clear that Rick Scott will say or do anything to get elected, I’ve always believed that if you just do the right things, the politics will take care of itself.”

Scott declined to comment on Nelson.

“We have a record of getting things done in this state. I’m going to take that same record to D.C. We’ve got change the national economy like we’ve done with the Florida economy, and that’s what I’m going to take there. It’s a can-do attitude that says we’re going to get our country back to work,” Scott said instead.

Carlos Smith endorses Andrew Gillum in Governor’s race

Orlando Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, chairman of the Florida Legislative Progressive Caucus and the lion of the state’s progressive Democrats, has thrown his support behind Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the Governor’s race.

“In 2018 Florida Democrats have a choice: do we settle yet again for moderate candidates reading a script written by party consultants, or do we want authentic leaders with bold ideas and a plan to achieve them? I’m proud to endorse Andrew Gillum for governor because he has lived and governed with our progressive values and stood up for issues that matter to our state: equality, healthcare and gun safety,” Smith stated in a news release issued by Gillum’s campaign Friday morning.

“Andrew’s proving you don’t have to be from a famous family or be ultra-wealthy to run for governor in our state, and he’s going to win in August and November,” he added.

Smith is finishing his freshman term representing Florida House District 49, covering northeast Orange County, and is seeking re-election so far without opposition. His first term established him as an unabashed and highly vocal leader in promoting progressive politics.

The endorsement also is a bid for Orlando’s Democratic base.

Gillum’s Democratic gubernatorial primary opposition includes two candidates who’ve established headquarters in Orlando, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, who moved much of her operations to Orlando from Tallahassee, and Winter Park businessman Chris King. Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine also is fighting for Orlando’s Democratic base, now with billboards.

“I am ecstatic to have Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith’s endorsement in this race for Governor. Carlos has redefined what it means to fight for your constituents – from his relentless advocacy on gun violence after Pulse, to the Puerto Rican community after last year’s hurricanes — he has fought tirelessly for the people and issues we care most about. It’s truly an honor to have his support in this race,” Gillum stated in the release.

Buddy Dyer endorsement of Nancy Robbinson sets stage for high-stakes school board race

With Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer‘s endorsement of Orange County School board member Nancy Robbinson to be the board’s chair, the election has turned into a high-stakes battle.

On the steps of Orlando City Hall Wednesday, Dyer endorsed Robbinson, a bit of a protégé, for the countywide chair position amidst expectations that Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs is about to announce her candidacy for the post.

Dyer’s endorsement begins setting the sides in what could be a contest between Robbinson, popular among downtown leaders, and Jacobs, broadly popular among countywide voters, for the uniquely powerful schools seat.

“We all know that great schools are the backbone of every community. They reflect our community’s belief that educating our young people and developing tomorrow’s leaders is a wise investment in the future of our community. But great schools don’t just happen…. without great school boards,” Dyer said.

“Nancy is an experienced education leader that our community needs as its next school board chair. I’m honored to endorse Nancy Robbinson as the next Orange County School Board chair,” Dyer said Wednesday.

Robbinson got her start in education leadership when Dyer appointed her to his Mayor’s Public Education Action Council in 2003, and then she served on the school board for 10 years, starting in 2008, representing north-central Orange County in District 6.

“I am just as passionate today about public education as when I first ran for the school board. And I still firmly believe that public education has to deliver a high-quality education experience for every student,” Robbinson said.

She pledged she would continue momentum that she said she helped create, seeking to continue to harden the schools for safety, focus on individual student achievement, pursue more pre-school options, and support teachers.

She would not say that she would change anything of the agenda set by current School Board Chair Bill Sublette, but said she would be available to treat the post as a full-time job unlike Sublette, an attorney.

The transition will be a critical time, she said, because at least four and perhaps five of the current seven district seats on the school board will have new members.

“I’m positive that I am the right person to guide this new and changing school board toward functioning at a high level, and I am ready for this leadership role,” she said.

Sublette is stepping down after two terms as the only county-wide elected school board chair Orange County has had since the position was created. In addition to Robbinson, School Board Members Joie Cadle, Daryl Flynn, and Christine Moore are not running for another term, while Linda Kobert is seeking re-election.

