Months after nationwide protests swept through South Florida, Broward County voters will have a chance to reshape the county’s criminal justice system by electing its first new State Attorney since 1976.
State Attorney Mike Satz announced last June he would step aside after more than four decades in that job. Tuesday’s Democratic primary will go a long way toward deciding his successor, with the winner being a heavy General Election favorite in the left-leaning county.
Satz, a Democrat, was seen as a more moderate State Attorney in an era when many activists are seeking more progressive reform.
Defense lawyer Joe Kimok has sought to position himself in that progressive lane. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who describes himself as a Democratic socialist, even stepped into the contest to endorse Kimok. Aramis Ayala, who showed a progressive streak during her tenure as State Attorney in Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, is also backing Kimok.
The eight-person race also features plenty of potential successors from inside the State Attorney’s office. Assistant State Attorneys David Cannady, Justin McCormack and Sarahnell Murphy are all vying for the Democratic nod, as is former Assistant State Attorney Harold Pryor.
Former Broward state attorney candidate Teresa Fanning-Williams and former prosecutor James Stewart Lewis are running as well.
The best-funded campaign account in the race, however, belongs to Coconut Creek Commissioner Josh Rydell. While other candidates, such as Pryor, have secured some Democratic Party support, Rydell courted the coveted Nikki Fried endorsement in May.
Rydell is hoping support from the state’s highest-ranking Democrat will put him over the top in the Democratic field. The $327,000 Rydell has spent this cycle — including more than $255,000 since July 1 alone —will also surely help.
Kimok has received a hefty amount of outside assistance, as the George Soros-backed Florida Justice & Public Safety PAC has raised more than $750,000 to back his big. Murphy, Rydell and Pryor also have PACs supporting their respective runs, though campaigns are barred from coordinating with those PACs.
The county, like its neighbor to the South, is dealing with a conversation about how to proceed on several social justice issues at the forefront of the national conversation.
Unrest in Fort Lauderdale during protests triggered a curfew in early June. Fort Lauderdale Police Officer Steven Pohorence was suspended after shoving a woman during those protests while she knelt on the ground. Video also showed officers laughing after firing rubber bullets at protesters.
That prompted Fort Lauderdale City Manager Chris Lagerbloom to remove Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Rick Maglione from that role, signaling some reforms in the county’s largest city.
With the Broward County Sheriff position up for grabs this cycle as well, voters will have full control in reshuffling the county’s criminal justice apparatus.