It wasn’t ten minutes after POLITICO reported that Nikki Fried and her fiancé had been involved in some sort of domestic disturbance before Republican operatives contacted me to weigh in on the incident in order to amplify what had happened.
Not that it would have mattered what I would have said, but I quickly rebuffed these unseemly agitators because one of the few rules I try to follow around here is not to root around in other people’s shit.
(Of course there are exceptions to this; if you’re an elected official and you blow a .15 on a Breathalyzer, yeah, we’re gonna write that up. But if you’re a politician and your kid gets arrested for doing stupid, but just juvenile, stuff at a house party, no, we’re not putting their mugshot on the front of the site.)
When Fried explains away what happened between her and her fiancé, Jake Bergmann, at the Westin Beach Resort and Spa in Ft. Lauderdale and then says he is “the love of my life,” I can see my own mother, black and blue at the hands of her husband, insisting to my brother and me that everything would be OK and that her husband was, in fact, the love of her life.
My mother never left that man. No matter what horrible things he put her through, she always took him back.
I undoubtedly suffer from some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder because of all that went on in my childhood home. Somehow, both my brother and I were able to break the cycle of violence and, as husbands and fathers, went in the opposite direction of what we were exposed to.
Still, the trauma impacted me. It’s why, as some of my close friends know, I was very quick to get into physical altercations if I saw a man hurting a woman.
I admit this not out of some false sense of bravado. Getting into bar fights is not something of which to be proud. It’s just who I was until I met Michelle. I was, as she called me, Dark Bear, plagued by extraordinarily deep and dark dreams. I was searching for trouble, often finding it.
If there is an upside to the trauma we endured, it’s that it heightened my sense of what to look for when you suspect someone is in an abusive relationship.
From what many close to her attest, Fried, Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, is in an abusive relationship with Bergmann. Audio from a 911 call reveals a witness to the couple’s altercation earlier this month saw Bergmann push Fried into the street “and then hit her again.” In another part of the call, asked whether anyone was hurt, the caller wasn’t sure, but said, “she’s been pushed really, really bad.”
For her part, Fried adamantly denies Bergmann has ever physically abused her.
When Fried begs her friends and staff to understand that “we have issues, obviously yes” and that he “drive(s) everyone crazy sometimes, yes.” … but “is the love of my life …” there could not be a louder warning signal that Fried is, at the very least, not in a healthy relationship.
AND YET … whether Fried is in an unhealthy, possibly abusive, relationship is really not the most concerning issue here.
No, as salacious as this story is — complete with video footage — what is most distressing is not what is happening to Fried, but what Fried, the most prominent female politician in Florida, thinks about domestic abuse and violence.
“I’m a 42-year-old, independently strong female and would never allow somebody to put their hands on me and to abuse me,” Fried told the media after news of what happened spilled into the street.
There are very few people who read those words and didn’t think that’s exactly what someone who is being abused would say. That they were echoed by Bergmann in a separate interview — “Nikki is the strongest, most independent woman I have ever met, I am in awe of her accomplishments” — tells you they are the words of a public relations effort.
But what Fried is saying here is that mature women can’t be abused. Unfortunately, we know that they are.
What Fried is saying here is that ‘independent’ women can’t be abused. Unfortunately, we know that they are.
What Fried is saying here is that ‘strong’ women can’t be abused. Unfortunately, we know that they are.
With her words, clearly run through the traps of a PR team determined to not see irrevocable damage done to a promising brand, Fried is sending a dangerous message about the nature of domestic abuse and violence.
But she’s in such a dark place she probably doesn’t realize this.
This column, coming from a supportive voice, will probably not help her to see what has happened. One of the (often unheeded) rules of political consulting is that there’s really no getting between two people who share the same pillows. If the candidate’s spouse doesn’t like the color of the yard signs even though everyone else does, the yard signs are not going out with that color.
That’s why Eric Johnson, Fried’s former political consultant is now persona non grata. Because he raised a flag, in the most visible possible way, about what he believes to be an abusive relationship.
Johnson is arguably the smartest Democratic political consultant in the state. Even among the few other successful Dem consultants in a state run by Republicans, Johnson is regarded as one of the brightest minds. He’s also famously high-strung. And he has a recent history, his critics will contend, of burning down the house in order to save it.
There’s a lot of discussion about whether what Johnson did — airing out Fried’s dirty laundry to the media in an attempt to save her — was right or wrong.
According to the unwritten rules of political consulting, Johnson violated the Omertà of talking to outsiders about family business. Even if it turns out Johnson was right (and that 9-1-1 call lends a lot of credence to what he says), he will pay a professional price for doing this because there are a lot of politicians who value loyalty above all other virtues.
Making the case for what Johnson did are the words of Fried and Bergmann. Most of the denials they told POLITICO on Friday were upended by video footage published by the Miami Herald on Saturday.
Johnson, in the short term, was vindicated. However, he’s now lost his most important client, one whose profile reinforced his strength with his other clients. It remains to be seen how the rest of the 2020 cycle plays out for Johnson.
If there is a villain in this tale of woe, it’s clearly Bergmann, who now supplants Carole Rome Crist as the most damaging political spouse in recent Florida politics.
What makes Bergmann worse than Crist is whereas Carole was a destructive force in Charlie Crist’s life she still always (mostly?) wanted what was best for the former Governor’s political career. That doesn’t appear to be the case for Bergmann, who seems decidedly jealous of Fried, whom he met before she was the new hope of Florida’s beleaguered Democrats. (Remember, Bergmann had/asked/insisted Fried break the spirit of the state’s stay-at-home order in order to pick up his kids from a previous marriage in Atlanta.)
I wonder if part of the challenge for Bergmann is his day job as a medical marijuana entrepreneur. These folks, with few exceptions, such as Trulieve’s Kim Rivers, are living outlaw lives. The banks don’t want their cash. Communities don’t want their storefronts. The regulators don’t really know what to do with them. Bergmann’s living a bootlegger’s life while engaged to the second most prominent face of state government.
None of that excuses what many in Fried’s inner circle swear are the too-many times when Fried’s schedule had to be altered in order to keep her out of the public eye.
None of that excuses pushing your loved one into a street. Or throwing a trash can at them.
And nothing excuses the excuses Fried is employing here.
There’s no doubt Fried is an independent strong female. She would not have been elected to statewide office otherwise. But public office doesn’t automatically shield her from being a private victim.
One final thought: What is Fried — the most outspoken voice of staying-at-home and social distancing during this pandemic — doing having drinks at a Mexican restaurant late at night?