Gwen Graham Archives - Florida Politics

Phil Levine says his business background ‘scares’ GOP

Democratic gubernatorial nominees Philip Levine and Chris King spoke before their largest audiences to date in the Tampa Bay region on Sunday at the Women’s March in downtown St. Petersburg.

Several thousand people crammed into Williams Park for the rally, which, in an unusual twist, Levine co-sponsored.

“The opportunity came up and we believe in women’s rights and human rights and any way we can bring our message forward in the right venue, and this was one of them, so we were honored to be given that opportunity,” the former Miami Beach mayor said shortly after he addressed the audience.

The appearance before a mostly Democratic, friendly crowd was a boost for both candidates in getting attention from voters in the state’s biggest media market. Although it’s still relatively early going in the race, both trail former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham in the polls of the race to become the Democratic nominee for Florida Governor.

Levine got into a verbal back and forth with the Graham campaign during his last visit to the Bay area. That exchange prompted a statement from the Republican Governors Association in which it mocked the two candidates as being “desperate to turn things around amid embarrassingly low name recognition and lackluster fundraising.”

The statement “flattered me greatly,” Levine said Sunday. “I guess they think that I’m a very viable potential nominee for the party. I don’t see them picking on anyone else, so I’m going to wear that like a bad of honor.”

(Actually, that isn’t accurate. The RGA has previously sent out statements attacking Graham, Levine and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.)

A multimillionaire who made his fortune running media companies in the cruise industry, Levine says his focus on being both “pro-people and pro-business is something that I think scares the heck out of them,” referring to the GOP.

Levine has called himself a “radical centrist” and, somewhat unusual in a Democratic primary campaign, says he welcomes Republican support for his candidacy.

“I can’t tell you how many Republicans have come up to me and said the same thing,” he recounted Sunday. “They go, ‘Mayor, I have been a lifelong Republican, I have never voted for a Democrat, you’re the first Democrat I’m going to vote for.’ In a purple state like Florida, we need Republicans to believe in our message. We need independents, and we need Democrats, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

With Florida being a closed primary state, those registered Republicans and independents wouldn’t get a chance to vote for any Democrat until the general election.

Graham and Gillum participated in the Women’s March in Miami Sunday.

(Photo credit: Kim DeFalco).

Gwen Graham at women’s march: ‘We need a woman’ in governor’s mansion

Against the backdrop of a sea of people marching for women’s rights in Miami, the lone female gubernatorial candidate said Sunday the state needs “a woman to clean up the mess in Tallahassee” after 173 years of men being at the helm.

“Today we march for the same causes that women have marched for 100 years to vote, and we are all going to get out and vote,” former Congresswoman Gwen Graham told the crowd.

Graham is the front-runner in the 2018 Democratic primary. In public polling, she leads the four-way race with 14 percent of the vote. Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is in second with 7 percent of the vote, according to a new poll by the Florida Chamber of Commerce. But that could change soon as Levine spends big early in the race.

Along with Levine Graham faces Orlando businessman Chris King and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the Democratic primary. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Congressman Ron DeSantis will face each other in the Republican primary. House Speaker Richard Corcoran is expected to also vie for the Republican nod.

In the state’s history, no woman has made a successful bid for the governor’s mansion, but women have attempted before, including Alex Sink in 2010 and Nan Rich in 2014.

Graham remained hopeful about her chances over the weekend.

“In January 2019, we are all going to continue marching, and we are going to march in inaugural parades all over the state of Florida when we, together, elect the first woman governor of Florida,” she said.

“I look forward to being that governor.”

Women’s marches were held across the country last weekend, including in many locations in Florida.

Thousands gather in St. Petersburg for Women’s March

Kay Akins is still “pissed off” about Donald Trump‘s election more than a year ago. “It gets worse every day.”

The Naperville, Illinois resident joined thousands of protesters Sunday in what felt like a seismic level of antipathy for the President of the United States, felt in both St. Petersburg and many parts of the country.

A year ago, Akins participated in the massive Women’s March in Washington D.C.  She never felt more solidarity with so many like-minded people in her life, she said.

This time around, Akins found herself in the Tampa Bay area; she drove by herself Sunday to the Women’s March in St. Petersburg’s Williams Park, joined by thousands of similarly like-minded people. Organizers called on them to make their voices heard by voting in this year’s midterm elections.

