There's a big battle brewing between the Old Guard and the New Guard for the top leadership position of Florida's Democratic Party. Several South Florida Hispanic Democrats are voicing their displeasure with Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz's move to support Tallahasee's Allison Tant in next month's election for the party's state chair.
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They feel the Democratic National Commitee chairwoman is trying to block Annette Taddeo-Goldstein, a Colombian-American who was recently elected Miami-Dade Democratic Executive Commitee chairwoman, from winning the same position at the state level.
"People are upset," says Alfredo Duran, a Miami lawyer who was state chairman for the Democratic Party in the 1970s. "They think Debbie should remain neutral. Annette was a very effective spokeswoman for the Obama campaign. The 2014 election is very critical for the Democratic Party and its ability to get Hispanics involved. There is no one better than Annette to accomplish that."
Schultz did not return two messages seeking comment. Taddeo-Goldstein declined to specifically comment about the controversy. "I just want to make sure all us Democrats realize that we need to come together to beat Gov. Rick Scott," she says. "That is our number one goal."
Lourdes Diaz, a close friend of Taddeo-Goldstein, says she was surprised when she heard Schultz was backing Tant, who last night was elected Leon County Democratic Party chairwoman. Diaz says Taddeo-Goldstein was recruited by state party leaders to run for Florida chair. She attended a meeting with Taddeo-Goldstein and former Weston State Rep. Franklin Sands, a confidante of outgoing state chairman Rod Smith, where he asked her to run, Diaz relays.
"He told Annette she would be a really good candidate and that she has all the qualifications," Diaz explains. "That's why it is shocking to see Allison enter the race. This really caught us off guard."
Sands did not return a phone call and and an email requesting comment.
According to a close ally of Taddeo-Goldstein's, who requested anonymity, she was offered a seat on the Democratic National Committee and a seat on the state Democratic committee if she stepped aside to make room for Tant, a close friend of Schultz whose husband Barry Richard was one of the lawyers who represented George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election recount. Sen. Bill Nelson is also backing Tant.
The source also claims that in order to make sure Tant had a seat on the Leon County Democratic committee, Schultz and her surrogates asked committee woman Alma Gonzalez, another Tallahassee Democrat, to step down. Gonzalez was also offered a seat on the Democratic National Committee. Gonzalez did not return a phone call seeking comment.
But Schultz abandoned that strategy. Instead Jon Ausman, a popular North Florida Democrat, gave up his bid to become chairman of the Leon Democratic committee so that Tant could run for that seat unopposed, the source claims. Under party rules, a candidate for the state committee must sit on a county committee to qualify.
If Tant wins the state chair seat, it will mark the fourth consecutive time the party's state leader will hail from north of Orlando at a time when the most growth in the Democratic Party is occurring in the I-4 territory of Hillsbourgh and Osceola counties, as well as south Florida, primarily because of Hispanic voters.
Consider that President Obama carried Osceola by 25 points on Nov. 6, a county where Bush had defeated John Kerry in 2004. The president also carried Orange, Miami-Dade and Hillsbourgh counties by wide margins, largely because of Hispanic voter turnout.
Alan Clendenin, a Hillsbourgh County Democratic committeeman who is also running for state chair, says he spoke to Schultz to express his concerns over her supporting Tant.
"Either we can look like the coalition in 2008 and 2012 that won the state for the president," Clendenin says. "Or we can be the Democratic organization we saw in 2010 that lost the governor's race. We have a major problem in our party in that our leadership doesn't reflect the demographics of our party."
Sam Feldman, a Venezuelan American who chairs the Miami-Dade Democratic Hispanic Caucus, says party members are upset with Schultz occasionally making wrong choices, such as her decision in 2008 to not support the three Democrats who ran for Congress -- Taddeo-Goldstein, Joe Garcia and Raul Martinez.
"Hispanics in Dade are disturbed that she is supporting a North Florida Democrat over a South Florida Hispanic woman who worked very hard for Obama and has tremendous fundraising abilities," Feldman says. "It is about time South Florida gets recognized and it is about time a Hispanic gets the opportunity."