Update: Party Fight Rips Apart Local Dems

BY BUDDY NEVINS

 

The future of the Broward Democratic Party hinges on a tiny race in western Plantation where as few as 100 votes could be cast.

The campaign for Democratic Committeeman in Precinct N 027 is the toughest challenge to the party’s long-time leader Mitch Ceasar in years.

 

Mitch Ceasar: Dissidents Want Him Out

Unable to beat Ceasar across the county, Democrats who want a new chairman hope to defeat him in his backyard.

Ceasar must get reelected as a committeeman from his neighborhood to be eligible to be chairman of the party after December.

Last month three candidates suddenly appeared in western Plantation to run for N 027 precinct committeeman in the August primary.  The post is now held by Ceasar.

The tactic has been described to me this way: To defeat the snake, cut the head off.

The forces trying to topple Ceasar are allied with political consultant Barbara Miller. There has been bad blood between the two leading Democrats for years.

Fight Hurting Obama?

This fight is tearing the party organization apart just when it should be mobilizing for the re-election of  President Obama. 

Miller said the fight is necessary because Ceasar has no plans for the upcoming election.  He has no Get-Out-The-Vote effort underway and no registration campaign, she said.

“There is no grass roots effort at all,” Miller said.

The organization Ceasar heads is formally called the Broward County Democratic Executive Committee.  It consists of Democratic men and woman elected in the August primary to represent their voting precincts. Every Democrat can vote for their precinct representatives if they go far enough down the ballot.

The 500 or so precinct activists who are elected meet in December to elect a new chair, or re-elect Ceasar, for a four year term.

Ceasar’s re-election has been challenged before.   This year is his roughest test yet.

The battle has already resulted in a lawsuit, filed by dissidents to throw Ceasar supporters out as precinct committee folks.  The dissidents, represented by former state Sen. Skip Campbell, lost.

So now the dissidents are concentrating on working to remove Ceasar’s committee men and women at the polls.  They want to defeat the people who will vote to re-elect Ceasar in December.

“In order to make change in the party we have to have a majority on the executive committee,” Miller explained.

And dissidents are particularly concentrating defeating Ceasar in his own polling precinct.

Miller wants Ceasar replaced him with a new chair, possibly Plantation activist Cynthia Busch.  A loose coalition of organized labor, Young Democrats, liberals who now call themselves “progressives” and political novices has joined Miller. Many elected officials are sympathetic with Miller, but are not openly helping her.

 

Barbara Miller: Wants A New Democratic Leader

Ceasar has the rest of the party establishment, some labor and the more moderate Democrats.

The dissidents blame Ceasar for the plight of the party, which has suffered repeated statewide defeats and currently hold only one statewide office: U. S. Sen. Bill Nelson.  Nelson could get thrown out this year.

Don’t get me wrong.  The party needs improvement, a lot of it.  But I don’t know how many of the Democrats’ problems you can lay at Ceasar’s feet.

There has been a major nationwide move away from involvement in partisan politics.  More people are registering independent.

That said, Ceasar’s party is stuck in the past.  Too much emphasis is placed on the aging condominium voters and too few on single family neighborhoods.

Too little attention is given to fund raising.  Too little attention is given to finding and training candidates.  I hear all the time that Ceasar discourages participation by newcomers unless he is convinced they will back him in the election for chair.

And much, much, much too little attention is paid to the new technologies and new media.

The party needs a much, much, much bigger presence on the Internet — an updated party webpage, a daily blog, a constantly updated Twitter feed and Facebook page and a blast e-mail campaign among other things. It needs to comment through news releases on every issue, local and statewide.

Former Republican Chairman Ed Pozzuoli saved the Broward Republicans from irrelevancy a decade ago by issuing a blizzard of news releases on every conceivable issue that surfaced.  He made the party a player in Broward.

The Broward Democratic Party today is not relevant and consequently not a player.

So the dissidents have a lot to run on.  Unfortunately, they are resorting to falsehoods to make their case.

Two Myths

One myth being used is that Ceasar’s inaction caused the defeat of gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink in 2010.

The problem with this argument is that (1) Sink was a lousy candidate with a horrible campaign organization, (2) Sink seldom campaigned in Broward, (3) Sink lost by enough votes in other areas of the state to offset any increased turnout Ceasar could have drummed up here.

Sink was a loser, plain and simple.

Yes, Ceasar did little to help her, which should upset Democrats.  However, her loss had little to do with him.

