Florida Dem Chairman Keeps Post Despite ‘Race Card’ Remarks

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Florida’s Democratic Party chairman has apparently managed to hold on to his job after actions and remarks that outraged many fellow Democrats over the weekend.

It was to be the Democrats’ night of the year, a fundraising gala in Hollywood featuring keynote speaker former Vice-President Joe Biden.

But newly-minted Florida Democratic Chairman Stephen Bittel ended up stealing, some say spoiling, the night.

Bittel recognized lots of folks at the event at the Weston Diplomat Hotel, but canceled a scheduled group introduction of the black legislative caucus. Not enough time he said.

When there were complaints, Bittel is quoted by various lawmakers as saying “black caucus members were acting like 3 year olds and childish… they are like children, these black lawmakers.”

The remarks were reported by CBS4’s news partner The Miami Herald and POLITICO Florida, among others.

Bittel said the black caucus had played the “race card,” but Democrats of all colors were angry, some saying Bittel – billionaire chief of Miami Beach’s Terranova Development Company – should resign.

On Tuesday, the minority leaders of the Senate and House met for two hours with Bittel – they could have presumably demanded and gotten his resignation but they did not.

“We had a good meeting. There’s lots of work to be done in order for us to accomplish our goal,” said Rep. Kionne McGhee, an African-American Democrat from Miami-Dade and Minority Leader-Elect of the House.

“Our goal, that we share with Chairman Bittel, is to win in ’18,” said Sen. Oscar Braynon, also an African-American and Minority Leader of the Senate.

Democrats are gunning to get Hialeah Republican Frank Artiles’ state Senate seat after a racist rant forced him to resign. They would like to retake the Governor’s Mansion when Rick Scott leaves next year. They have eyes on filling the opening in Congress being left by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and send Carlos Curbelo packing from Washington as well.  A protracted rift with their state chairman would be a distraction.

Bittel did issue a statement to POLITICO Florida, saying, “I have much to learn and I am committed to being better and learning from this mistake. I sincerely apologize.”

The Democratic leaders who met with Bittel Tuesday said he has apologized repeatedly, but is going to have to walk the walk.

“We have to have respect for every part of the Democratic Party,” said Braynon.  “I think what we use this as a teachable moment, that we have to respect each other if we want to move forward.”

When asked if they asked Bittel to resign, Braynon and McGhee did not directly respond, but Braynon made it clear he is not a Bittel booster.

“I didn’t vote for him,” Braynon said of Bittel’s election to lead the party.  “I wouldn’t vote for him tomorrow.”

After his meeting with the lawmakers, Bittel issued a statement, saying, “Our meeting was productive and we are moving forward together to secure victory in 2018.”

More from Gary Nelson
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