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Remembrances pour in following McBride’s death

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012 by John Kennedy

Remembrances continued through Sunday evening following the death of 2002 Florida Democratic gubernatorial nominee Bill McBride, a longtime managing partner at the law firm, Holland & Knight, and husband of the Democrats’ 2010 nominee for governor, Alex Sink.

“Bill McBride was a great lawyer, a devoted public servant, a veteran and a talented leader,” said Gov. Rick Scott, who narrowly defeated Sink .  “Our family’s thoughts and prayers are with the McBride family, and especially his wife Alex, at this time of great loss.

“Florida is no doubt a better place because people like Bill McBride commit themselves to making a difference in the lives of others,” Scott said.

McBride suffered a heart attack Saturday while visiting with family in Mount Airy, N.C.  McBride had suffered from heart problems for many years but, Sink said, “this was very sudden and unexpected.”

A year after his defeat by Gov. Jeb Bush, McBride collapsed while exercising at a health club near his Tampa office. McBride needed to be resuscitated, but at the time, tests apparently showed the episode was not a heart attack and he suffered no lasting damage.

Bush sent a message from his Twitter account that, “Thoughts and prayers are with Alex and Bill’s entire family.”

Steven Sonberg, managing partner at Holland & Knight, said, “Bill believed strongly that all lawyers have an obligation to help those in need, especially those who cannot afford access to the legal system. His lasting contributions will serve
as a legacy for years to come.”

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith also honored McBride for his years of devotion to the party.

“All those who knew Bill knew he was not only a tireless advocate for the Democratic Party, but a leader and true public servant to the people of Florida,” Smith said.


No ‘primary purgatory’ for Florida at Democratic convention

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012 by George Bennett

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Breakfast meetings of Florida’s Democratic and Republican convention delegations have many similarities — attractively arranged plates of food, amped-up partisan audiences, extensive bad-mouthing the other party’s nominee and a parade of speakers reminding delegates, just in case they forgot, how crucial Florida is in the presidential race.

One big difference: Florida Republican delegates heard regular jokes from visiting speakers about their lodging at the Innisbrook golf resort, 30 miles from the convention site in what Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam called “primary purgatory.” The GOP punished Florida with a distant site because the state broke party rules by scheduling its primary Jan. 31 rather than waiting until March.

Florida’s Democratic delegation, on the other hand, is housed in the Marriott City Center hotel downtown, a few blocks away from the convention site. Florida Democratic Chairman Rod Smith said the Sunshine State delegation got the site after he drew a low lottery number when states chose hotels.

Florida Democratic chairman’s Joe Namath moment: ‘I promise’ Sachs will beat Bogdanoff in Senate race

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012 by George Bennett

Joe Namath making his 1969 guarantee that Jets will beat Colts in Super Bowl III. He delivered -- will Rod Smith and Florida Democrats do the same in Senate District 34?

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith says the state Senate District 34 race between Democratic Sen. Maria Sachs and Republican Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff is the Democrats’ top Senate priority this year and he’s promising that Sachs will win.

The two incumbents were thrown into the same race by redistricting.

Smith’s promise has a brash, Joe Namath pre-Super Bowl III tone. But the new Palm Beach-Broward district has a Democratic tilt, so a Sachs isn’t really an underdog.

“The number one race and focus is right here in Maria Sachs. Number one for the state. Whatever it takes, however long it takes, whatever the work is, we’re going to to do it because we’re going to win this race,” Smith told about 120 Sachs supporters Monday night in West Delray.

Smith said Sachs looked at the new map and, rather than run against Democratic Rep. Joseph Abruzzo in Senate District 25, said “I’ll take a Republican, I’ll take her out.”

Smith added: “And that’s what’s going to happen down here, I promise.”

“However much money we need to raise, however much money we need to spend. However many times we have to hit every one of you up to help us, we’re going to do it. Because I’m not going to be at the end of night saying ‘Oh, I wish we had done just a little bit more in Palm Beach and Broward County.’ We’re going to take this seat and I promise you, it’s a Democrat-performing seat. It voted for Barack Obama last time; it will again. It’s voted for Bill Nelson every time; it will again. And it’s going to vote Democrat if we go out and tell our precincts, our neighborhoods, our communities and our friends that this is the number one race for us, and we win this race.”

Democrats blast education cuts using election-year themes

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith joined House Democrats in blasting ruling Republicans Wednesday for falling short in dollars for public schools and forcing university students to shoulder an increasingly bigger share of state higher education spending.

Rick Scott said he was going to focus on our education system — but sadly he and the Republican legislature seemed to only focus on tearing it down and making education less affordable for Florida’s middle class,” Smith said at an election-year media event held outside the Capitol.

 ”While the GOP has failed to improve education, they have succeeded at what they do best: prioritizing corporate tax breaks, special interest projects and Tea Party extremism ahead of Florida’s families,” he added.

Reps. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach, and Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, were among the half-dozen House Democrats flanking Smith.

University spending faces a $300 million reduction in the $70 billion state budget positioned for a final vote Friday. While public school spending is boosted $1 billion in the budget, that still falls short of the $1.3 billion cut from classrooms last year, when per-pupil dollars dropped to their lowest level in six years.

“These devastating cuts to higher education make it increasingly unaffordable for students like me to attend college,” said Dominique Gelin, president of Florida College Democrats.


