Troubling relationships and unforced errors will plague Nikki Fried

nikki fried
Victim blaming. Hobnobbing with scandalous figures. Is Fried dooming herself before it even begins?

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has carried the party’s torch as the state’s top Democrat since she was elected in late 2018 and, for the most part, she has done it well.

She has hit all the right notes to set Democrats up in the midterms to both defend their seats against an increasingly Trumpy Republican Party and go on the offensive in a state where Dems have struggled for years.

And she has done so while also showing her own political ambitions, setting herself up as a fire-starter critic of Gov. Ron DeSantis and highlighting every stumble he has made since day one, even if it wasn’t really a stumble.

I was the first person to write about her in 2018 because I knew how smart and capable she is, and I still believe she has a bright future.

But.

With Fried, there is clearly a blind spot. It may not be an Andrew Gillum level blindspot, but it’s there and it worries me. It should worry Democrats, too.

I warned Democrats in late 2017 that something just wasn’t quite right about Gillum. The then-Mayor of Tallahassee was proving to be more than the fringe progressive who would never hold a flame to the likes of Gwen Graham. So much so that he eventually bested her in the Democratic Primary.

While there’s another conversation to be had about the fray within the Democratic Party between its progressive, Bernie Sanders wing, and its more moderate, play-it-safe Hillary Clinton/Joe Biden arm, and what Gillum’s primary victory meant for that division, my gut feeling was right.

And even though some Democrats will cringe to hear this, I agree with Gov. Ron DeSantis that had Gillum been elected, Florida would be a disaster in this pandemic.

It’s not that I think Fried has a deeply held secret like Gillum. But what is at issue might be worse.

Her issues are hiding in plain sight.

I struggled with this internally, and even went to my insightful team of reporters for their thoughts. Ultimately, the consensus was that the inevitable attacks on Fried based on her relationship with fiancee Jake Bergmann are rooted in misogyny and hypocrisy, but that they would nevertheless bog her down in a campaign for Governor.

Start first with the incident last June in Fort Lauderdale, in which Bergmann was escorted from an upscale hotel and trespassed from the property after an argument that, some say, was abusive toward Fried.

A victim should never be blamed for being a victim. Let’s get that out of the way. But Fried’s response could, and probably should, haunt her.

Instead of standing up for victims of domestic violence, Fried’s comment on the situation did the opposite. It basically said no one should even be a victim if only they’re just strong enough.

That’s not how domestic violence works.

“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 said in an interview.

The issue came to light largely because one of Fried’s trusted inner circle, Eric Johnson, came forward with concerns that she was in a toxic, if not abusive, relationship. In fact, more than a dozen people close to Fried came to the same conclusion. She ultimately dismissed three people in Fried world for raising such concerns.

Now, with Florida Politics asking questions about the divorce proceedings between Bergmann and his wife, including inquiries about what Bergmann’s wife states is a $125,000 engagement ring given to Fried, we received harsh resistance from Bergmann’s legal team.

“It is unfortunate for my family, and for me, that outlets like Florida Politics choose to publicize any information pertaining to a divorce and family proceeding for some perceived political scoop,” Bergmann said in a statement through his lawyers. “To protect my family’s privacy, I will not discuss these issues publicly, except to state unequivocally that I have at all times provided for them and I will continue do so.”

(Editor’s note: I will not jeopardize the livelihoods of those who write for Florida Politics by publishing what I think are noteworthy aspects of the Bergmann divorce proceedings even though I believe they shed light on an individual who would have enormous influence on Fried were she to run for and become Governor. I know another media outlet with deeper pockets than me is pursuing a story that will bring all of this to light. I’ll leave it to their lawyers to deal with Bergmann’s.)

Florida Politics isn’t the only media asking appropriate questions about Fried. The Capitolist noted how Bergmann’s transfer of the couple’s $700,000 home into Fried’s name may have violated Florida’s gift ban in its ethics law, which prohibits gifts greater than $100. It’s especially troubling because Bergmann owned a large stake in Surterra Wellness, one of the state’s largest medical marijuana companies, and donated tens of thousands of dollars to Fried’s 2018 campaign via her political action committee.

