Nikki Fried sends horrible message on domestic abuse

Nikki Fried
Public office doesn't automatically shield her from being a private victim. 

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.)

I’m hesitant to write about what happened between Fried and her fiancé because I still suffer from the trauma of what happened to me growing up in a home ravaged by domestic violence.

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.

Because a man had hurt my mother and nothing was ever done about 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?

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Orlando Rising and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


23 comments

  • Dan

    June 22, 2020 at 8:52 am

    I always find it amazing how the media goes out of its way to protect the Socialist politicians. The Faux Journalist fails to mention while Fried was supporting Stay at Home, she was found traveling to Atlanta for a TV slot and drinking in public. They label the aggressor as a victim to fit her persona as a professional victim. As a Strong woman she needs to be dominant over everyone including her partner, A true tyrant in the making. Do as I say, not as I do… or else.

    • Charlotte Greenbarg

      June 22, 2020 at 12:24 pm

      Exactly And he’s still married.

      • Tjb

        June 22, 2020 at 1:10 pm

        Thank God that Trump, the greatest Christian ever, never cheated on his wives.

        • in your head

          June 23, 2020 at 8:46 am

          DRINK!

    • Tjb

      June 22, 2020 at 1:07 pm

      Gee, Fox, OAN and much of the Republican Party. will lie for Trump, the liar.

      • Sonja Fitch

        June 22, 2020 at 3:50 pm

        Omg

  • Stay at Home

    June 22, 2020 at 9:04 am

    Rules are for other people!

  • Ray Blacklidge

    June 22, 2020 at 9:56 am

    Thank you Peter!

  • Tampa Reader

    June 22, 2020 at 9:59 am

    “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.

    Thank you for writing this piece. When I saw the comment above, my heart sank. Coming from a physically abusive home, this jumped out at me too. At “best”, this is a woefully ignorant, insensitive remark — the list of strong, independent women who have suffered at the hands of domestic abuse is long and devastating. No one should denigrate victims by implying a strong, independent woman would “never allow” physical abuse.

    And, at worst, these are the words of a victim trying to explain away her abuser’s behavior. This situation is heartbreaking to see unfold and it must be especially painful in the public eye. Ms. Fried strikes me as an enormous talent. I hope that she can get the help needed and move forward with her life.

  • Diddy

    June 22, 2020 at 11:49 am

    Jake is clearly jealous and he is unfit to be her fiance. I think Nikki can do much better than that washed up ex-CEO! He isn’t much of a looker either…

  • Jessica Manson

    June 22, 2020 at 3:18 pm

    We love your comments about Abruzzo and Johnson…silent there huh?
    It international news but you seems to not event mention it and while Mr. Johnson was also being paid by Abruzzo who was accused of abuse as well.

    • Melissa

      June 22, 2020 at 9:55 pm

      I know Abruzzo’s ex-wife who has many injunctions of protection filed against her. Anyone who knows anything about Abruzzo situation knows better, especially about his ex-wife who was arrested for domestic abuse herself on her husband before Abruzzo. Good thing for Joe Abruzzo there is a police report of the incident showing he was the one who called the police and his ex-wife was asked to leave the premises with new born baby left in Abruzzo’s custody. Hardly a situation where he committed violence. I read the divorce record on Brandy Smith with first husband, not good. I know why Abruzzo filed for divorce right away.

      https://floridapolitics.com/archives/315360-joe-abruzzo-sues-tampa-bay-times-for-libel-defamation

      • Ashley

        June 23, 2020 at 9:01 am

        Abruzzo is Hot Bergman is Not.

        Much like it seems Abruzzo victim Bergman assailant.

    • Voice for the voiceless

      June 23, 2020 at 6:21 am

      Being a DV victim a typical abuser trait is deflection. Jessica Manson’s deflection post about Abruzzo is typical behavior. Jessica Manson is alias for Jake Bergmann. Nikki’s abuse continues.

  • Kelly In Neptune

    June 22, 2020 at 5:30 pm

    Thank you for sharing such a personal situation about your Mom Peter. Wounds affecting our mamas never really heal.

    That said, Nikki deserves privacy, and the benefit of the doubt. I have been in more than one bad relationship and when its was over, it was over–but it wasn’t over because someone wrote an op-ed about my relationship: It was over because I had had enough, I decided I no longer wanted/needed or would put up with him, and I was DONE with him. It is possible to love someone while letting them go.

    Nikki probably feels the same way. Let her make her decision. Its her life, her story.

    I LOVE Nikki Fried. I profoundly hope she becomes our next governor. She is brilliant and wonderful and fantastic. Let her have space to sort out her emotions because they are HER EMOTIONS. We have no inherent right to dissect those.

    And don’t assume she needs help to figure it out. She’s come way too far to let a man screw things up for her, and I’m sure she knows that.

