More than two years after the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, its effects can still be felt in South Florida and throughout the state. The fallout from that attack will loom large in Tuesday’s Broward County Sheriff’s Office (BSO) election.
Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended former Broward Sheriff Scott Israel from his position, in part due to the Governor’s criticism of how BSO responded to the 2018 Parkland attack.
Israel will be on the ballot Tuesday, seeking a return to that role after he was removed by the Senate.
Reporting over the past several months has also uncovered multiple items in Tony’s past he concealed before his appointment to the Broward Sheriff’s role and at other points in his law enforcement career.
Those instances include previous LSD use and Tony’s fatal shooting of an 18-year-old when Tony was only 14 years old. Tony was cleared in that latter incident, claiming self-defense, and his records were sealed.
Six candidates are competing in the contest: Israel, Tony, businessman Willie Jones, former BSO colonel Al Pollock and former BSO Deputies Andrew Smalling and Santiago Vazquez Jr.
The Democratic primary won’t officially settle the race, as two Republicans, a write-in and a non-party affiliated candidate have also qualified. The winner will, however, be marked as the heavy favorite for the General Election in the Democratic-leaning county.
So who will voters choose?
Tony appeared to be the odds-on favorite before the drip-drip-drip of previously undisclosed indiscretions, at least one of which triggered a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation. He’s still the best fundraiser in the contest, and support from the Parkland families has plenty of sway.
Israel was well-liked before the attack as well though, particularly among the minority community, some of whom felt resentment over Israel’s removal.
His removal also sparked debate about whether DeSantis had utilized proper authority and judgment or whether he was appealing to the political winds at the time.
As the Senate reviewed the Governor’s decision, that body’s own appointed Special Master recommended Israel be reinstated as Broward Sheriff.
“Sheriff Israel and the BSO are not blameless for the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas,” Special Master Dudley Goodlette wrote.
“That said, the evidence offered has not demonstrated that Sheriff Israel should be removed from office based on this incident. While the Governor has offered a plethora of criticism, he has not shown that Sheriff Israel’s policies, procedures, or trainings on active shooter situations were inconsistent with Florida law enforcement standards.”
Israel also filed for reelection amid the debate.
Nevertheless, the GOP-controlled Senate rejected that recommendation and removed him anyway. Several Democrats, even those who serve Broward County, voted against Israel’s removal, arguing DeSantis had overstepped his authority and preempted an action that should have been left to voters.
Sen. Kevin Rader‘s actions, however, sum up the confusion many voters are feeling on how to approach Israel’s run. Rader voted in that Senate process to keep Israel as Sheriff, citing his belief Israel’s fate should be left to voters.
Two weeks later, Rader endorsed Tony in the Broward Sheriff’s contest.
“As difficult as it was, I voted to reinstate him because I did not believe Gov. DeSantis had the right to remove him from office. However, I absolutely believe the voters should reject candidate Scott Israel in 2020,” Rader explained.
“Under Israel’s command, the department mismanaged crisis after crisis, with Parkland being the most tragic and most noticeable debacle under his watch.”
Voters will ultimately determine whether deputies’ failures on that day — and there were many — were due to Israel’s failings or their own.
Rader’s endorsement came well before the revelations about Tony’s past. With two flawed front-runners, perhaps voters could select from the other four.
It’s not clear that will happen, as Israel and Tony both tout many stout defenders. Pollock has come closest to mounting a formidable challenge, securing the endorsement of the BSO’s main union. He’s also the only candidate other than Israel or Tony to top $100,000 in fundraising.
The rest of the field have struggled to reach voters, leaving the South Florida Sun-Sentinel Board to endorse Israel, who they saw as the better of the “only two viable candidates.”
That prompted Hunter Pollack — who lost his sister, Meadow, in the 2018 attack — to call on the paper to rescind their “shameful” endorsement.
The effects of the shooting are still being felt in South Florida. Tuesday’s election has a chance to heal those wounds — a chance to cleanse Tony’s past, reaffirm trust in Israel’s leadership or start anew altogether. Or, it may just rile up divisions even further, no matter the outcome.