It’s starting to look like Bergmann is this political cycle’s Carole Crist — that is, the romantic partner who could end up destroying a winning brand.

But Fried’s relationship with Bergmann isn’t the only troubling association. She also has a documented connection to U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz. The two worked together when Gaetz was a state Representative and Fried was a lobbyist working on pro-pot issues, on which Gaetz was an ally.

But when reports came out, which are more damning by the minute, that Gaetz may have had a sexual relationship with a 17 year old and is under investigation for sex trafficking, Fried didn’t rebuff her friend. Instead she offered this reprehensible comment that will no doubt work against her.

“I certainly hope they (the allegations) are not true on behalf of the potential victims of this case, and certainly hope the FBI and DOJ either come to a decision or make further findings, or it is time for people of our country and our state to move on and get on with the business of governing,” she said.

If that sounds familiar, it should. It’s the same argument congressional Republicans used, and are using, to move past the shameful acts of former President Donald Trump that resulted in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

Charlie Crist might not want to go negative in a hypothetical primary against Fried (which is likely to move beyond hypothetical soon), but if he does, well, there it is.

Then, on the same morning Fried dropped a campaign video basically announcing she would announce her bid for Governor, she had dinner with Chris Dorworth, a central figure in the Gaetz scandal, according to Gary Fineout in his POLITICO Playbook email.

So, let’s recap with a Reddit-esque TL;DR.

Fried started out with a bang. But she got wrapped up in claims that she was in an abusive relationship and responded with what amounts to victim-blaming other victims. She has potentially accepted gifts from her fiancé in excess, by far, of allowable limits (a $700,000 home and, allegedly, a $125,000 engagement ring). She’s hobnobbing with a lobbyist adjacent to a federal investigation and, when asked, did not disavow the highest profile player in that investigation.

Ouch, ouch and triple ouch.

It’s not like I have too terribly much at stake in this fight. I like Fried. And it’s no secret my affinity for Crist. I also have deep admiration for U.S. Rep. Val Demings, who may also join the Governor’s race. And if you can find someone who voted for Biden and still thinks as highly of DeSantis as me, please let me know.

But Fried’s eventual gubernatorial bid has all the makings of a train wreck waiting to happen.

She shocked the state in 2018 when she defeated Matt Caldwell, and perhaps she is still emboldened by that narrow upset. And yes, she is a proven fighter who will bring the intelligence and energy needed to take on DeSantis and his machine.

As a politician for just three years, perhaps we shouldn’t be so hard on her.

These missteps, whether her fault or not, carry consequences. For Fried, those consequences are fodder for never-ending attacks. Just wait for it.

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 Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the 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.


21 comments

  • Slick

    May 14, 2021 at 11:46 am

    Fried never did a thing for the Democratic Party before she was elected . She got lucky, let’s be honest. She had no money in her 1st campaign and rode the wave of the me too movement.
    Did you not see the results of the 2020 elections. Dems got killed , she was the top Dem in the state correct? Does she not own the outcome. Finally what has she done as Ag commissioner. How many schools have the free lunches, Florida is still ranked the highest in consumer fraud. Lastly she is a home wrecker. How can you call yourself the fiancé of man who is not legally divorced yet … Desantis will crush her bottom line.

  • zhombre

    May 14, 2021 at 12:20 pm

    “And even though some Democrats will cringe to hear this, I agree with Gov. Ron DeSantis that had Gillum been elected, Florida would be a disaster in this pandemic.” Yes, obviously. Florida Dems can cringe all they want, or wax irate at that revelation, and be as delusional as they want but it is an obvious fact that the corrupt, drug-addled, debauched Tally mayor would’ve been an unmitigated disaster as governor. And secondly, the Dems can bitch, moan and wet themselves over DeSantis but he’s been an effective and outspoken governor and the Dems have no viable statewide candidate at this time.