Unlike last year, when the marches were all held on the day after the president’s inauguration, protestors held rallies over both weekend days this year, with gatherings Sunday in Las Vegas, Miami, Seattle, Phoenix and many other cities around the country.

On Saturday, a reported 120,000 crowded streets in Manhattan for a women’s march, with massive rallies in Chicago, D.C., the San Francisco area and many other locations.

Among organizers, the theme was “Power to the Polls,” featuring a call to have more women participate in elections this November.

But among those in the crowd, the focus was squarely on Trump.

“He awakened the sleeping giant,” said Patti Michaud, who served as co-captain of the Central Gulf Coast Women’s March.

Thousands of women protested Sunday in St. Pete and across the country, most still angry over Donald Trump’s election more than a year ago.

An activist in the 1960s, Michaud said that while things may have become better for women, following Trump’s election, they were now “fighting for the rights we fought for fifty years ago.”

As a result, record numbers of women are running for office this year. At least 79 female candidates are exploring runs for governor, according to the Rutgers University Center for American Women and Politics.

Emily’s List, which recruits and trains pro-choice Democratic women, announced last month that over 25,000 women had contacted the organization about running for office since the 2016 election. Additionally, over 8,000 people have signed up to help women run for office.

Among those locally who are pursuing a run for office for the first time is Tampa resident Kimberly Overman, a Democrat running for the Hillsborough County Commission\. Overman attended last year’s march in Washington, which she called “inspirational” and said it demonstrated the power of women working together to get something done.

“I think that’s one of the values of having women in the process,” she said, “whether it be on the corporate side and corporate boards, whether it be on the government side in terms of serving for office, whether it be in the lobbying world, where women actually can help people find a consensus and find some good solutions.”

Other female candidates in attendance included Democrat Jennifer Webb, who is taking a second shot at the House District 69 seat this year.

Trump’s election was a shock, one that took awhile to get over, said Palm Harbor resident Kim Nymeyer. Like others at the event Sunday, she called her participation in last year’s march a cathartic experience.

It’s different this time around, Nymeyer added. “People are asking: What is the action now?”

Joining Nymeyer was her friend Marlene Witherspoon, who made the trek from Fort Myers to St. Pete. The two sat with beach chairs directly in front of the stage at Williams Park.

Reflecting on the 2016 election, Witherspoon admitted she was restrained in her support for Hillary Clinton, the reason she didn’t campaign for her in the conservative hometown, as she had for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

“I wasn’t on board with her,” she recounts. “She was too polarizing for me to risk knocking on doors to people [who] I know are Republicans.”

While Trump’s candidacy brought out conservative voters disaffected from the political process for years, his subsequent election has energized progressives who had been indifferent in the past, such as Lakeland resident Michelle Ploughman.

Wearing an “Elizabeth Warren in 2020″ T-shirt, Ploughman said the opportunity to empower female voices is part of the movement in which she’s taking part. She cited the power of black women in particular for Democrat Doug Jones’ victory over Republican Roy Moore in the Alabama U.S. Senate special election last month.

“That’s what this is all about for me. It’s really just promoting the idea that we all have the chance to make change in whatever area we choose and the best choice at this point is to vote.”

There were dozens (if not hundreds) of signs held up by those in the crowd: “The future is female,” “Vote like a Girl,” “Stop tweeting and read a book,” to name a few.

Scheduled to appear was U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, but events with the government shutdown in Washington precluded his appearance.

As was the case last year, Mayor Rick Kriseman made an appearance, as did Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine. 

“Are you all ready to get expelled from Trump University?” Levine asked to a roar of approval.

Levine then awkwardly posited that it was time to enroll in a new university: “The university of doing the right thing.”

That’s a mantra heard in his often-aired television commercials touting his candidacy. In a creative bit of outreach, Levine also paid to co-sponsor the event.

In a four-and-a-half minute speech, Levine touted campaign pledges: raising the minimum wage, investing in public education and keeping a strong environment. And he excitedly told the crowd that November’s election in Florida was the most important “in the world.”

“Because so goes this governorship this year, so goes the presidency in 2020,” he said. “Women of Florida, you must vote. We must change our state. We will change our country. We will change the world. It begins right here in St Petersburg. It begins right here in Florida.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King spoke later in the afternoon as well.

In the audience, St. Petersburg resident Joan Thurmond was wearing a T-shirt touting the candidacy of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, yet another one of Levine’s opponents in the Democratic race (Gillum and Gwen Graham, the other major Democratic candidate for governor, spoke in Miami on Sunday).

