Florida Democratic Party Treasurer Resigns, Says Black Voices Were Not "Respected" by Party

The Florida Democratic Party is, without question, in the running for "most inept" Democratic state-level institution in America. There are currently more registered Democrats than Republicans here, but the GOP has managed to control the governor's mansion since 2001 and will remain there until at least 2022. There are signs that, once again, Florida Dems blew an election: Politico recently published a scathing piece outlining how the party dropped the ball in 2018 when it came to Hispanic voter outreach in Florida.

And now, a high-profile black female party leader has resigned, saying black voices are being ignored at the party's top levels. Last week, Democratic Party treasurer Francesca Menes, a Miami-based immigrant-rights activist of Haitian descent, announced online she had resigned from the state-level party and from her position as the Miami-Dade County Democratic Executive Committee’s “state committeewoman.” In a Facebook post, she wrote that she and other prominent black leaders in the party felt their voices were being overlooked.

"Basically, I'm at the table with no food on my plate, no food to share with others who I represent," Menes wrote on December 3. "As a state officer of the Florida Democratic Party, there was no real respect towards me or the 2 other Black State Officers. We are always kept out of the loop, having to demand information only to get dismissed."

She begged the party to learn from its mistakes in 2018, adding: "As I continue to reflect on the past couple of months and how the party showed up, or actually didn't show for my community it is disheartening. "

Reached via phone, Menes said today that she felt she was being intentionally kept "out of the loop" on the party's financials, and that she felt as if party Chair Terrie Rizzo constantly talked down to her. Despite the fact that she was the treasurer for the entire state party, she says she had not had a sit-down meeting to discuss party financials since May. She said the situation made her "uncomfortable" and that she was worried about signing off on financial statements that she says she'd been prevented from properly reviewing.

"I don’t trust white women who play dumb," Menes said. "I’m careful. I'm observant. And it’s just particular white women — watching how Terrie moves, she doesn’t have any leadership skills."

She said that other black state officials had expressed similar concerns, but said that they were choosing to remain quiet about the party in order to keep their jobs.

Menes instead says she "got to a level of frustration that I was not going to sit here and watch this happen." She said she felt like the party treated her and others like "token black people, so they can brag that three of its four state officers are black, and that two have Caribbean backgrounds. But in reality, we didn't know what the hell was going on. It was scary."

The state party's second-in-command, executive director Juan Peñalosa, told New Times he did not speak with Menes before she left. Peñalosa, a former corporate public-relations flack, has often sparred intellectually with members of the party's progressive wing, including Menes. When the now-resigned party treasurer provided a key push this past June to ban donations from private-prison corporations, many progressives believed Peñalosa and other party brass needlessly fought the ban.

Via phone, Peñalosa declined to speak about Menes but wished her well. The party forwarded a statement from chair Terrie Rizzo. "We thank Francesca for her service to the party and her commitment to Democratic Values," Rizzo said. "We know she will continue to be a strong leader who will use her talent to advance the Democratic agenda. We wish her the best in her future endeavors."

Florida Democrats are reeling after yet another round of surprise losses in big-ticket, statewide races. Many major polls indicated Andrew Gillum and Bill Nelson would win their respective races for governor and senator. They implied voters of color who came out to support Gillum would help drag Nelson over the finish line. Instead, both candidates underperformed in key counties, such as Broward and Miami-Dade, and wound up losing. During the recount, the party was also bizarrely accused of doctoring state documents to tell voters they could fix ballot-signature issues later than is legally allowed. State Republicans referred the issue to law enforcement.

Politico earlier this month also expertly explained how state Democrats (and the Nelson campaign in particular) took Hispanic voters for granted and effectively failed to reach out to them or work to win their votes. Nelson did not even begin campaigning in Spanish until he was called out in the press for failing to do so. Politico reported that campaign workers warned of a lack of Hispanic and immigrant outreach, but Nelson did nothing to rectify the situation.

The 2018 election marked yet another crisis moment for the party, which seems to enjoy shooting itself in the foot, ankles, hands, and groin. In 2016, the party elected billionaire megadonor Stephen Bittel to run the organization, even though progressives warned he was a repellent person disliked by colleagues and with few qualifications other than his bank account. Bittel was then caught insulting black party members and subsequently resigned after Politico revealed he was an (alleged) sex-creep who "leered" at women and kept "a lot of boob stuff" in his party office. (Rizzo replaced him.) New Times has since broke the news that Bittel is being sued for alleged sexual harassment at his day job. A woman says he harassed her, forced employees to look at sexual content, bragged that he had connections to local judges, and kept "lewd taxidermy" in his office.

Now, Menes has suggested black voices in the party were also ignored at a time when Democrats were counting on black voters to come out for Gillum and Nelson. She has not elaborated on the claim. But the allegations are troubling.

"My hope is that the party takes this time to seriously reflect on this past election cycle and doesn't just talk about what was done wrong, but prepares for 2020 with clarity and not repeating the mistakes of the past," Menes wrote.

This post has been updated to include further comments from Menes.