    • Arthro

      May 17, 2021 at 7:43 am

      Spot on.

  • Pedro

    May 14, 2021 at 12:28 pm

    Let those without sin cast the first stone.

    • zhombre

      May 14, 2021 at 1:15 pm

      Ms. Fried should stop piling up stones for the benefit of her detractors.

  • tom James

    May 14, 2021 at 1:00 pm

    Floridians are not going to elect a far left liberal Jewish woman from Blue Broward. Not gonna happen. Not only is she a political lightweight with absolutely zero policy knowledge (same goes for Crist), she was elected on a fluke that won’t happen again. Thankfully Desantis and Rs in Tallahassee tightened up Florida’s voting requirements and due to the awful job being done in DC by Biden, Pelosi and Schumer, people are genuinely afraid we are going to lose our country. Nikki is wasting her time. Forget the fact she’s an apprentice, having an affair with a married man whom she got a marijuana license for using her position as Ag commish. Forget the fact, the married man abused her on Ft Lauderdale Beach on Father’s Day weekend at the W Hotel. Forget the fact the married man bought her a $700K home in Tallahassee in violation of Florida’s gift ban. Nikki has been exposed as not ready for prime time. She really should think about running for schoo board or something like that. Florida House maybe. Her options are limited. If felon Debby Wasserman Schultz ever steps down, I’m sure the idiots in Blue Broward would elect her for Congress.

    • tjb

      May 14, 2021 at 2:30 pm

      Your statement, “Desantis and Rs in Tallahassee tightened up Florida’s voting requirements and due to the awful job being done in DC …” is incorrect. DeSantis signed Senate Bill 90, a bill that disenfranchised Floridians with the tendency to vote for Democrats. Suppressing the votes of the opposition is a tactic used by dictators and authoritarian governments to unfairly retain power.
      The Republicans and Trumper’s are terrified to have a fair election because they know they would lose power.
      Your divisive statement of calling us idiots in Blue Broward, remains me of when Clinton called Trumpers (now the new Republican Party) a “Basket of Deplorables”. She was too kind in her words.

      • Marc

        May 14, 2021 at 3:10 pm

        How is voting now suppressed for anyone? We have and still have Absentee Ballots. A registered voter can request a ballot and they get one. If you vote blue… well you are idiots, I prefer to use the word communist when speaking about democrats. The laws our great Governor signed into law will prevent fraud. And you are really foolish to think teat POS byedin actually won the election. We all know those states that “stopped” counting late night when Trump was winning, then we wake up and those same states he lost. Pure cheating. Why do you think the plandemic was released? Mail in voting! Oh and not forget those states that dem lawyers went to, to change the voting rules for covid, yeah that was illegal too. Only the legislature in each state can change election laws! but keep on believing the main stream media. When you control the news, you control the people, well the sheep at least!

        • zhombre

          May 17, 2021 at 2:06 pm

          Making vote fraud more difficult supresses Democrat votes.

  • michael william molesky

    May 14, 2021 at 1:12 pm

    Governor Desantis
    2022 a good governor who gets the job done

  • Andy

    May 14, 2021 at 8:27 pm

    You republicans need to stop calling dems communist. We are all Americans. Let’s not let either party define who we are. We all live under one flag. We want good jobs , decent health care and an overall decent quality of life. We all pay taxes under democratic govt and republican controlled government. We need to hold both parties accountable for how they spend our money. We are one country. We won world wars as a country , we all suffered through 911 as country . Fuck all these politicians, we are one great country both republicans and democrats and if the chips were down and we were getting attacked by foreign invaders we would all band together. That’s who we are the rest is political crap !!!

  • Tom Palmer

    May 15, 2021 at 2:22 am

    The place where the vote counts stopped prematurely was in Florida in 2000. That’s history. Nevertheless, Fried’s performance has not been impressive, especially when it comes to environmental issues. She won in part on the marijuana issue rather than trying to be a mouthpiece for the ag industry. DeSantis’ petulant, paranoid, bunker management style may do him in yet.