The dissidents are also spreading the word that if Ceasar is defeated, it will help Obama’s re-election.

Wrong!

Ceasar remains in office until December along with all the old precinct committee folks.  That’s because those elected in August don’t take office until after the election.

Any attempts to use the party organization to help Obama will still have to go through him, although I concede if he loses he will be under tremendous pressure to allow the newly elected to participate.

The campaign against Ceasar is costing money for all the slick literature and lists of voters that the dissidents are using in their roughly 140-plus precinct races. Dissidents contend they have hundreds of other committee votes from candidates who won without opposition.

Ceasar says Miller, a former lobbyist and wife of a well-to-do lawyer, is funding the campaign.

Miller denies it.  She does say she “contributed” to the effort, which another dissident source said is mostly funded through a $20,000 contribution from Busch.  That $20,000 is spread evenly through all the precincts and not targeting Ceasar, said the source.  The source added that one of Ceasar’s opponents is pouring his own money into that precinct race.

 

Party Problems Widen Than Broward

 

Frankly, no matter who wins the Democratic fight – Ceasar appears to me to be on the ropes and concerned about defeat – it really won’t matter.

The Florida Democratic Party is no longer a statewide organization.  The party is a tiny minority faction with strength among ethnics (Jewish, blacks and some Hispanics) in urban centers.  Try and find a viable Democratic organization in the Panhandle or suburban Central Florida.

Democrats only revive every four years in the presidential campaign because Florida remains a swing state.  However, the party has been unable to win anything on the ballot lower that president.

The reason? The state GOP has the political talent, the political experts, the political money and a saleable, simple political message – less government, less taxes and more freedom.

The Democrats have none of the above.  They can’t sum up what they stand for in a few words.  Even lifelong Democrats differ on what the party stands for.

Gov. Rick Scott is probably the least popular governor I can remember.  Yet, the Democrats have no candidates for governor in 2014 that are creating buzz, except the former Republican and independent Charlie Crist.

Whoever becomes chair in Broward will not change any of these troubles that haunt Democrats.

With the Democrats unable to win statewide office, Ceasar has turned the job into a bully pulpit for Democratic positions.   He is featured regularly on national television and he is good at it.  Those are shoes that none of the dissidents could fill quickly.

The job of Democratic chair is an almost impossible task. The days when you could just say “turn out the condos” are gone never to return.

The leader today must balance competing party factions with their own agenda, including labor, condominium leaders, gays, African Americans, Caribbean Americans, Hispanics, middle class whites, liberals and moderates. They must do this almost-fulltime job without pay, as a volunteer.   And then on top of all that work, they will almost certainly lose elections.

Why anybody wants the job is beyond me?

(A personal aside here:  I couldn’t care less who wins.  I know Ceasar and Miller.  I like them both.)



20 Responses to “Update: Party Fight Rips Apart Local Dems”

  1. Plain Language says:

    I disagree that Alex Sink was a loser. True, she did not have all of the charisma in the world. But she was a very capable candidate who would have been an able governor. If that race was held today, Sink would clearly do better.

    Sink lost because Rick Scott poured many millions dollars into his race. Even still the race was pretty close. Her not campaigning more often in Broward is probably because her campaign felt she needed to be elsewhere. Broward was expected to organize strongly behind her and did not do it well enough.

    It is a legitimate criticism of the local Democratic party that the Broward vote is not stronger or better organized. There is lack of unified effort among democrats. Repubicans are fewer in number but much more organized and it shows.

    It is equally legitimate to say that current DEC leadership is resistent to any change in tactics or approach. This is what is fueling a movement for change. Democrats in Broward want a different approach leading to better results and current leadership refuses to go there.

  2. Just Saying says:

    I have always felt the reason the internal DEC fighting is so bitter is because the stakes are so small. The DEC (and BREC) have zero to do with generating turnout in the real world. The Obama campaign generated its own volunteers locally here in 2008 (as did the McCain campaign). The DEC and BREC are just meaningless and pathetic social clubs of the frail and self-aggrandizing, which exist to suck money from their own party candidates for meaningless journal ads, luncheon tickets, and other events in which they give each other made-up awards. You could abolish the DEC and BREC and nobody would ever notice. And it would make zero difference to Obama or Romney in results in November.

  3. Heavy D says:

    Remember this headline from Nov 3 2010 Buddy?

    “State, Local Democrats Need New Leadership”

    You wrote, “Democratic activists should demand changes immediately, not excuses.

