Michael Howson, former operations director of the Democratic Executive Committee of Broward County, has told party insiders he is days away from filing a race discrimination lawsuit against the DEC for firing him because he is black. News of Howson's situation late last week widened the rift between Broward's black community and the party. And now Howson's response -- his decision to fight back -- is spreading quickly through the county.
Forty percent of Broward DEC's members are black.
Howson was the only black member of the office's staff. Now there is none. The only African-American of rank at the Broward DEC is its second vice chair, Christine Jones.
Howson's dismissal from the $22,000-a-year job came almost immediately after Broward Party Chairman Mitch Caesar stepped aside last week to run for Broward clerk of courts. It was Caesar who had hired and groomed Howson.
Cynthia Busch, first vice chair and now the DEC's acting chairwoman, made Howson one of the first orders of business in her new capacity. Democratic insiders say Busch and her state committeemen allies, Ken Evans and Maggie Davidson, have always considered Howson a Ceasar loyalist who is very expendable.
Neither Evans nor Davidson returned Sunshine State News' phone calls Sunday.
But Busch told SSN, "Michael wasn't fired, he was laid off. ... We have a significantly lower operating account this year than last, and we just could no longer fund the position."
She said, "I spoke with the state party, and of course the treasurer, before I made the decision, and in my capacity that's my decision to make -- I'm allowed to make that decision."
She added, "We are absolutely committed to hiring minorities."
And earlier Sunday redbroward.com reported, "Howson is a well-regarded activist in the African-American and LGBT communities. Busch admitted the move angered rank and file Democrats. 'There are people who are friends with him who are Democrats who are upset,' Busch conceded."
But Corey Shearer, president of the Broward County Democratic Black Caucus, wasn't buying the "just laid off" line. Here's what an impassioned Shearer wrote in an essay emailed to a long list of Democrats and hand-delivered to the party's state committeemen:
"This week, the less expensive, large, Black, openly gay, outspoken but yet still quite service-oriented young man of great experience but also of great youth, was replaced with the more expensive, tall, slender white guy who is more subdued and highly customer service-oriented although seemingly slightly less experienced. This was primarily for budget reasons as the DEC was burning through a lot of money attempting to keep both. The one let go, "The Black Guy" was making considerably less than the one who was retained and will step up into both and all positions, "The White Guy." And, obviously, this stinks for "The Black Guy." But, it also smells funny to the Black community."
"The White Guy" Shearer is talking about is Travis Perron, hired with the help of Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant, for a salary of $30,000 a year. Busch said Howson's and Perron's positions are nor similar, therefore Perron was not hired to "replace" Howson. Perron was hired as the DEC's political director, she said.
Shearer also believes Busch and "others in the firing party" knew full well the ruckus they were causing because they skirted around Second Vice Chair Jones -- not just in the Howson matter but they generally make a habit of excluding her in DEC business matters.
He stated in his essay, Jones "was left out of the discussion on this change in the DEC office. For a while, she didn't even have a key to the office and has been routinely left out of the loop even though she is the direct liaison to the Area Leaders and thus the committee people (the actual DEC) as well. BAD POLITICS."
Insiders say Busch set up her "Howson purge" in a July 23 email to Caesar, state committeemen and FDP leaders, abhoring Howson's rule-breaking practice of consorting with the 501(c)3 group Dream Defenders in the DEC office.
"I am particularly upset that Michael is as of Monday flagrantly disregarding this directive and asserting that he does not wish to follow our policy as the Chair stated it at the meeting," Busch wrote. "He is also winding up members of the Black Caucus and encouraging volunteers in the office to berate our political director and call him a racist for trying to make sure the office is run in a professional manner.
"This is a very serious problem and is possible grounds for punitive action under BDP and FDP bylaws," she wrote.
Shearer did not say in his essay if he would assist Howson in taking a wrongful termination action based on race discrimination against the Broward DEC. He concluded his essay with a plea:
"... We urge that all elected or appointed members of the DEC or its committees/subcommittees be included on issues under their purview and that they never be left out because they may have a passionate response or entrenched opinion on the subject matter.
"In addition, whenever there is an issue or discussion toward action, the decision-makers should draw from the diverse membership of our party, reflecting "The Big Tent" that the Democratic Party truly is."
Contacted late Sunday, Leslie Wimes, founder of the Florida Democratic African American Women's Caucus, said, "This is all really sad and, frankly, disgusting. But it's what I've been saying for more than two years. The Florida Democratic Party has to clean up its act, end its own racism which it can never admit to, before it can point fingers at the Republicans. This is just another indication of why the DAAWC continues to add disillustioned voters in Broward County to our membership roster and why black voters in Democrat-rich South Florida will keep on underperforming at the polls.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith.