Wexler to leave Congress for Middle East-focused nonprofit, Democratic sources sayby George Bennett | October 13th, 2009
Wexler, 48, is to discuss his timetable for leaving office and other details publicly Wednesday morning after speaking to several Democrats individually this week and in a conference call tonight.
Wexler’s departure is likely to set off a scramble among Democrats to replace him in a special election in an overwhelmingly Democratic Palm Beach-Broward congressional district with a large population of Jewish and senior voters.
Among the potential candidates: state Sens. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton and Jeremy Ring of Coral Springs, West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel, former Boca Raton state Rep. Irving Slosberg, Broward County Mayor Stacy Ritter and former Broward Mayor Ben Graber.
Ring, who said Wexler told him Monday he will be “moving on,” confirmed his interest in running for the congressional seat. Slosberg, who once toyed with the idea of challenging Wexler in a Democratic primary, said he’s “leaving his options open.”
Frankel and Deutch said they’d wait for Wexler to go public before discussing their plans.
“I spoke to Congressman Wexler today but Congressman Wexler’s been a leader of our community for 20 years and I think we deserve to let him speak for himself tomorrow,” Deutch said this afternoon.
“He’s taking a job where he feels he can make a difference,” said longtime Wexler friend Andre Fladell.
Fladell said Wexler is taking a job with the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation, whose chairman is Palm Beacher S. Daniel Abraham.
“Security for Israel has always been his priority and Robert now has a unique opportunity to effect and shape Middle East policy,” Fladell said.
Another longtime Wexler confidant, Palm Beach County Commissioner Burt Aaronson, said Wexler told him “he had to do what he had to do for his family.”
Self-described “fire-breathing liberal” Wexler served in the Florida Senate from 1990 to 1996, when he was elected to Congress to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Harry Johnston.
He was a key early supporter of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, endorsing Obama in early 2007 when most of the Florida Democratic establishment backed Hillary Clinton for president. From the moment Obama was elected, rumors swirled that Wexler might be in line for an appointment in the Obama administration.
Wexler downplayed such talk in November, saying he wasn’t interested in leaving Congress.
“I have a dream job. A job I love. I could not be happier. And I am not looking for any change in that regard,” Wexler said at the time.
Wexler gained national fame in 1998 as a vocal defender of former President Clinton during Clinton’s impeachment. He continued to be a presence on national TV after the 2000 presidential election, when many of Wexler’s constituents complained they were confused by Palm Beach County’s “butterfly ballot” and Wexler became a leading critic the presidential recount.
Wexler then became a prominent foe of the paperless electronic voting systems that Florida and many other states adopted in the aftermath of the 2000 election.
Wexler was unsuccessful with lawsuits claiming paperless voting was unconstitutional. But after his friend Charlie Crist was elected governor in 2002, Wexler persuaded Crist to support a law requiring paper ballots in Florida.
Since his initial victory in 1996, Wexler has not faced a serious reelection challenge in his liberal district.
In 2006, Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert highlighted Wexler’s seeming political invincibility by getting Wexler to joke on camera about enjoying cocaine and prostitutes.
He faced additional controversy last year over his residency. Shortly after his 1996 election, Wexler bought a house in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., and began living there with his wife and three children while claiming his in-laws’ address in an over-55 community west of Delray Beach as his Florida residence.
Wexler argued the arrangement was legally defensible, but he bowed to public pressure before last year’s election and began renting an apartment in Boca Raton and declaring that as his residence.
Despite the controversy, Wexler won a seventh term in November with 66.2 percent of the vote.