Robbinson has two opponents already, Robert Allen Prater of Orlando and Matthew Fitzpatrick of Apopka.  The race would take a decidedly different level and tone, however, if Jacobs opts in. The two-term mayor, a former county commissioner, won both of her countywide elections by landslides, though she’s never enjoyed the high regard of the downtown Orlando leadership community that tends to rally around Dyer.

Robbinson said she does not expect to change her approach if Jacobs gets in.

“I am hearing rumors that she is planning to file. Like I tell people, it’s always a rumor until she’s actually gone to the Supervisor of Elections to file to run for the office,” Robbinson said. “The way I plan to respond if she were to file is to continue my campaign just as I am, and be the obvious choice for the Orange County School Board chair position because I have 10 years of educational experience, and I have been representing the community and fighting for children and public education the entire time.”

Dyer said it makes no difference to him whether Jacobs files for the post.

“It doesn’t affect my support for Nancy Robbinson one bit,” Dyer said. “She’s done a great job in 10 years with the school district. She’ll do a super job as school board chair and I will support her all the way through.”

When do you write about the arrest of a lawmaker’s spouse?

No matter what else the reporters of Florida Politics wrote on Monday, I knew that the story that would be most-read would be whatever we posted about a congressman’s wife being arrested for disorderly intoxication.

On that day, FP served up a steady stream of first-of-the-quarter, post-holiday scoops and stories about candidates maneuvering their campaigns into position for 2018 and politicos maneuvering their careers into position for the long term.

That didn’t matter. People wanted to see a mugshot. They wanted to read a police report.

They wanted to be reassured that a politician’s day-to-day life is no better or worse than theirs. Lots of families have someone who drinks too much on a holiday. Some of those folks even end up running head-long into law enforcement. A handful of them get booked into jail.

But is it news? Did we really need to publish the story about U.S. Rep. Darren Soto‘s wife being arrested at Disney World?

If you go by the standard of ‘Well, everyone else is publishing, so why aren’t we?’ then, yes, our reporter in Orlando, Scott Powers, had to write about it. The Orlando Sentinel was covering it, and certainly so were Central Florida’s voracious television news stations. Powers wasn’t first to the story, but since he was close to being first, I knew we’d win the click-bait race.

Later in the day, after I looked at the viewership stats on the story, I pushed Powers to take another bite at the apple. To Powers, a classy veteran of the newspaper industry, I had to have sounded like Jason Sudeikis’ character in the fake movie trailer from John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight: “Get some likes. Get some clicks. Get some retweets. Get some forwards.”

Powers’ concern about hyping the story stemmed from Congressman Soto’s acknowledgment (via a press release and a statement) that “my wife has been honest about her struggle of living with mental illness…”

By re-upping the story, would we be taking advantage of someone who needs help and was just having a really bad day, just to earn a few thousand more clicks?

The police report further complicates the story. In it, the officer (who seemingly could not have been more patient) writes that “even while attempting to speak with her (Mrs. Soto), she continued to utter that her husband is a congressman, therefore, she can do whatever she wants.”

It’s that last part – the sense of entitlement it suggests – that guided me to my decision about pushing the story.

Yes, Mrs. Soto is suffering from some sort of mental illness. Yes, she had been drinking and only by the grace of God have I not found myself in the back of a police cruiser for similar reasons. But neither of those reasons are an excuse for haranguing a law enforcement officer.

That’s why we had to publish the story about a congressman’s wife being arrested for disorderly intoxication.

Here’s to hoping Mrs. Soto gets the help she needs.

Geraldine Thompson is back, filing to run in HD 44

Former state Sen. Geraldine Thompson filed for a chance to return to the Florida Legislature, entering the race for Florida’s House District 44 in southwest Orange County.

Thompson, of Orlando, served four years in the Florida Senate, representing Senate District 12, and six in the Florida House, representing House District 39 before redistricting. She left the Legislature to run for Congress in 2016, losing the Democratic primary to now-U. S. Rep. Val Demings.

“This [HD 44] was a district that previously had been so gerrymandered that a Democrat could not compete. After redistricting, people now will have a choice,” Thompson said.

She hopes to take on incumbent state Rep. Bobby Olszewski of Winter Garden, who won a special election to fill the seat last October.

