All four candidates vying to become chair of the Florida Democratic Party who took the debate stage agree: the party needs a complete overhaul.
“We have a party that fails to see the needs of the community,” said Carolina Ampudia, a labor and community organizer and chair of the FDP’s Progressive Caucus.
Following an election cycle that saw Democrats lose every statewide race and be reduced to superminority status in both chambers of the Legislature, the Legislative Black Caucus held the first-ever debate of the FDP chair candidates at Destiny Church in Tallahassee on Thursday evening.
Over 90 minutes, virtually no aspect of the party’s organization, infrastructure and functions was spared criticism. Grassroots organizing, voter registration drives, get-out-the-vote efforts, diversity in consultants and vendors, candidate recruitment and volunteer training were all bashed as sorely lacking within the party.
“This doesn’t happen overnight. This was 30 years in the making,” said Nikki Fried, the former Democratic Commissioner of Agriculture who lost in the Democratic primary for Governor last year to Charlie Crist. Fried joined the debate via videoconference from Chicago. “We have to start listening once again to the people on the ground.”
Florida Democrats will meet Feb. 25 in Orlando to select the party leader, but after another dismal cycle, Rep. Dianne Hart, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, said it was important to get candidates on the record to encourage accountability during the next election cycle.
Destiny Church Pastor Clarence Jackson moderated the debate, and asked what each would do to improve outreach at Black churches.
Broward County Democratic Party Chair Rick Hoye, the only Black candidate, said it was vital to stay engaged with Black voters throughout the cycle.
“These are the people we need to show up in strong numbers every single time,” Hoye said. “We can’t helicopter in a few weeks, a few months before the election.”
One of the frontrunners for the FDP chair spot, along with Fried, is Annette Taddeo, a former state Senator from Miami who also chaired the Miami-Dade Democratic Party from 2012 to 2014 and who lost her bid for Congress last year. She said she wants to bring voter registration efforts back within the party, pay staffers better, and build up a party structure that entices President Joe Biden’s reelection team to invest in Florida.
But doing all that, she acknowledged, requires money — $5 million minimum for the voter registration effort, and $10 million for one with “bells and whistles, Taddeo said — which has been in short supply, especially compared to Florida Republicans, and buy-in from all facets of the party.
“All of us know we need to start working and we need to get our act together,” Taddeo said. “What we have to do first and foremost is stop fighting amongst ourselves.”
That could be difficult for a party shut out of power in Tallahassee and with a variety of sectors — progressives, centrists, Black voters, Hispanic voters — that often bicker with each other or feel neglected by the party.
One thing helping to unify Democrats, though, is the prospect of Gov. Ron DeSantis running for President in 2024.
“We have a Governor that’s crazy and going around and doing all of these extremely bad things just to hurt a lot of people because that pushes our buttons,” Ampudia said. “But if we get distracted on responding to those things then we’re not going to do what we need to do and that is .. working on the ground.”
Yet even as the new chair needs to rebuild the party, all candidates also have an eye on thwarting DeSantis’ presidential bid.
“We know we’re the first stop of keeping him out of the White House and we take that very, very seriously,” Hoye said.
February 19, 2023 at 11:59 am
The fact that this story posted two days ago and no one has commented yet shows how badly the DPOF is beaten down. Until people get fed up and act, nothing will change.
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