    • Steve G

      June 22, 2020 at 6:36 pm

      She has been Ag Commissioner for not even 2 years and she should be governor? Nikki was a lobbyist for years worked with Republicans and campaigned for them. Never did anything with in the Democratic Party. What Democratic causes has she supported in the past 5 years. Did she walk and campaign for Obama.
      She won her race by 4000 votes let’s not get carried away.
      She should have had him arrested.

  • Joe Franks

    June 23, 2020 at 7:00 am

    Abruzzo didn’t file for divorce or give her one. More coming during the general election, we appreciate it. You think Eric is working for the Dems? How many races has he run and won? How many abuses have he covered up? Your county commission? Look at his client lists.

    Thanks GOP

    • Mellisa

      June 23, 2020 at 8:17 am

      Abruzzo is the one who filed for divorce, and there is a police report about the incident, unlike Bergmann, Abruzzo was the caller, unlike Bergmann, Abruzzo wasn’t asked to leave, his ex wife was and Abruzzo was left with care of his baby. I agree with poster above, stop deflecting from the Bergmann abuse.

  • John Pru

    June 23, 2020 at 7:57 am

    Sad story all around!

  • Truth In Politics

    June 23, 2020 at 12:38 pm

    This hit job piece is ridiculous. Did Eric Johnson write this like so many consultants have on this pay-to-play site? Or did he pay you to write this? Nikki Fried is going to get an investigation into this corrupt “news” site and into that crook Eric Johnson.

  • Steve

    June 23, 2020 at 3:43 pm

    I don’t know, this all seems awfully sorted. If Fried were not an office holder, obviously, this situation, like thousands of others, would never make the headlines. But, the fact she is an office holder and a standard bearer requires a higher standard of behavior from her and from all those around her. Additionally, the fact that the author, who is obviously also a democrat and whose self-admitted history is woven into the reporting of this story, comes across as a ‘my arm was twisted’ type of victim himself. Is everyone a victim these days? Am I a victim for even reading this column? I for one, and maybe the only one, suggest that she remove herself from office until at least her house is in order. Not moralizing, but come on, only 5 years or so ago, a politician being in an adulterous affair would itself be a headline, but now in 2020, somehow it is not, and is kindly overlooked by this victimized author. News reporting of today is so far off the balance, that hardly a column is written where omission of fact and shielding a favorite has not become the greater sin.

  • Bottom Dollar

    June 23, 2020 at 8:16 pm

    The push into the street may be nothing compared to the torture and abuse that poor sweet man is forced to put up with from that strong woman who is also your next Governor fantasy.
    You all are so sexist you disgust me always thinking the man is the aggressor.
    You sexist profiling pigs.
    But even worse than that you are…ickey…I can hardly bring myself to say it…oh well here goes…disgusting Democrat voting leftists…there I said it.
    Ickey Democrats

  • albigensian

    June 25, 2020 at 4:37 pm

    The column is a churlish piece of political smear wrapped in the greasy pretense that it is motivated by a sincere concern about domestic violence.

    Let’s look at your logic here. When she says she is not being abused, you take that as evidence that she is being abused. When she says she is strong, you take that as proof that she is being abused. Whaat? You’ve made up your mind about this woman’s life and are so arrogant that you write an entire column about what you believe to be her personal demons.

    You try to suggest that she doesn’t understand domestic violence because she says that she would never let anyone hit her. Whaat? You are trying so hard to find fault with her that, clearly, there’s nothing that she could say that wouldn’t leave you yelling, “look, look — there’s more proof.” Catch-22 was a great novel but it’s a poor structure for an analysis.

    If I want to give this hot mess the benefit of the doubt, I could say that the column tells us more about you than about her. You might be so scarred by what your mother had to endure that you see violence everywhere, even when it doesn’t exist. I’m sorry about what you and she endured, but that doesn’t give you the right to call Freid a liar and a coward. A wrong done to one woman doesn’t justify your mistreatment of another woman.

    I also think that you show your gut-level antagonism towards Fried when you write that “nothing excuses the excuses Fried is employing.” Let’s assume, just for a minute, that she really was as abused and broken as your mother was. Would you say that nothing excused your mother’s silence? Damnit, man, decent people don’t attack victims for being victims! Again, I would say that maybe this is more about your mother than about Fried. I’m not going to bad-mouth your mother because she didn’t come forward to accuse her abuser. If you’re angry at your mother for not doing/saying more, don’t take it out on a stranger.

    On the other hand, maybe you just don’t like Fried. I doubt that you know her well enough to dislike her a person, so I’m going to guess that you are a political opponent. If that’s the case, show her some respect and debate her on the issues. Attempting character assassination under the guide of “oh, poor thing, I just want to help her” is downright creepy.

Comments are closed.


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