    For years, Democratic candidates have realized they will get no help from the party. They’ve had to build their own campaign structure.

    After this year, the party has proven itself totally irrelevant. And it will be until there is a real change of direction.”

    So why the U-Turn? The activists did just what you suggested yet you criticize them.

    The struggle within the Broward Democratic party has actually increased communications coming from the usually silent DEC. It has also mobilized many disenfranchised Democrats with a new group they identify with more. Combine that with the stand alone organization that O of A has established here, we now have 3 Democratic groups simultaneously registering Democrats and working on getting out the vote. Your analysis is off and I am not sure why you are now coddling Ceasar who does not do ANYTHING to foster outreach and growth within the Democratic party in Broward other than pen maybe 3 op eds in the last 4 years.

    When the smallest party in the County outperforms the largest in terms of organization and communications, the lack leadership needs to be addressed.

    FROM BUDDY:

    I don’t consider writing that the party needs to do a better job of fund raising, recruiting candidates, reaching single family voters and making use of the Internet “coddling” Ceasar.

  4. Heavy D says:

    In 2010 there were 1041,761 registered voters in Broward
    Only 426,973 registered voters cast ballots in 2010.
    2010 Voter Turnout: 40.99%

    In 2008
    Registered Voters: 1,008,836
    Ballots Cast: 739,861
    Voter Turnout: 73.34%

    So don’t tell me Broward could not have elected Alex Sink all on its own

    FROM BUDDY:

    Oh, pleeeze. Anybody who knows anything about politics knows this: It isn’t valid to compare non-presidential years with presidential years when discussing turnout. The turnout was 73.34 percent in 2008 because Obama and McCain were on the ballot.

    Now let’s look at the two off year elections before 2010, which had 40.99% turnout, according to you. In 2006, the turnout was 44.55 percent. In 2002, the turnout was 45.38 percent. They are all in the ballpark. If there was a 5 percent larger turnout, like in 2002, it wouldn’t have made a difference!

    Also, turnout is largely a facet of the campaigns today. The candidates must get their supporters to the polls. The Obama organization produced the big turnout of Ds in 2008, not the Broward Democratic Party. Consequently, the Sink (non)organization couldn’t produce a higher turnout in 2010.

  5. Watching the race says:

    Sink’s problem was she was a horrible candidate … During the election cycle she was giving the commencement address at UCF. However she routinely misspoke and said USF. To UCF this is the equivalent of giving a speech at Florida State and saying Go Gators.

    Sink was booed at the event. College kids routinely vote D. She alienated one of the largest colleges in Florida against her.

    If she couldn’t figure that out. How many more Gaffes were there?

  6. Broward Dem says:

    I believe Mitch Ceasar used the same tactic to get elected head of the Broward DEC
    Just sayin…

  7. Cynthia Busch => Awesome!!! says:

    The essence of the local Democratic Party’s problem is that Mitch Ceasar needs to be put in his proper place and kept from doing things he is not good at doing.

    Ceasar as a manager is totally incompetent. But he has a good relationship with the TV networks, and he actually does a decent job of representing the party on TV.

    Best outcome for everyone would be to make Ceasar a media spokesperson for the local party, to totally rewrite the local party’s bylaws so that another Mitch Ceasar can never happen again, and to put Cynthia Busch in charge of the local party (her first task is to organize a total rewrite of the bylaws!).

    With Busch in charge of the party organization and Ceasar confined to running his yap on TV (which seems to be to be what he enjoys most anyway), everyone will be happy!

  8. voter says:

    Sink had commendable attributes, heading the BofA Florida. Her CFO role left much to be desired, post 2004-05 hurricanes. But Governor, no way. Too many ‘handlers’. remember the text during debate from her ‘handler/ex-lobbyist’? Her husband McBride ran along with Janet Reno in Dem primary, and the party machine put their muscle behind McBride. He lost. so Alex can continue in private life and do just fine. She would not have the backbone and fortitude to rein in spending.

  9. (Independent) says:

    Great article ! You have hit on every challenge that democrats are facing and why. I hope they take this as some really sound advice.

  10. The Truth says:

    Busch’s $20,000 has gone to help over 120 people who are in contested precinct committee races. No more of her money has gone to N027 than any of the other precinct races. Most of the N027 activities have been funded by one of the candidates running for precinct committeeman in N027.

  11. Change to Energize says:

    Sink had problems, but local efforts were dismal. No question the candidate machine was never running on all cylinders, but all local dems knew that fact. That is what the DEC and the structure is supposed to recognize and then step in to rally. Instead, with no early warning system, no innovation, and broken structure, that’s why Obama is working OUTSIDE the DEC and ignoring the DEC. That fact alone is reason enough to simply realize there is a need for a change.

    The failure to rally local families, focus on educational issues important to voters, the inability to break the old structure, and utter lack of modern tactics is a legacy of the current Broward DEC. Even if an over-simplification or not entirely true, that is what the youngest dems and those frustrated by the Sink debacle and other failures see and feel. Perception becomes reality.

    Change can bring a re-energized base but it must be in the spirit of looking to a new decade of work, not back at what could have been. National Dems have their own issues for which they should take blame in the past. Ours should be a re-building of a future for the next generation recognizing the strategies and philosophies of old are guideposts, not the rails upon which we must ride.

    Bring new blood to the challenge!

  12. Reality Check says:

    The DEC is useless whomever is at the top. First of all no Dem east of 95 cares about or has interest in the DEC as it is seen as a west side group.

    The DEC caters to sheep like condo voters and other blocks, who simply vote for those with a D next to their name without regard for whom the better person is in the race (all of which are fading away).

    Even the sheep are not good sheep anymore, there have been many instances in the last few cycyles that the palm cards are not followed anymore i.e. a non-jewish person running against a jewish person in the condos is not a lock just because they are the right palm card. Heck there are 1000 different palm cards out there now.

    Organized groups like the DEC are also dying because they have no patronage offerings for the general membership. Years ago if were a good member you could probably land a job at the clerks office, pd’s office or a bailiff, not today.

    There is no team at the DEC anymore either, every Precinct Leader has a palm card and does what they want not those who the party wants. Not to mention the fact that many times getting on these cards can be purchased.

    I actually like Mitch, he has had many successes and has done great things in his time as Chair. On that note, I think he should just resign, smile while hading the keys to the Progressives and tell them “be careful what you wish for”. The DEC is on life support it would be more fun to watch the ship sink with the great Barbra Miller at the helm.

  13. Kevin says:

    Buddy,

    I agree with what you say about the Broward DEC needing new ideas, new blood, etc. I neither like nor dislike Mitch, nor am I a registered Democrat.

    But do you not see the irony that the person who is leading this fight “for the future” is Barbara Miller, whose ideas about campaigning are stuck in the 1950s????

    Kevin.

  14. Oh boy says:

    At least Barbara Miller has ideas, and I disagree about being stuck in the 1950s. I’d say 1990s.

    Right now all the DEC does is send out grammatically incorrect and often incoherent emails, which Mitch uses for his own purpose, not for the good of the party.

  15. DemoKing says:

    Miller and Ceasar are both Old School. Miller has promised to turn over the party to the new generation like Cindy Busch. Ceasar holds everything tightly in his hands which is the difference.

  16. modeengunch says:

    I recall Mitch as a young man in the mid to late 70′s paying frequent visits to the office of Hamilton Forman. He sure has come a long way from those days.

    Now that Barbara Miller is one ugly chick.

  17. Chaz Stevens says:

    I dont know Cindy, but when it comes to the dames, I am always pro-bush.

  18. Alex Johnson, Broward DEC Secratary says:

    I am extremely disappointed that the Sun Sentinal would take such a partisan position on a political issue. I would think that if you are merely advocating your republican bias you would restrict “opinion” to the editorial page.

  19. Broward D says:

    If Ceasar is such a great spokesperson how come he has no social media presence? No Facebook Profile, no twitter, no blog, nothing he hides and lurks in the shadows.
    The DEC doesn’t even have a Facebook page. When the smallest of three parties in Broward out does Dems in Communications the leadership has failed.

    FROM BUDDY:

    I agree that this is a big failing of the current party. I wrote it in the piece above.

  20. Skip says:

    Mitch has always seemed like a nice guy & good Party representative. For example, he has been able to sit down with people of different political views and speak/debate civilly. In a County dominated by Democrats, he could be arrogant and dismissive, but that has never been his approach. I understand that in a post-Tea Party era many Democrats want to use the Wasserman-Schultz in-your-face & “insult your colleague” approach. But when you’re leading a Party that generally gains 65-70% of the vote, I doubt the clodhoppers’ desired approach would be beneficial. Of course, Mitch should learn from this ideologically-oriented attack upon him. He needs to do a better job of using modern technology, and that takes bringing in some new, younger blood.

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