Janet Cruz first to react to Stephen Bittel accusations

cruz bittel

Janet Cruz was one of the first Democrats to respond on Friday to a POLITICO Florida report that Florida Democratic Party chairman Stephen Bittel has created a hostile workplace environment for women through constant inappropriate comments and suggestions.

“I’ve spent a lot of time with Stephen Bittel. He’s always been kind and respectful to me,” the Democratic House Minority Leader wrote in a text Friday morning. “No woman should be made to feel uncomfortable or unsafe, and I encourage women to be courageous and speak up. My office is open, and a safe place.”

While the women told POLITICO that they were never touched inappropriately, they said Bittel’s suggestive remarks, invitations to go on his private plane and even his possession of a breast-shaped stress squeeze-ball kept at his desk made them uncomfortable.

Bittel, a millionaire Coconut Grove developer who was just elected to serve as party chair in January, apologized for his behavior and did not deny the accounts of the women who talked to POLITICO Florida.

“Every person, regardless of their gender, race, age or sexuality should be treated with respect and valued for their hard work and contributions to our community, and if any of my comments or actions did not reflect that belief I am deeply sorry,” Bittel said.

Since Cruz’s response, Democratic gubernatorial candidates Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham and Philip Levine have all released statements saying that Bittel needs to resign.

This is the second time that Bittel has had to apologize for his actions since becoming party chairman, and the second time that Florida Democrats have had to defend him.

At the FDP’s Leadership Blue Gala in Hollywood in June, Bittel angered members of his own party for racially-tinged remarks made backstage at the party’s most prominent annual fundraising event.

“I know Stephen Bittel, and I have never, ever thought of him or known him to be a racist,” Cruz said in July. “I think perhaps he might be elitist, but I have never known him to be a racist, so I was really sad that was the focus of the press and the focus of the attention.”

The Bittel story follows national fallout on sexual harassment that has dominated the media landscape over the past six weeks, initially sparked by the New York Times and New Yorker revelations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein.

The story hit home in Tallahassee after it was revealed last month that South Florida Democratic state Sen. Jeff Clemens engaged in an extramarital affair, resulting in his resignation.

Two weeks ago, POLITICO Florida reported anonymous allegations by several women that Clearwater state Senator and Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Latvala acted inappropriately around them. Latvala denies the charges, and now faces two Florida Senate complaints about sexual harassment.

UPDATE: On Friday morning, Bittel announced he is resigning following reports that he created a hostile work environment for women by “belittling” them in front of male staffers and making suggestive remarks.

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at [email protected].


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704