Billy Corben drops out of race for Miami-Dade Dems Chair, citing ‘bad faith and hypocrisy’

'Perhaps I’ll revisit running for a full term in December. But for now, sadly, I am withdrawing my name from contention.'

Billy Corben is out of the running for Chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party.

The documentary filmmaker withdrew from the contest Wednesday night near the end of a Zoom forum featuring three other Chair candidates: Sen. Shevrin Jones, Miami-Dade College Democrats President Manuel Fernandez and Biscayne Gardens Chamber of Commerce President Bernard Jennings.

Corben cited disorder and favoritism within the party’s leadership, including acting Chair Laura Wagner’s endorsement of Jones and a refusal to reschedule Friday’s Chair election so it doesn’t conflict with Passover, among his reasons.

“I was prepared for the dysfunction, but I’m disappointed by the bad faith and hypocrisy. I mean, this meeting is being presided over by an acting Chair that has endorsed one of the candidates,” he said near the end of the 47-minute forum, which was officially closed from the press and public but still accessible through a Zoom link.

“Perhaps I’ll revisit running for a full term in December. But for now, sadly, I am withdrawing my name from contention.”

Corben’s departure from the race for a seven-month Chair stint came after weeks of turmoil for a party seeking stability and suffering from declining election returns that in part led to an ouster last month of its elected Chair, Robert Dempster.

Jones, a trailblazing and well-regarded lawmaker frequently discussed as a potential 2026 candidate for Governor, last week became the first member of the Miami-Dade Democratic Executive Committee (DEC) to announce he was seeking the Chair role.

DEC leaders, most prominently Wagner, swiftly coalesced around Jones. Corben explained Wednesday that he decided to run to ensure that a discussion took place about the needs of the party and each candidates’ plans to meet them before a Chair was selected.

“When I entered this race a week ago, there was just one candidate. That’s not an election. That’s a coronation,” he said during the meeting. “Now I’ve helped turn that coronation into this great conversation between four candidates. I would have preferred an open forum instead of hiding away in this locked room.”

He was the first to organize a candidates forum for Wednesday to be moderated by Dempster and past Chairs Joe Geller and Annette Taddeo at Gramps, an entertainment venue in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood. The event would also have streamed online and allowed questions from both in-person and remote attendees.

But Jones pulled out of the event after several members of a 200-person DEC chat group on WhatsApp opposed it, with some singling out Dempster’s participation as untasteful. DEC leaders then set up the Zoom-only forum with journalist David Smiley set to moderate.

Smiley canceled after learning the forum wouldn’t be open to the public or media members.

“I wouldn’t want to moderate an event that other journalists aren’t allowed to cover,” he told Florida Politics just hours before the forum commenced.

Florida International University professor Eduardo Gamarra filled in as his replacement.

Corben also tried unsuccessfully to convince DEC leadership to move the Special Election for Chair from Friday, which coincides with the sabbath on the high holiday of Passover, to avoid excluding the party’s Jewish members.

Wagner did not respond to Corben’s request or a query about the matter Florida Politics sent her Monday. Eden Giagnorio, Communications Director for the Florida Democratic Party, told Florida Politics the Miami-Dade DEC was “moving forward with a sense of urgency to hold the election for a new Chair on Friday.”

“The stakes for 2024 are too high to stall progress,” she said.

To that, Corben said, “What progress? Anointing the hand-picked candidate of the consultant cartel and the very people who have run this party into the ground?”

Jones said he would prefer that the party honor Corben’s request.

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

Speaking by text Thursday morning, Corben said he was disheartened by what he experienced in the past week. His takeaway, he said, was that despite the dedication of many “hard-working Democrats committed to reform,” the party is doomed to see future failures because it is designed more to enrich political consultants than to win elections.

“They only care about lining the pockets of their monopoly and, in the process, have run the party right into the ground — for profit,” he said.

“They have perverted the very essence of what it means to be a Democrat. We are trying to save our party; they are trying to preserve a business model. Until we’re willing to accept, confront, and remedy the reality of the unethical grifters in our midst, we will continue to lose elections.”

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.


  • Dont Say FLA

    April 25, 2024 at 11:39 am

    He was just a plant, seeded by the G0P to get inside the Demo and then claim rampant corruption, proving yet again: Every accusation from a G0P is a confession.

    • Stephanie Kienzle

      April 25, 2024 at 10:09 pm

      You obviously have no idea who Billy Corben is or what you’re talking about. He’s absolutely right about everything.

      The GOP has nothing to do with this issue, but you need someone to blame for the corruption going on in your own party. Ignore it at your own peril.

    • Ish

      April 26, 2024 at 3:57 pm

      Lol at calling Billy a plant. You are an idiot

Comments are closed.


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