“I think he’s a racist,” Thurmond said of Trump. “A bigot. And I really think that he does not know what running the most powerful country in the world is all about. ”

Thurmond added that she didn’t appreciate his recent comment reportedly disparaging African nations.

“Being African-American, I know what it’s like to be discriminated against.”

Although overwhelmingly female in number, the crowd was diverse regarding race and especially in age, where toddlers to seniors were well represented.

Whether 2018 will be “The Year of the Women” at the ballot box won’t be known until after the November 6 midterms. But to women like Akins, their outlook on politics has been forever changed, no matter what happens this fall.

“My husband always says, ‘you can’t do anything,'” she recounted. “I said, ‘I can be there and give my voice.'”

(Photo credits: Kim DeFalco).

Philip Levine launches Spanish commercial on DACA

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine has launched another television commercial – his fourth overall and second this week – with a Spanish-language ad decrying the administration of President Donald Trump‘s policies toward so-called DREAMers, the young, undocumented immigrants who essentially grew up in the United States.

The 30-second spot “Injusticia” shows images of DREAMers and their families while a narrator attacks Trump for rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program initiated by former President Barack Obama, and for his rhetoric threatening to send them back to their native countries even though their parents brought them to the United States when they were small children.

It’s the second-consecutive commercial in which Levine, a state candidate, targets Trump on what is essentially a federal issue. Earlier this week he launched an English-language commercial, running statewide, going after Trump for his policy position to open up oil-drilling off the Florida coast, thought that commercial also mentions Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

“President Trump is turning his back on these young people who, filled with dreams, became doctors, lawyers and teachers. And who today are ready to work for America,” the narrator states. “Philip Levine will work to end this injustice!”

Levine then uses his own Spanish, declaring, “We are talking about kids, and what it means to be an American.”

Levine is the only gubernatorial candidate to place commercials on television so far. He faces Chris King, Gwen Graham, and Andrew Gillum in the Democratic primary contest, while Ron DeSantis and Adam Putnam are the leading Republicans.

Levine’s independent political committee All About Florida is putting up $100,000 to run the ad for 10 days on Spanish-language television channels across Florida.

“We want DREAMers to know that they are not alone, and that there are many who are fighting for them and believe in doing the right thing,” Christian Ulvert, senior advisor, stated in a news release from All About Florida.

New Philip Levine TV ad focuses on off-shore drilling threat

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine is launching a new television commercial throughout Florida today accusing Gov. Rick Scott of denying climate change and vowing that any threat of oil drilling off Florida’s coast  “is going to stop” if Levine is elected governor.

The 30-second ad “Denial” is backed by a $375,000 broadcast and cable TV ad buy for the next two weeks in all ten Florida media markets. It’s the third television commercial launched by the Levine campaign, the first to go statewide, and the first to be explicitly about a public policy issue. His first ads were introductory.

It’s also the first statewide television commercial by any 2018 candidate.

In Denial, Levine seeks to lump President Donald Trump, Scott, the oil industry, climate change denial, and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon/BP Oil disaster all into one issue. It begins with scenes of the Deepwater Horizon/BP Oil spill off the coast of Louisiana which brought oil onto Florida Panhandle beaches, and dragged down Florida’s entire tourism economy for a year.

The ad implicitly builds on the announcement two weeks ago by the Trump administration that it intends to open up off-shore oil exploration throughout the country, including off Florida’s coast, when current federal moratoriums end. It does not explicitly address the announcement by Scott that he talked U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke into leaving out Florida, though the Levine campaign argues in a news release that assurance has very little practical value. The ad also does not address that Levine’s Democratic gubernatorial primary opponents, Chris King, Gwen Graham, and Andrew Gillum, all are as adamant as he about preventing any future drilling off Florida’s coast.

Nor does it explicitly claim that Scott, or leading Republican gubernatorial candidates Adam Putnam or Ron DeSantis, ever supported off-shore drilling along Florida. Yet it paints a picture bringing together environmental disaster with the denials of climate change by leading Republicans, starting with Trump and Scott.

In announcing the ad Wednesday morning, the Levine campaign cited a POLITICO story that reported that many members of Congress, including the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Utah Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, “acknowledge that there are no ‘long-term assurances’ [from Secretary Zinke] that plans to drill off the coast would not return.” Others have said the same thing.

“The BP oil spill was one of the worst environmental disasters in history,” the ad begins.

“Now we have a governor who denies climate change, a president who denies everything, and a Congress that may start allowing drilling,” Levine declares as he walks along a beach. “When I’m governor, the threat of drilling is gonna stop.”

Gwen Graham charges that receiving phone calls means Rick Scott should have acted on Hollywood Hills

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham alleged Friday that Gov. Rick Scott and his office could be partly to blame for the 14 heat deaths at a Hollywood Hills nursing home following Hurricane Irma after the Associated Press reported the facility called him three times seeking help.

The Governor’s Office quickly shot back, insisting that nursing home officials never advised that there were any dangerous conditions there, and that, nonetheless, state officials advised them that they should call 911 if any concern for the residents’ health did arise. And that never happened until later, when people started dying.

“Today’s report from the Associated Press makes it clear that 14 Floridians may have died and nursing home patients across the state were put at risk because of the Scott administration’s complete incompetence and neglect,” Graham stated in a written statement issued Friday afternoon by her campaign.

“There is no question the Hollywood Hills nursing home should have evacuated their residents as soon as the temperatures began to rise — but there is also no doubt the Governor’s Office or Rick Scott himself should have called 911 or ordered a wellness check as soon as concerns were raised,” she added. “He promised to take action and failed to follow through. The buck stops at the governor’s desk.”

Scott, the Republican whose final term ends this year and who is contemplating a run for the U.S. Senate, was in no way to blame for fatal neglect in the South Florida nursing home when not even the administrators in the home seemed all that concerned, his office replied.

“At no point in time did this facility report that lives were in jeopardy or that conditions had become dangerous,” Scott’s press secretary Lauren Schenone replied in a written statement later Friday. “State officials told this facility to dial 911 if they had any reason to believe their patients were in danger, something every healthcare professional knows to do. The governor looks forward to the findings of this homicide investigation and continues to demand answers as to why this facility didn’t take the necessary steps to keep their patients safe.”

Hollywood city police are investigating the deaths as homicides cases.

Graham, a former congresswoman from Tallahassee, faces former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Winter Park businessman Chris King in the quest for the Democratic primary nomination to run seek to succeed Scott. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis are the leading Republican candidates.

The exchange between Graham’s campaign and Scott’s office was keyed by this week’s release of public records.

Prior to Irma’s Sept. 10-11 assault on Florida, Scott had given out his cell phone number to nursing home administrators and urged them to call him directly if they needed his help. In the days following the hurricane, The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, like much of Florida had lost power and air conditioning, and heat increased inside. Fourteen residents died, apparently the result of hyperthermia.

Did Scott and his administration have any cause to think something was going very wrong there? Graham’s campaign in particular pursued that question with records requests, and on Monday the governor’s office released records of Scott’s cell phone.

The Associated Press, which received copies of those records, reported Scott’s cell phone got 120 calls from nursing homes and assisted living facilities, including three from The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills. The AP reported that Scott’s office said it responded to those calls. The AP also reported that Geoffrey D. Smith, an attorney for the center, suggested the the center’s administrators there may have been given false hope.

In a written statement, Smith told the Associated Press that the nursing home administrators who called Scott’s cell phone “felt assured that he would take decisive action to be sure that power was promptly restored for the AC when this was reported. It is difficult to know in hindsight what may have occurred differently if the governor had advised that he would not take any action. But the facility administrators would not have been instilled with the false hope that help was on the way.”

Schenone contended there was never any point when Hollywood Hills administrators suggested to state officials there was any danger. Nor did the home’s administrators show they felt anything was perilously by calling 911 themselves, or send anyone to the hospital right across the street, until the first deaths occurred on  Sept. 13. The others died after they were taken to the hospital.

Schenone told the AP that each Hollywood Hills call was returned and administrators said they had enough portable fans and coolers.

“No amount of finger pointing… will hide the fact that this health care facility failed to do their basic duty to protect life,” Schenone wrote in an email to the AP. “This facility is failing to take responsibility for the fact that they delayed calling 911 and made the decision to not evacuate their patients.”

The AP reported that most of the phone calls to Scott’s cell phone went to voice mail, and that Scott’s office responded later. There were no cell phone voice mails released. Graham’s campaign said they were told the voice mails had been deleted, though the campaign is seeking to see if they can be recovered.

Graham’s campaign contended that Scott’s office appeared to be hiding something, because it fought to keep the cell phone records secret, and that the campaign “had to fight tooth and nail” to obtain them, an effort that ended Monday with Graham signing a $1,200 check to pay for public record research expenses by the governor’s office.

“They have exposed how the governor’s office botched the response — but we still do not have the actual voicemails that were left and I will continue fighting for them until they are made public,” Graham stated in the news release.

Ricardo Rosselló accuses Washington of turning its back on Puerto Rico

A sometimes angry, defiant and determined Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló accused Washington D.C. Friday of “turning its back on” Americans on the island since Hurricane Maria

Rosselló called on Puerto Ricans in Florida and others to respond in elections.

Speaking to a packed room of about 500 people at the Kissimmee Civic Center, Rosselló unleashed a torrent of frustration over a nation that made promises to help the island (and its residents) and has failed to do so since.

The Puerto Rican Governor was in Florida for the first time since Hurricane Maria devastated the island on Sept. 20-21, and since hundreds of thousands of his constituents fled to Florida because so much of the island remains without power, potable water, and much of a functioning economy.

Rosselló was joined at the podium by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, and Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez, who all also spoke to a crowd that was so much larger than expected that the room had to be expanded twice before the program started.

The gathering also included more than a dozen other elected officials and candidates, including Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, state Sen. Victor Torres, and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham.

While Rosselló’s New Progressive Party is generally aligned with the stateside Republican Party of Scott, Jacobs, and President Donald Trump, and while in the early weeks after the storm he and Trump appeared to be united, he struck a strongly different tone Friday.

Rosselló said the island government and Congress and Washington struck a deal through the PROMESA act passed in 2016 to address Puerto Rico’s economy and debt, and that the island government lived up to its end with massive cuts and changes in labor laws. But after Hurricane Maria, many of those in Washington who had made promises “turned their back on Puerto Rico, and not only forgot about us, but made things increasingly worse.”

“This is where we have to draw the line in the sand,” he said. “This is where we need to be outraged, outraged, by the inadequate response for U.S. citizens who live in Puerto Rico.”

“A storm that, as evaluated by third parties, was a thousand-year storm … Maria is the most devastating natural event in the modern history of the United States of America, make no mistake about it. This is why there are challenges of unprecedented nature, and this is why we needed a response of unprecedented nature,” Rossello said.

He spoke of Puerto Ricans’ love for American citizenship, but said Puerto Ricans have been treated as second-class citizens for a century, and he accused Congress and leadership in Washington of breaking promises just in the past few months.

“We fight the same wars, we have the same citizenship and we deserve that equal and fair treatment. After the storm, when the world was watching Puerto Rico, people started to say, ‘Hey? How come the response is so fast in some places in the United States yet so slow and so filled with obstacles in Puerto Rico?'”

Rosselló drew a standing ovation when he finished the 26-minute speech.

In his speech, Scott pointed out all of the things Florida has done to help both the island and the evacuees, from sending utilities experts and crews to the island to widespread waivers of state rules so that Puerto Ricans could more easily settle in to live in Florida. Rosselló also announced $1 million is being added to CareerSource to help Puerto Rico evacuees find work in Florida.

Rosselló thanked him for that and acknowledged that all the work he and his staff have done for the island, and said the channels of communication with the island’s government, “means a lot to us and the people of Puerto Rico.”

But he heaped more praise on Nelson, who likely will face Scott for the 2018 U.S. Senate race in Florida, declaring, “It’s hard to find a better friend than Sen. Nelson has been for the people of Puerto Rico.”

Rosselló then said similar things about Soto and Alvarez, and called on Puerto Ricans in Florida and across the country to remember who has been their friend, and who has not, and to send a message by registering to vote, and then voting.

He called on the six million Puerto Ricans in the United States, including more than a million in Florida, to exercise their power to “make things right, not only on the island, but to make things right for yourself as well. We have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity right now.”

Rosselló said America has “no moral standing” to preach democracy for Cuba, Venezuela, Iraq and Afghanistan until it addresses full citizenship for Puerto Ricans.

“How do we make this happen? We make this happen not just by talking, but by acting. And I am committing myself here to coming to Florida and to other states as well to organize our communities, so that we can make them know what the issues are, and make the distinctions between those have been friends to Puerto Rico, and those that have turned their back, and we can be influential in the up and coming midterm elections.”

Alvarez, Soto and Nelson all set the tone in criticism of the federal government and Congress in its Puerto Rico response.

The Democrats decried everything from slow recovery efforts — 40 percent of islanders are still without power more than 100 days after the storm — to the passage last month of a tax reform package that penalizes Puerto Rico with a new excise tax.

With immediacy, Soto said FEMA is telling evacuees in Florida that their housing vouchers are being canceled Saturday because the agency determined their homes back on the island are habitable, even though some still have no electricity, and some do not even have water.

Sparks fly as Philip Levine spars with Gwen Graham campaign

Campaigns for two major candidates competing for Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial nomination traded verbal jabs Thursday.

Former Tallahassee Congresswoman Gwen Graham has been the early leader in the four-person field, but Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine declared it’s now becoming a two-person race.

That left the Graham camp feeling “threatened” by the challenge, Levine claimed in a radio interview.

The war of words began the day before when Levine appeared in Tallahassee Wednesday as part of his statewide “Live! from Florida’s Living Room”  bus tour.

Levine boasted his background in the private sector, where he became a multimillionaire in the cruise-ship media industry.

“The fact that I’ve had that weird thing in my background called a job, the fact that I’ve actually done something with my life outside the public sector is probably a big differentiator,” he said, as first reported by the Tallahassee Democrat. “I’m a person who started with $500 and a pocketful of dreams, built some companies, employed hundreds of people if not thousands, and then I gave back and became a successful, two-term mayor of Miami Beach.”

Graham worked in the private sector as an attorney before focusing on starting a family and raising three children. She later volunteered to serve on her children’s school advisory board and as PTA president, then working for the local school district.

Graham, daughter of former Gov. Bob Graham, ran for political office for the first time in 2014, capturing the Republican-leaning congressional district seat. After redistricting, she stepped down from the position in 2016.

Her campaign did not take kindly to Levine’s remarks; former USF President and state legislator Betty Castor — a Graham supporter — fired back.

“Philip Levine can lecture women on what it means to have a job and ‘do something’ with your life after he raises three children while volunteering at their schools and working 50 hours a week,” Castor said in a statement Thursday from Graham’s campaign.

“Not only does Levine not have the facts straight, his view that motherhood is anything less than a full-time job is exactly the kind of tone-deaf attitude we already see out of too many politicians in DC and Tallahassee.”

“Real Floridians know you don’t have to be a CEO or sell a company to contribute to your community. Working mothers, PTA presidents, teachers and public school officials perform some of the most important jobs in our state.”

If Graham’s campaign thought that would chill out Levine Thursday, they were mistaken.

“I think Gwen … thought this crown was going to be passed to her because of her brand name and she somehow was going to inherit the governorship of Florida,” he said on WMNF 88.5- FM.

Levine didn’t stop there: “My background is one of an entrepreneur and not a politician. I’m someone who ran for mayor and became a mayor twice. And in my background, I’ve created a lot of jobs, and I think that’s very important to the American people. I’m sorry that Betty Castor wants to play politics with such an important issue, and I’m sorry that Gwen Graham feels so threatened.”

About a new poll published Thursday by the Florida Chamber Political Institute — which shows him trailing Graham by seven points — the mayor said the comment from Castor showed Graham was “not happy with the polling numbers.”

(An overwhelming majority of those surveyed did not have an opinion about the Governor’s race.)

The Miami Beach Democrat openly flirted with the idea of running for governor as a political independent at one point last year, calling himself a “radical centrist.” Add to that the fact he gave a political contribution to Republican Sen. Marco Rubio at one point might have some Democrats questioning his Party loyalty.

Levine is having none of it, saying that he’s given “well over” a million dollars to the Democratic Party over the years, and “raised billions.”

“A tiny $2,000, $3,000 donation to somebody on the other side I think is kind of irrelevant at this point,” he said.

Then, Levine attacked Graham for standing by idly during the 2016 presidential campaign while he was regularly making media and campaign appearances on behalf of Hillary Clinton‘s presidential campaign.

“She was thinking about herself during Hillary Clinton’s campaign,” Levine charged. “She was thinking about how she wanted to become governor.  She was nowhere to be found. You know where I was? I was on television every single channel including Fox, making sure doing everything I could as Hillary’s surrogate so the Democratic Party would win the presidency. So, I think when it comes to being a Democrat, it’s not just saying it; it’s actually doing it.”

Graham spokesman Matt Harringer disputed that allegation, saying, “Gwen Graham worked very hard for Hillary Clinton, speaking at local Democratic Executive Committees across the state.”

Orlando area businessman Chris King and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum round out the Democratic field for governor. In the Florida Chamber poll, Gillum was a close third at 6 percent.

Later in the afternoon, Graham added to the crossfire.

“Having just finished my 49th Workday, working alongside personnel in the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, I just have so much respect for the working women and men of Florida — in both the private and public sectors,” she said. “Their work isn’t measured merely by the size of their wallets or the zeros in their bank accounts, but by the skills and dedication, they contribute to Florida every day.

“There’s no ‘inheritance’ in any campaign and there are no ‘titles’ that matter. The only thing that matters are the millions of hard-working Floridians and the pure inspiration found in the example they set.”

Later in the afternoon, Graham tweeted out photos of her most recent Workday with the Volusia Sheriffs, writing: “‘Real jobs,’ folks.” #Respect

Florida Chamber poll puts Adam Putnam, Gwen Graham out front, with lots undecided

A new statewide poll conducted by the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Florida Chamber Political Institute finds Floridians comfortable that the state is headed in the right direction and give Gov. Rick Scott some of his highest approval ratings, with usual splits on those opinions between Republicans and Democrats.

The poll finds Republican Adam Putnam and Democrat Gwen Graham are leading their parties’ gubernatorial races, though half or more of the likely voters surveyed in each party have not made up their minds.

The Florida Chamber Political Institute also found voters are most concerned about education, followed by the economy and health care, but really aren’t all that concerned about issues involving guns, terrorism, or marijuana.

The poll sets the table for 2018 elections, which also will likely include numerous proposed constitutional amendments. The first two teed up, involving homestead exemptions and property taxes, already are over or close to the 60 percent approval thresholds needed to be approved, the poll found.

“Voters will elect a new governor, all new members of the Florida Cabinet and 140 members to the Florida House and Senate. It’s still very early in what will be a busy 2018 election cycle. In the coming months, voters will begin to take a much closer look at the candidates for office,” Marian Johnson, senior vice president for political operations for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, stated in a news release.

In the institute’s first statewide poll of the new year:

– 56 percent of likely voters believe Florida is headed in the right direction. Republicans are especially optimistic at 76 percent, while more than half of voters with no party affiliations [56 percent] believe Florida is moving in the right direction. Less than half of Democrats [34 percent] believe Florida is headed in the right direction.

– 57 percent of all registered voters approve of Scott’s job performance. Republicans approve by 82 percent, while 30 percent of Democrats, and 56 percent of NPA voters approve.

– Among Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Graham leads with 14 percent, however 64 percent of voters remain undecided. Philip Levine garners 7 percent; Andrew Gillum, 6 percent; and Chris King, just 1 percent.

– On the Republican side, Putnam gets 23 percent and Ron DeSantis 18 percent, with 50 percent undecided.

Among issues that matter most to voters, education ahead with 17 percent; jobs and economy drew 13 percent; health care, 12 percent; immigration, 5 percent; and global warming, 5 percent. Guns, terrorism and marijuana barely registered, the institute reported.

Amendment 1, calling for increasing the homestead exemption, got 61 percent overall, with the spread from Democrats, NPA voters and Republicans fairly tight, from 52 to 69 percent. Amendment 2, making permanent a cap annual non-homeastead property tax increases, has 54 percent overall support, with the party spread ranging from 60 to 58 percent.

The poll also found trends showing the greater potency of independent voters: 42 percent of all new voters in the past year registered without a party affiliation, while Democrats and Republicans each captured 27 percent of new voters. Among new Hispanic voters, 54 percent signed up without a party, 32 percent registered as Democrats, and 14 percent as Republicans.

Philip Levine: Check to Marco Rubio ‘tiny’ compared with long, deep Democratic support

There’s that Sept. 30, 2009, check to the U.S. Senate campaign of former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio:

It’s the $2,400 contribution to a Republican who then was seen as the darling of Florida’s Tea Party movement, an upstart whose explosive popularity on the right chased Charlie Crist from the Grand Old Party and made Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek a third-place finisher in 2010.

It’s the bank draft from Miami Beach businessman Philip Levine, who then was the future mayor of that city and who now is one of the leading Democratic candidates for governor in the 2018 election.

Privately, some Democrats have been whispering wonder about whether Levine’s erstwhile support of Rubio in 2009 reflected at all on his commitment to the Florida Democratic Party.

“Nope. Not at all. Zero,” Levine insisted in Orlando Tuesday when asked about whether that contribution meant he harbored an interest in Rubio or for what he stands.

