BY DAN LEWIS
Mitch Ceasar needs to retire, with our thanks.
Cynthia Busch, an accomplished grass-roots organizer and Democratic Area Leader is challenging Ceasar on December 9th for the position of Chair. She should win, as much for her campaign skills as for her ability to bring people together.
Although it is true that a candidate should win on their own merits and not on the failures of their opponent, Ceasar has much to answer for in his 16 years as chair of Broward Democrats. During this time, the county has demographically, ethnically and economically changed but under Mitch – the Democratic Party has not. Registered Independent voters living in single family neighborhoods hold the key to elections, not condos. This is becoming true even for primary elections. Broward County’s population is now larger than seven (7) states, and 92 countries & territories sending teams to the Olympics.
There are those that would argue that a change in Democratic leadership is all about turnout percentages. This is not true. Turnout and turnout dilution is a natural result of population growth. Even more so when the population changes demographically and ethnically.
While one of the purposes of any political party is to win elections – it is not the only purpose. Recruiting, training, and financing those members who share the party’s core values is critical for the long term health of any political party.
Ultimately, it is the candidate that must win elections – but the party must participate. Under Caesar’s leadership, unlike his predecessor – the local party rarely if ever recruited, trained or raised money for candidates and typically left GOTV (get out the vote) efforts to the clubs and active club presidents. In the few instances where the local party spent money on behalf of Democrats – it was, at best, a lack-luster effort. While Busch’s ability to raise money is unknown, her ability to recruit, train and support candidates on the ground is both well-known and unmatched.
The position of party chair is unpaid and voluntary, and takes a considerable amount of time. It is both predictable and perhaps even inevitable that one’s profession could become inextricability intertwined over time. It was true for Caesar’s predecessor Russ Barakat (who went to jail for it), and its true for Caesar’s lobbying business. For Ceasar, the conflict between his business interests and his political avocation has been challenging and over the years has been at some personal cost. In contrast, Cynthia Bush has no business or professional conflicts with the job of Chair which would only need to share its demands with the needs of her young and beautiful children – an entirely Democratic value.
There is an important style difference between Ceasar and Busch. Over the years, Caesar’s style has gotten him into public difficulty more than once including allegations of harassment, dirty politics, influence peddling and party Snubs. Add to that Caesar’s exclusionary leadership style compared with Busch’s inclusionary abilities is a significant argument for Democrats to support Busch. But Caesar’s inability to keep pace with a new Broward should be judged in a historical context. When Ceasar took over from Barakat as Broward’s Democratic boss – condo’s ruled. Divisive infighting between competing Democratic clubs was the rule and some order was needed. In the early years, and in transition from Baracat strong arm “Boss” style based on overbearing personal strength to, what at the time would be called more open and inclusionary, was Caesar’s early success.
But his early success in the condos gives way to his failure to adapt with the times and diminishes much of his legacy of good will he has remaining. This is perhaps endemic of being in office too long. Nowhere does this become more apparent than his failure to utilize agile, ever changing and popular online technologies in the Party’s outreach, grassroots, and message strategies. In stark contrast, Cynthia Busch and her “Team Broward” and “Broward Blues” organization successfully utilized not only social media but also messaging technologies in the massive Democratic grass roots efforts in the 2012 election cycle.
Someone smarter than me observed that the strength of the political party structure is in its ability to be a relay race as opposed to a marathon. When party leadership fails to train, install successors and adapt with the times – the party atrophies and fails. Sadly, that is the story of the Broward County Democratic party under Ceasar. Mitch Ceasar needs to retire, with our thanks and Cynthia Busch should be elected and reminded not to stay too long.
(Daniel Lewis is a veteran Broward community activist and political consultant to local, state and national campaigns. A former Miramar city commissioner, former Chair of Broward County Management & Efficiency Advisory Committee and former Chair of Broward County Charter Review Committee, Lewis is the owner of the Fort Lauderdale-based owner of Strategic Technologies & Research Inc.)