Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book has added two top level staffers to the Senate Minority Office.
The Senator from Plantation on Friday announced four departures from the office staff. On Tuesday, Book revealed that Maggie Gerson will take over as staff director, with Cathy Schroeder as her deputy starting Oct. 1.
Book’s announcement comes on the second day of the first committee week ahead of the 2022 Legislative Session.
“I am excited to welcome Maggie and Cathy to the Senate Democratic Office and to usher in two strong women to lead our caucus,” Book said. “As we head into another important Session fighting for everyday Floridians, Senate Democrats need the kind of strong, smart, and strategic staff leadership Maggie and Cathy will provide to help achieve policy wins and navigate Members’ priorities through the process.”
Gerson has been Miami-Dade Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo‘s Chief of Staff since his election in 2018. Gerson spent 15 years as a prosecutor with the county’s State Attorney’s Office, where she met and began mentoring Pizzo, then a junior Assistant State Attorney.
She is also the first female Hispanic Staff Director in the Florida Senate’s history.
Gerson replaces outgoing Staff Director David Cox, who had been in the Minority Office since 2012.
Schroeder has served in state government as chief of staff, communications director and press secretary. She was also vice president of public affairs for BowStern Marketing Communications and director of the Department of Education State Board.
Early in her career, Schroeder worked with the Children’s Forum and as an account manager with Ron Sachs Communications.
After her hire was announced Tuesday, Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida reported that Schroeder was a longtime Republican who recently changed her party affiliation.
“As you know, recent election cycles have shown that values matter greatly, and after reflecting about the future, I did register as a Democrat recently to ensure the values I’ve held for quite some time were also affirmed with my voter registration,” Schroeder said.
“After talking with Leader Book about her vision for the Democratic Party and the Senate caucus, it reaffirmed my alignment with those values and indeed changed my vote registration.”
Departing with Cox are Communications Director Michelle DeMarco, Staff Attorney Stuart Rimland and Administrative Assistant Sherese Gainous.
The Minority Office supports both Democratic Leadership as well as members of the Democratic Caucus.
Book took the helm of the Senate Democratic Caucus in April, three days before the end of the 2021 Session, after Democrats ousted Sen. Gary Farmer as leader of the minority party in what some described as a coup.
The internal strife arose from brewing animosity over Farmer’s failure to unite his minority caucus around several bills this year. Within the party, Book was seen as a remedy — someone who proved her ability to navigate partisan complexities to get stuff done.
Earlier that month, the caucus had elected Book to be their leader for the 2022-24 term after Sen. Perry Thurston, who was set to lead the party that term, announced he would resign to run for the late U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings’ seat in Congress.
Last week, Senate President Wilton Simpson removed Book as chair of the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee, a role she has served since 2018. Simpson replaced her with Republican Sen. Ileana Garcia.
Book had been critical of plans by Simpson and other Republicans to consider abortion bans similar to the controversial heartbeat bill recently enacted in Texas. And legislation along those lines would likely be assigned to the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee.
However, Simpson said he removed Book from her leadership post in that committee because she has since become the party leader, a role he said requires more time commitment.