Already in the race are Olszewski’s Democratic opponent in the 2017 election, Eddy Dominguez of Orlando, Democrat Matthew Matin, of Winter Garden, and Republican Usha Jain of Windermere, who finished a distant fourth in a four-way Republican primary last year.

Thompson said she ran for Congress wanting to expand her ability to serve her constituency, but now believes the best platform for her to do so is the Florida Legislature. Her old Florida Senate District 12 seat is now held by Democratic state Sen. Randolph Bracy of Oakland. Due to the redistricting, Thompson had to run for re-election in 2014 after just two years, and won the re-election in SD 12 in a landslide.

HD 44 includes some of west Orlando, parts of Ocoee and Winter Garden, Windermere, and southwest Orange County.

“I think I have solid name recognition in the district. I’ve served the district. I’ve worked with the mayors in the cities of the district, so I think that gives me an advantage,” Thompson said Monday. “With regard to House District 44, I think this is a race where there is an opportunity break down years of history of exclusion. I’m interested in being a part of that.

“Because of gerrymandering … for years the Democrats didn’t really field a candidate.”

Mike Miller releases first digital ad in FL CD 7 race

Republican state Rep. Mike Miller has released his first digital campaign ad in his quest for Florida’s 7th Congressional District, turning comments from Gov. Rick Scott into campaign support.

The ad shows Miller and Scott meet at a March 21 event at the Orlando Torah Academy in Orlando, where the governor signed House Bill 545, outlawing Florida governments from doing business with any entities boycotting Israel.

While there, as is his custom, Scott praised the local Republican lawmakers who joined in the ceremony. Miller and state Reps. Randy Fine and Bobby Olszewski all were commended by Scott.

Scott’s comments about Miller now are in Miller’s first ad. “The Conservative,” a 19-second spot, begins with a narrator stating, “What’s Gov. Rick Scott saying about conservative Mike Miller? I like Mike.”

The video then has the governor making his comments, saying: “I want to thank Representative Mike Miller for all that he’s done. He’s focused on making sure our taxes are low, everybody can get a job, that we have a great education system, and that people are safe.”

Miller, of Winter Park, faces Scott Sturgill of Sanford, Vennia Francois of Winter Park, and Patrick Weingart of Altamonte Springs, in an August 28 Republican primary race. They each hope for the chance to take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy in the district that covers Seminole County and north and central Orange County. Murphy also faces a Democratic challenger, Orlando lawyer Chardo Richardson.

“Gov. Scott is a great American, and I’ve enjoyed working with him to keep taxes low and make life better for all Floridians,” Miller stated in a news release issued Monday by his campaign. “I appreciate his kind words about me recently, and I’m proud to call him my friend and my governor. I’m fully supportive of whatever Gov. Scott’s next step will be and look forward to working with him in the future.”

Sturgill’s campaign said it had reached out to Scott’s office for clarification about whether the comments in Miller’s video constitute any endorsement in the race. The governor’s office has not yet responded.

Sturgill’s spokesman Frank Torres called Miller’s ad “disingenuous” and a reaction to Sturgill’s statement last week that alleged Miller’s voting record conflicted with Scott’s policies.

“I would expect this from Stephanie (Murphy) but not from a Republican candidate for Congress,” Torres said in a written statement.

Marco Rubio to move Miami office

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is having to find another new local office, this time in Miami.

But unlike when the Republican senator had to relocate his Jacksonville and Tampa offices last year, the move is being attributed to the office space, not to landlords getting frustrated with ongoing political protests outside the building.

“This is different from Jacksonville and Tampa. We are in the process of relocating that office, but it was our decision, for a couple of reasons. We were not asked to leave by building management,” Todd Reid, Rubio’s state director, said Thursday.

The current Miami office actually is in Doral, just west of the Miami International Airport, and is owned by the American Welding Society, which also has its headquarters in the building. The society did not respond Thursday to an inquiry from Florida Politics.

Reid said the Rubio team has identified a new location in Miami but is not ready to move, nor announce the new location. However, he said the new location would continue to provide easy public access.

As with the Jacksonville and Tampa offices before Rubio relocated them in early 2017, and as with Rubio’s Orlando office, progressive groups are holding frequent protests outside Rubio’s Miami locale, often with news conferences, and usually with chants, signs and demonstrations. In Orlando protesters even staged a sit-in in the building’s lobby one night, forcing police to arrest 10 of them.

