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.
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.
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.)