Moderator of Miami-Dade Dems Chair candidates forum pulls out, citing closure to public, media
flag of Democrats painted on cracked wall

flag of Democrats painted on cracked wall
‘I wouldn’t want to moderate an event that other journalists aren’t allowed to cover.’

The planned moderator for a Wednesday evening forum of Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chair candidates has dropped out of the event after learning it will not be open to the public or media members.

Miami Herald editor David Smiley agreed on Sunday to emcee the 6:30 p.m. forum, which features four candidates seeking a seven-month stint chairing the troubled Miami-Dade Democratic Executive Committee (DEC).

“But there were a couple sticking points when we met Monday to discuss the structure of the event, including my position that the event had to be broadcast to the general public for me to be involved,” he told Florida Politics.

It won’t be. In an email that documentarian Billy Corben shared on X just hours before the forum, DEC Committeewoman Nancy Lawther said that only DEC members will be able to attend and ask questions during the Zoom-exclusive event.

“I wouldn’t want to moderate an event that other journalists aren’t allowed to cover,” Smiley said.

Smiley’s withdrawal marks the latest trouble for a party seeking stability after declining election returns and the ouster of its Chair last month.

Corben, Miami Gardens Sen. Shevrin Jones, Miami-Dade College Democrats President Manuel Fernandez and Biscayne Gardens Chamber of Commerce President Bernard Jennings are vying for the short-term Chair job. But even the election’s date this Friday has caused problems.

Past Chairs Joe Geller and Annette Taddeo, as well as Corben and others, have raised concerns over the date, which coincides with the sabbath during Passover, one of Judaism’s three high holidays.

Corben called on acting Miami-Dade DEC Chair Laura Wagner to reschedule to “maximize participation by my fellow Jewish DEC members and avoid any perception of anti-Semitism.”

Wagner did not respond to the request, nor did she respond to a request for comment Florida Politics sent Monday morning. Eden Giagnorio, Communications Director of the Florida Democratic Party, said the Miami-Dade DEC will not honor Corben’s request.

Jones, whom Wagner has endorsed, said he supported moving the election to a time that wouldn’t “ostracize people.”

“Our Jewish brothers and sisters shouldn’t feel as if they have to choose between (observing their religion and voting),” he said. “We don’t need to rush to do it Friday.”

Corben was the first to schedule a candidates forum on Wednesday to be moderated by Geller, Taddeo and Robert Dempster, the most recently elected Chair. It would have taken place in person at an entertainment venue in Wynwood and also streamed online.

After several members of a 200-person DEC chat group on WhatsApp opposed Corben’s forum, with some singling out Dempster’s participation as untasteful, Jones dropped out and DEC leadership set up the current, online-only forum.

Geller said he found the move to be somewhat ironic, considering a major complaint about Dempster was that he had not reinstated in-person DEC meetings.

“It’s funny,” he said. “They threw out the previous Chair because he only did stuff on Zoom, and now they’re doing this on Zoom.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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