In Jacksonville and Tampa, the buildings’ managers reportedly reached a point where they were concerned the protests were bothering other building tenants too much and had the senator move his offices.

The Tampa and Jacksonville offices were moved into federal courthouses. Technically, they still are fully accessible to the public, but federal buildings have high security, and all the other tenants are federal offices. Rubio also has offices in Pensacola, Tallahassee, and Palm Beach Gardens.

Victor Torres, Puerto Rican groups, urging more help for displaced Puerto Ricans

State Sen. Victor Torres, clergy, and others are joining with Puerto Rican activists in Florida to protest the closures of assistance offices for people displaced by Hurricane Maria last year and to renew attention on their plight.

Torres and the others, including organizers from VAMOS4PR FLORIDA, a network of statewide Puerto Rican diaspora organizations, are calling attention to the commonwealth’s closure of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration office closed in Kissimmee last month, and to the closures, Friday, of the state of Florida’s Multi-Agency Resource Centers in Miami and Orlando.

The three centers had served as touch-stones for many of the estimated more than 300,000 Puerto Ricans who came to Florida after Hurricane Maria had made their homes on the island unlivable last September.

Torres, the Democrat from Orlando whose district includes Kissimmee and much of the state’s most densely-centered Puerto Rican population, including storm refugees, said the community’s needs for housing, health care and other assistance remains high.

Many of them are still living in cheap motels on assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that is ending, and many of them are losing their shelter, he said.

He said the spotlight needs to stay on.

“We need to continue to focus. We need to continue to push. We need to continue to have people understanding how important it is to support Americans from Puerto Rico who are suffering, who are here, and who are over there,” Torres said.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló closed the Kissimmee office of the commonwealth’s federal affairs office, which provided outreach and liaison services, in late February. Puerto Rico also allowed its request to FEMA for the federal transitional shelter voucher program available to refugees in Florida to expire on March 20, meaning emergency housing vouchers are expiring for Puerto Ricans who were using them to pay for places to live in Florida.

Florida is closing its centers, which has provided one-stop access to state, federal, local, non-profit and other groups’ services to 34,000 families at the Miami and Orlando airports [and then from an off-site location near Orlando International Airport, at 6490 Hazeltine Dr.] because traffic had fallen way off for Puerto Ricans going there seeking assistance, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

Those centers will close to walk-ins at 5 p.m. Friday, but state officials said the assistance programs will continue.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued a series of executive orders in early October providing a myriad of assistance and red-tape cutting initiatives for Puerto Ricans coming to Florida. He extended those orders several times, and they now run through May 22.

The Florida Division of Emergency Management and other agencies will continue to provide assistance, but are advising Puerto Ricans needing such to contact the FEMA Disaster Assistance Hotline, (800) 621-3362, or the Florida Division of Emergency Management assistance line, (800) 342-3557, or to visit the Hurricane Maria Information page at www.floridadisaster.org/info/maria.

Torres and the activists are expressing frustration principally with Rosselló, contending he has abandoned the Puerto Rican migrants to Florida even after he came to Kissimmee in January and delivered a fiery speech demanding more assistance for storm victims on the island and in Florida.

Torres, whose family is from Ponce, P.R., and who has been back several times to help since the hurricane, said he has sent letters to Rosselló urging him to extend the temporary voucher program, and to re-open the government’s office in Kissimmee.

Chris King releases ‘March for Our Lives’ video ad

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King is turning his support for the “March For Our Lives” movement into his latest video ad, releasing a 40-second spot on the internet that features a speech he gave during last Saturday’s protests.

King uses the video to promote his strong positions to ban assault weapons, require universal background checks, and face down opposition from the National Rifle Association, and to demonstrate his involvement in the student-led movement started by the survivors of the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

King also uses it to reinforce his theme that he’s a new candidate for a new time.

“The students of Parkland are now inspiring us to do something different, to truly change the world and end gun violence,” King narrates, as the video shows him marching with protesters in Orlando.

King is then shown giving a speech to a cheering crowd, starting, “Are we ready to honor their memories? Are we ready to follow the students of Parkland? Are we ready to change the future of Florida?”

King faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine seeking the August 28 Democratic primary nomination to run for Governor this year. The leading Republicans are U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons