Former state Sen. Dwight Bullard, in and out of the running for Florida Democratic Party chair since the election ended, is very much in the race again. Bullard was sworn in as state committeeman Tuesday evening in Gadsden County, more than 300 miles from his Miami-Dade family home. He is replacing Gadsden's Sam Palmer, who wanted to step aside to make way for the social studies teacher at Coral Reef Senior High School in South Florida.
Before Christmas, Palmer was voted Gadsden Democratic Executive Committee state committeeman.
Bullard has already secured a rental property and registered to vote in the Panhandle county, two county commissioners confirmed with Sunshine State News. Gadsden, about a 45-minute drive from downtown Tallahassee -- on the Georgia state line -- has the highest percentage of African-American residents in Florida, with 55.4 percent, according to the U.S. Census July 15, 2015.
Bullard, who won the endorsement of Bernie Sanders, said in a press release issued early Wednesday morning, "Today I stand with the Democrats across Florida as we fight for the soul of our party."
Sanjay Patel, Brevard County state committeeman, becomes the first committeeman to publicly endorse in the FDP chair race. "Dwight unites Democrats from across the state because of his deep integrity, his clear commitment to our party's core values and his wholehearted dedication to the people of Florida."
Democratic African American Woman Caucus founder Leslie Wimes, also paid tribute to Bullard Tuesday night: "Dwight Bullard has been the champion for so many causes Democrats hold dear. A lot of people who supported Dwight were so disappointed because they thought he was out of the running, but where there is a will, there's a way, and while some people tried, they couldn't keep this good man down."
Wimes concluded, "I know there are a lot of happy progressive Democrats in Florida with this news."
Bullard appeared in Tallahassee Tuesday with Lisa King, state committeewoman from Duval County and former chair of the city’s Planning Commission, who is also running for FDP chair. King was a Hillary Clinton delegate at the national convention. Bullard and King squared off together in a Big Bend Progressive Democratic Caucus forum in Tallahassee. It was not a debate; in fact, each had the opportunity to introduce himself and herself, respectively, to Democrats in the state capital.
Both agreed the party's disconnect with its members is serious and needs new direction quickly. Bullard admitted fundraising is not his strong point, but "I bring relationships to the table ... my strength is, I know how to bring people together, which is what we need critically right now and will continue to need to build on." King sees herself as the party's change agent. And she said she had once raised $200,000 for a city council race, something that set a record at the time. "But I wouldn't say the ability to raise money is everything this party needs," she said.
Bullard had to leave early because he was due at 6:30 p.m. in Gadsden for his swearing-in. He has admitted to friends he would like to move the party out of Tallahassee, closer to its grass roots.
Bullard had said previously he opposed "county shopping" in order to run legally for a party office. But some in the party claim he was "manipulated" and "maneuvered" out of the assistant party chair spot he had hoped to qualify for. In fact, they claim he was tipping his hand he was ready to play hard ball when he told the Tampa Bay Times two weeks ago, "I have seen a lot of speculative articles pointing to (U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson) wanting Mr. Bittel," Bullard said. "Again, I'm just a firm believer in this crazy concept of democracy and allowing people the freedom to choose who is right."
Earlier in the month Bret Berlin won a position as Miami-Dade state committeeman, then resigned to make way for Bittel to run for the position. Candidates for state party chair must hold a position within their own county first, but if there is a resignation, as Palmer's in Gadsden County, "all bets are off," Florida Democrats have said.
The election is Saturday, Jan. 14 in Orlando.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith