BY BUDDY NEVINS
Forget about Orange Is The New Black.
Black is the new black in Broward County judicial elections. At least that is what members of the TJ Reddick Bar Association hope.
Members of the group named for Florida’s first black circuit judge can read the numbers.
The August elections is when most judges are chosen. In Broward, that means Democratic voters dominate who gets elected to the bench.
Until recently, elderly Jews and Italians living in condominiums were the key to victory in the primary. But these bloc voters have gone on to that voting precinct in the sky, or they have moved north to Boca Raton or Vero Beach.
Now blocs of blacks and younger white voters have moved in to replace the elders.
It’s a stunning change in a place where Thurgood Marshall would have had a very tough time becoming an elected judge a few years back!
In 2016, voters elected two black judges who were running in their first campaigns — Kal Evans and Florence Taylor Barner. Those wins have prompted some African and Caribbean-American lawyers to rethink their careers.
Florence Taylor Barner
This new election reality filled a forum on judicial elections thrown by the TJ Reddick Bar and the Broward Bar last week.
The meeting featured four judges telling a standing room only audience very different stories of how they were elected. The lessons they had for the would-be candidates omitted some important details which I provided below:
• County Judge Robert “Bob” Diaz said he was so poor that he couldn’t afford the filing fee of roughly $5,000 or so in his first race in 1992. So he borrowed from a credit union. The lesson: Do not to be deterred by a lack of money.
The judge didn’t mention that he was an assistant public defender at the time, an era when Public Defender Al Schreiber’s political machine could sway elections.
Schreiber could raise money and he controlled a bloc of votes through his office. He also could supply volunteers from his office to work on campaigns.
Outside of big condo bosses who were Scheirber’s friends, nobody controlled more potential votes than Big Al…especially in judicial elections.
Regardless of any help he received, Diaz enjoyed a stupendous victory. He beat two candidates, one with a Jewish name at a time when being Jewish was thought to be a sure way to victory. He won in an era when his Spanish-sounding name was thought to be a detriment. And Diaz won with a huge margin of 93,031 votes – a record that stood until recently.
• Circuit Judge John Bowman said he became a judge in 2002 by entrusting campaign tactics to his campaign manager, the legendary late Tony “Tony G” Gargiulo.
Bowman’s initial campaign emphasized his Broward roots, something I can attest to. I worked for Bowman’s father, Barc Bowman, who was an editor at the Fort Lauderdale News at one time.
What Bowman didn’t say was that honest, straight shooting campaign managers like Tony G are harder to find today.
• Circuit Judge Andrea Ruth Gundersen was a unique voice because she lost a 2014 race and returned two years later to win. She told the audience that the grass roots organization that she developed after her loss was the key to victory.
Gundersen said that she proved candidates don’t need to spend a fortune for campaign consulting and advertising if they have a good ground game.
Andrea Ruth Gundersen
What she was too polite to say: Her victory was a stupendous upset.
Gundersen crushed the overwhelming favorite Lea Krauss.
An attractive qualified candidate with a base in the LGBT community, Krauss had professional management from veterans of the Obama campaign. She spent six times as much as Gundersen, including over $200,000 on mail alone.
And Gundersen? She spent a few thousand to pay a grass roots strategist from Lauderdale Lakes who presumably helped her in the black community, among other places.
• County Judge Florence Taylor Barner also said she won as a grass roots candidate.
She had some steller advice, such as make every member of your campaign team read the rules of judicial ethics of the Florida Supreme Court, which strictly govern campaigns for judge. Barner may have been a first-time candidate, but she knew that loose-lipped campaign volunteers can get a judicial candidate in trouble.
A mother of two pre-school children when she ran, Barner also urged candidates to get the support of their families before running because they will have to help in the campaign, too.
What Barnes was too modest to say: She proved to be one of the best candidates for judge I’ve ever seen run in Broward, which is saying a lot since I’ve been around campaigns for decades.
She overflows with personality.
In addition, she was qualified despite her young age with experience as a prosecutor and civil court. Every person who met her that I talked to – including hardened political insiders – were immensely impressed.
If she is half as good a judge as candidate, Broward will be well served for years.
How To Hire A Consultant
My advice is in the form of a warning.
There are charlatans in Broward who call themselves “campaign managers” or “political consultants.”
Although there are a lot of very good campaign strategists, the field also is filled with phonies who make extravagant claims and are only interested in lining their pockets.
Some “consultants” have done time in jail, while others have a string of ethics complaints.
Others are control freaks, who want to manage every word that the candidate utters. Candidates should remember that you are hiring a partner, not a boss.
Get “consultants” to tell you about their losses because all of them, ALL OF THEM, have lost plenty of big races. Do they make excuses or do they take responsibility for the mistakes?
Handle finding a campaign consultant like you studied for the Florida Bar exam. Study. Study. Study.
Before you entrust your career and money to a stranger, it would be a good idea to hire a professional to do a complete background check on any consultant. Then see if you want them on your team.
Because in the end, it is the candidate’s name on the ballot. It is the candidate’s reputation at stake.
The candidate must live with any loss.
And the consultant?
They just cash their checks and go on to the next election.