“I have written millions of dollars to the Democratic Party, and that was just one small, tiny donation,” Levine said. “Friends of mine called me up and asked me for it, and I said ‘yes.’

“But he’s been a disappointment, and I’m not a supporter or a believer in any way, shape or imagination,” Levine continued. “Thank God my Democratic donations outnumber it about 5,000 to one.”

Levine is in a crowded race seeking the Florida Democratic primary nomination to run for governor, with former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, Winter Park businessman Chris King, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum; and terms such as “real Democrat,” “true Democrat,” and “lifelong Democrat” already have been tossed about in that contest, as if someone in the race is not. The leading Republicans are Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam of Bartow and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach.

“Mayor Levine has raised millions of dollars for fellow Democrats, up and down the ballot,” spokesman Christian Ulvert stated. “Most importantly, his record of getting progressive policies done is crystal clear — and it’s exactly the leadership he will take to the Governor’s mansion.”

Levine tells his story often about how he left college to work as a Royal Caribbean cruise ship deckhand, later following his instinct to become an entrepreneur serving cruise ships, to starting up and then selling companies, to becoming very rich.

By the late-1990s he became an active political campaign contributor, and by early this century he was a prominent one, making him an extraordinarily unusual candidate for governor. Other wealthy candidates have run statewide in Florida before, notably Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Scott and Democrat Jeff Greene of West Palm Beach, who ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010; yet neither previously had been as financially generous to others’ political causes as Levine had.

Though they do not quite show the multiple millions he asserted, U.S. Federal Election Commission and the Florida Division of Elections records do show that Philip Levine — from addresses in Miami, Miami Beach and Tallahassee — has contributed more than $1 million to others over the past couple of decades. He also has donated nearly $3 million to his own campaign’s funds in the past year.

Levine donated at least $189,900 to various state campaigns and political committees in Florida, and another $893,385 to various federal campaigns and political committees in Florida and across the country.

Campaign finance activity reviewed by Florida Politics does not include any political contributions Levine may have made in local elections in Florida [he was a two-term mayor of Miami Beach,] nor any he may have made in local or state elections in other states. Those would have been recorded outside the FEC and the Florida Division of Elections.

Levine, in fact, has a clear record of donating to Democrats for many years. His donations for Democrats compared with those for Republicans do not entirely create a 5,000-1 ratio, but it is higher than a 200-1 ratio, at least in dollars.

Since 2000, he has donated $161,800 to the Florida Democratic Party [including $61,800 in 2016] and at least another $12,500 to specific Democratic candidates and committees. Another $16,600 of his state political contributions went to committees that at least on paper may be considered nonpartisan. No state-level Levine money went to Republicans, the Republican Party of Florida, or Republican committees.

On the federal side, since 1999, Levine made at least 270 donations totaling $876,791 to Democrats, Democratic parties, and committees associated with Democrats. He has made six contributions totaling about $12,000 to committees that have some claim to being nonpartisan, or have unclear partisan standing.

He’s made just four donations, adding up to $4,650, to Republicans, including the Rubio check.

Levine was a big backer of Hillary Clinton, donating $300,000 to her Hillary Victory Fund committee in 2016. He also was a significant backer of Barack Obama, donating $30,000 to his Obama Victory Fund committee in 2008.

In contrast with the $2,400 he gave to U.S. Senate Republican candidate Rubio, over the past two decades Levine contributed $31,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, $25,000 to the Florida Senate Victory 2004 committee, and $15,000 to Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson‘s campaigns.

Levine also has made direct donations to campaigns of Florida Democrats Dan Gelber, Bill McBride, Janet Reno, Alex Sink, Joe Garcia, Raul Martinez, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Crist [when he ran for Congress as a Democrat,] Peter Deutsch, Betty Castor, Alex Penelas, Andrew Korge, Jose Javier Rodriguez, Katherine Fernandez Rundle, Elaine Bloom, Ken Gottlieb, David Richardson, Richard Steinberg, and Wilbert Holloway.

Besides Rubio, other non-Democrats who received support from Levine include Miami Republican Lincoln Díaz-Balart, who got $250 for his 1998 Congressional re-election campaign; Montana Republican Conrad Burns, who got $1,000 for his 1998 U.S. Senate re-election campaign; and New Jersey Republican Dick Zimmer, who got $1,000 for his 2008 U.S. Senate campaign. Levine also donated to the nonpartisan campaigns of Florida’s 11th Judicial Circuit judges Maxine Cohen Lando and Milton Hirsch.

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