  • Leticia

    May 15, 2021 at 8:52 am

    I’m a registered Democrat, millennial and person of color. None of the current crops of potential Democratic candidates inspires me to vote.
    We need new blood in the Democratic party. An honest, unapologetic progressive.
    Charlie Crist needs to retire. Nikki Fried needs to fix her disasterous personal life, and Val Demings, a former cop, in the BLM movement, does not need to be the face of the party.
    I will not support DeSantis, but I know many African Americans who do, namely my boomer parents. They voted for Joe Biden.

    • Arthro

      May 17, 2021 at 7:50 am

      Charlie definitely needs to just go away. So sick of him. Many African Americans and others will support DeSantis because of his handling of COVID and the economy in our state. He’s a strong Governor. We don’t need a progressive to ruin Florida.

  • Patty In Palatka

    May 15, 2021 at 11:37 am

    Let’s call Nikki Fried what she is: A powerful, confident, intelligent woman who is as imperfect as the rest of us. We’ve all been in bad relationships. And whatever happened or did not happen between her and that fella is a personal matter.

    I think its rich for the same crowd that excuses multiple rape allegations against their savior, Donald Trump, suddenly finds Nikki Fried’s personal life so appalling.

    This was a very tacky piece. And after reading it, I’m more convinced now than ever that Nikki has what it takes to win and be a great governor. She hasn’t benefitted from around the clock media adoration like Desantis and yet, I think when voters get to know her, they’ll support her. She’s already proven she can win statewide.

    The truth is, Republicans are afraid of Nikki Fried. And it shows.

    On a side note, I think many voters were troubled by the accusations against Gillum stemming from his time as Tallahassee’s mayor. However, I certainly do not agree that he would have mishandled COVID compared to Desantis, who did nothing to stop the virus. We’ll never know how many Floridians died as a result of his ineptitude not to mention thousands who died waiting on a vaccine while Desantis prioritized his wealthy benefactors over every day Floridians, a fact Democrats will be happy to remind voters of.

    Desantis is a buffoon and a right wing media created sensation who is light on ideas and even lighter on noteworthy accomplishments. Typical Republican governor.

    • Arthro

      May 17, 2021 at 7:56 am

      You drank the Nikki cool-aid. Republicans are more afraid of Val Demings than Nikki Fried. Nikki is the Andrew Gillum of the next election cycle. Doesn’t matter. DeSantis will be re-elected easily because he has done an outstanding job for Florida. Democrats have nobody who can win, not even the King of Panderers Charlie Crist.

  • james

    May 15, 2021 at 2:37 pm

    never ceases to amaze me how do you pseudo-journalist try to walk down both sides of the fence as you straddle it. when you find your cojones, let us know. my 14 year old granddaughter could do a more objective article than that. it’s time to takeoff both your hats and just put on one of them- as a communist or conservative.

    • Tim Jones

      May 17, 2021 at 1:53 pm

      You attack his objectivity but then want him to make some false binary choice to be either a communist or a conservative. Look, it’s crazy, but this site is the most balanced news source in Florida. I don’t want them to pick a side.

  • Edward Lyle

    May 15, 2021 at 4:55 pm

    Floridians for the most part and middle-right, and won’t toss a good Governor to the curb base on a campaign of opposition hyperbole, nonsense, and hate. The Democrat’s only slim chance is with Chameleon Chuck. Nikki Weed has no chance.

  • Kelly Harmon

    May 15, 2021 at 10:09 pm

    So here is the real question if Democrats ran things smoothly and made states better than why is New York and California and Illinois and the list continues of people leaving. Which states do this fleeing for better life go to oh that’s right republican ran states . So listen unless you want new York and California taxes and Chicago violence then keep it republican it’s that simple .

  • Charlotte Greenbarg

    May 16, 2021 at 7:35 am

    Her married, abusive boyfriend is in the cannabis business. Fried tried to get the industry under the control of her office. It’s the icing on the cake. She won because her opponent was involved with…domestic violence!

Comments are closed.


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