Over the summer, the Florida Democratic Party announced a $2 million campaign to provide resources to down-ballot candidates and released a "Sunshine Slate" endorsing more than 400 Democrats running for local and state offices across the state.
But one Florida House candidate from Miami-Dade, Bob Lynch, was left off the slate and cut off from access to the party's resources because of racist and misogynistic comments he allegedly made to and about a senior adviser in August.
Text messages obtained by New Times show that Lynch, the candidate running for House District 116, which stretches from Doral to Kendall, referred to the adviser, Rosy Gonzalez Speers, as a "fucking Uncle Tom" — a pejorative term that grew out of stage portrayals of the title character in Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 abolitionist novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. (Stowe's Uncle Tom is a hero, but subsequent stage adaptations of the novel cast him as spineless and subservient.) Lynch also referred to Speers, who is Afro-Latina, as "think[ing] she's hot shit" because she married a white man and "sleeping in the master's house."
Speers joined the party in June as its first-ever senior adviser for down-ballot elections. A first-generation Dominican-American, she is the former executive director of 2018 gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum's Forward Florida political committee.
In a statement to New Times, Speers said: "I'm disappointed that in the middle of the most important election of our lifetimes, the valuable time and energy of our party is being wasted on personal attacks. I believe our politics is better than that. Whether on the left or on the right, we must call out harassment and racial attacks for what they are."
Lynch, a first-time candidate and former bond trader on Wall Street, is a recent Miami transplant, according to his campaign website. He's running on a platform of environmental, economic, and healthcare issues in a conservative-leaning district against incumbent Daniel Anthony Perez, a potential future Florida House speaker.
Life comes at you fast. Two years ago I was helping candidates achieve the coveted @MomsDemand Gun Sense Candidate Distinction to help flip the House in the midterms. Now here I am trying to flip Florida and I’m a Gun Sense Candidate. Pretty wild. So honored. pic.twitter.com/7XutLBMPhW— Bob Lynch (@Bob4Florida) September 4, 2020
Reached by phone last week, Lynch said he had "no comment" and that he didn't want to engage with New Times' questions.
Then he kept talking.
"This is just complete and total nonsense," he said.
Lynch didn't confirm or deny making the comments in the text messages. He said there's a "massive amount of systemic racism" in the Democratic Party, but he offered no explanation for his purported characterizations of Speers. He first said he didn't know what the texts were, then said his lawyers would deal with people who were falsely characterizing him and "sending out private conversations out of context."
"There will be massive legal consequences for everyone involved in this," Lynch warned.
After the phone call, New Times sent Lynch screenshots of the text messages, reiterating the invitation for him or his legal counsel to comment. Lynch replied that his campaign issued a press release on August 21, about a week after the text messages were exchanged.
The press release, which was posted on Twitter, makes vague statements such as, "In the end, we should all be judged by our deeds, not words," but does not directly address the text messages. Lynch would not clarify whether he sent out the press release in response to the allegations.
"I am trying to help Joe Biden get 29 Electoral College votes and flip the Florida house and senate Blue," Lynch texted New Times when asked to clear up the confusion. "I don't have time to talk about some screen shots of something you sent me. Sorry."
Later, Lynch added, "Calling someone a racist who has personally donated to and fought for our black female candidates is just low."
Lynch has criticized Florida Democratic Party spending, priorities, and what he believes to be insufficient resources and support for some House district candidates, particularly Black women candidates. Lynch claims party leadership told him it was a "waste" to help Black women. He has raised money for and donated to underfunded Democratic candidates challenging Republicans in the Florida House and Senate.
Speers and Lynch spoke by phone on the night of August 12. She says they discussed his disappointment with the party, then veered into comments about her marriage and called her an Uncle Tom. She says Lynch also disparaged Ricky Junquera, Miami-Dade Democrats' vice-chair of outreach and a candidate for Florida House District 118, saying he was "picking cotton."
Speers says Lynch's comments about her personal life came as a shock, and that they frightened her. She says her husband doesn't work in politics and she doesn't talk about her personal life at work. Her previous interactions with Lynch by phone and social media had been professional and cordial.
"[His comments] came out of left field," she says. "I don't know what was happening in the background."
Junquera is a white Cuban-American who had been involved in providing support with campaign strategies and communications to Lynch and other first-time candidates running on environmental platforms.
After Speers called him, he tells New Times, he confronted Lynch via text and told him the comments were out of line. Lynch then told him to "go pick the cotton."
"Maybe they will give you a drink of water. They might even let you sleep in the main house for a night," Lynch texted. Calling Junquera a "Tío Tomás" and warning him that he'd "made a powerful enemy," he vowed, "I will do everything in my power to make sure you lose now too."
Junquera says he took screenshots of the exchange and sent them to Speers.
"I can never put myself in the position of a woman of color, but I'm sure it's not easy to go to your supervisors and tell them this conversation took place," Junquera says. "I was just providing her proof. I had what I needed to give her the backup she needed. I said, 'You can tell them this is the person that's harassing you.'"
Junquera says he told Lynch he could no longer stand by him as a candidate.
"It was horrible, it was disgusting," he says. "I told him I can't be any part of that. If he doesn't understand why those comments are racist, misogynist, and sexist, I have nothing to tell him."
Junquera believes Lynch's public endorsements of Black women running for state office betray a disconnect between what he says publicly and privately about minorities.
"That's not someone I would want sitting next to me in Tallahassee," Junquera says.
In a subsequent message to Junquera, Lynch incorrectly claimed it was illegal to share private conversations without both parties' consent in Florida. (Florida is a two-party consent state for recording audio of conversations.)
"Just to be clear, you do not have my consent to share screen shots or anything else of our private conversations and I never gave you that consent," Lynch told Junquera in a text. "Expect to hear from my lawyers."
Three members of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party verified to New Times that the screenshots came from Lynch. New Times confirmed Lynch's phone number as the number from which the texts originated. Peter Schorsch of the political news site Florida Politics also referenced the text messages in a tweet last month.
Speers says she filed a written complaint with Florida Democratic Party leadership.
When the Florida and Miami-Dade Democratic parties learned of Lynch's comments, they notified him that he would no longer have access to the party's voter-information database and that he would be removed from the state party's communications list, as well as that of the Miami-Dade Democratic Executive Committee, the governing body of the local Democratic Party.
"The Florida Democratic Party and the Miami-Dade DEC do not tolerate racist comments, sexual harassment, and threats against fellow candidates, staff, and FDP vendors and strategists," the email to Lynch reads, in part.
In a statement to New Times, Aaron McKinney, state committeeman for the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, condemned Lynch's behavior.
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"As an organization grounded in the beliefs and practices of fairness, equality, and decency; that goes to battle to combat all forms of bigotry, sexism, and racism; there is absolutely no place for candidates that spew the disgusting and disrespectful comments allegedly made by Mr. Lynch towards a woman of color within our organization," McKinney said in the statement. "I personally condemn anyone who feels these sort of attacks are okay, especially while claiming to represent our Party and its values on the ballot."
Robert Dempster, campaign committee chair for Miami-Dade Dems, called Lynch's comments "wildly disrespectful to the Black community, wholly inconsistent with the values of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, and deeply, deeply racist."
In hindsight, Speers says she feels supported by members of her party and that the actions taken against Lynch were fair.
"I've always prided myself in the Democratic Party being the party of values and acceptance and decency," she says. "I think it's our job as employees and consultants to make sure that that is true, and to hold our own accountable to that as well. And if something happens within our own party and we're not talking about it, we're not holding up those values. I hope people realize that people who work in politics are also people. We have families, and we have feelings. We're not just machines."