Curry poised to succeed Bitner as GOP boss

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011 by John Kennedy

Florida Republican Party Chairman Dave Bitner told GOP leaders Wednesday that he was resigning because of health problems and urged them to elect Vice Chairman Lenny Curry of Jacksonville as his successor. 

Bitner, a former Charlotte County legislator and lobbyist, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in April. Bitner has been using a mechanized wheelchair to get around.

 But in an afternoon conference call with members of the state party’s executive committee, Bitner hinted that his condition was growing more challenging.

Bitner also mentioned his wife, Wendy, who had played a central role in his campaign for the party chairmanship last winter.

“Now is a time when Wendy and I look to God for his grace and wisdom, as we write my life’s next chapter,” Bitner told REC members, reading from his resignation letter.

Bitner said he would step down Fri., Sept. 23, toward the end of the Florida GOP’s Presidency 5 convention. Bitner called a special meeting of party leaders in Orlando that day to elect his successor, endorsing Curry for the post. Curry is a businessman and Duval County chairman.

  ”Through it all, our vice chairman has shown the leadership and tenacity that makes our party such an effective political force,” Bitner said.

Bitner’s resignation — and the likely transition — will provide a coda to the P-5 event, scheduled for Sept. 22-24 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. The conference will include a nationally televised presidential debate, slated to be broadcast Sept. 22 on Fox-News.

The chairman’s role is expected to prove demanding in coming months, with Presidency 5 marking the effective launch of the 2012 presidential campaign in Florida. Next summer, the state party also will gain more prominence, with officials helping host the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Bitner’s move drew condolences and praise from leadership within both of the state’s major parties Wednesday.

“I have known Chairman Bitner for a number of years,” said Florida Democratic Chairman Rod Smith. “While we often differ on our views, I have always respected him as a talented andable spokesman on behalf of his party. Party allegiance aside, we all wish Bitner the very best in the difficult days ahead.”

 Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, also said Bitner’s short reign at the party’s helm will endure.

“During the 15 years or so I’ve known Dave, he’s been an upbeat, loyal friend and leader,” Gardiner said. “He maintained those characteristics through his struggles with ALS while RPOF Chair. Following his resignation, he will leave an undeniable legacy in his professional path and as an example to us all.”


Fla Dems’ spokesman moving on

Friday, July 29th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Three years of speaking on behalf of the Florida Democratic Party, apparently is enough for Eric Jotkoff.

The state party spokesman said Friday that he plans to put aside his Blackberry for a while before moving onto the next opportunity. Jotkoff’s replacement is expected to be named Monday, said the departing spokesman, who plans to stay on another couple weeks.

Jotkoff served under two party chairs, Karen Thurman and her successor, Rod Smith. He also was a Smith spokesman when the former Alachua state senator ran for governor in 2006.

Quick with the quote, tweet or email, Jotkoff on Friday fondly recalled Democratic successes with the Obama campaign in Florida, and Republican missteps with disgraced former House Speaker Ray Sansom and criminally charged ex-GOP chairman Jim Greer.

“Over the next few weeks, I will be taking some time off to relax and recharge before announcing my future plans. I look forward to spending several weeks without having my Blackberry basically surgically attached to my hand because I won’t need to respond to the scandal de jour,” Jotkoff’s wrote in signing off.


Nelson’s $1.8 million quarter doubles leading GOP rival

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Under fire from a pack of Republican challengers, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson raised more than $1.8 million over the past three months for his re-election, his campaign reported Tuesday.

Nelson’s campaign was quick to point out that the top Republican fund-raiser this quarter, George LeMieux, had collected half the Democrat’s total since April 1.

LeMieux collected $950,000 to Senate President Mike Haridopolos’ $900,000 over the past three months. Former state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner of Delray Beach collected $560,000. A fourth likely well-heeled Republican, former Ruths’ Chris steakhouse CEO Craig Miller was flying around the state Tuesday, making his formal entry into the race.

“The support so far is adding to the momentum that’s building for Sen. Nelson’s re-election,” said Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith. “It’s a sign of strength and broad-based support.”

Florida Democratic strategy for 2012 includes ‘transformation plan,’ Scott-bashing

Sunday, June 12th, 2011 by George Bennett

HOLLYWOOD — Seeking to rebound from November’s historic drubbing, Florida Democratic Chairman Rod Smith laid out a “transformation plan” this weekend as more than 1,000 Democrats gathered for the party’s annual Jefferson-Jackson fund-raising dinner.

The plan calls for boosting money-raising, improving candidate recruitment and strengthening local Democratic organizations.

And while the 2012 elections will probably depend on what voters think of President Obama, there’s much talk among Democratic activists at the Westin Diplomat Hotel about capitalizing on the dismal approval ratings of Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Read about it here.

Gillum drops bid for Florida Democratic Party chairman, endorses Rod Smith

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010 by George Bennett


Andrew Gillum, the Tallahassee city commissioner making an outsider bid for Florida Democratic Party chairman, has endorsed establishment favorite Rod Smith for the job. Smith is a former state Senator from Alachua County who was Alex Sink’s running mate in the governor’s race and has lined up a slew of endorsements.

Gillum issued this statement this morning:


“Rod Smith is committed to delivering the reforms that the Florida Democratic Party needs to win elections, which is why I am proud to offer him my support. My candidacy was always about moving Florida forward, which required a serious dialogue about how we motivate our base, build our infrastructure, and recruit the next generation of Florida Democrats. We will make these reforms, and we will win elections.”

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