Debbie Wasserman Schultz is shrewd enough to know the best way to deflect criticism of herself among Democratic Party leaders is to do something praiseworthy.
Last week the Democratic National Committee chair moved to kill two birds with one stone -- bolster DNC fundraising and solve a sticky staff problem in the national camp. First, she added another finance co-chairman, a Florida acquaintance, to work with the person who previously had the sole responsibility for chairing the committee.
Wasserman Schultz hired Florida real estate developer Stephen H. Bittel, who recently hosted Vice President Joe Biden Jr. at a dinner to benefit the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Bittel's appointment as co-chairman of the national finance committee means the sitting chair, Texas entrepreneur Henry Munoz, will have support, but perhaps more important, fall under Bittel's watchful eye. Munoz has come under fire for favoritism, many in the party complaining he's too close to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and is raising money for it instead of staying neutral.
Bittel, 56, is chairman and founder of Terranova Corp, an owner and operator of commercial real estate mostly in South Florida. In 1999 he founded Petroleum Realty Investment Partners, a venture that invests in the gas station/convenience store industry. He is also a board member of several charitable or nonprofit organizations, including United Way of Miami-Dade and Temple Beth Am. Bittel is known as an accomplished Democratic Party bundler and has long been active with party finance behind the scenes.
Wasserman Schultz also moved six others to leadership positions to help raise money for the 2016 presidential race. The idea was an attempt to put new controls on the finance committee, and a reflection of the need to raise large sums quickly. It's obvious to most in the party that the Republican National Committee has outpaced the DNC's fundraising.
The six vice chairs who were added are Texan Naomi Aberly, who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for President Obama; Ken Solomon, chief executive of the Tennis Channel; Michele Taylor, a party donor; Dale LeFebvre, an entrepreuner; Patrick Guarasci, owner of G. Strategies; and Lena Kennedy, an Obama donor from California.
Said Wasserman Schultz in a prepared statement, “We are thrilled to welcome the new members of our top-notch team. We are building the organization now to make sure that whoever our ultimate nominee is, he or she is in the best possible position to win next November.”
The moves come on the heels of rules changes the party made to allow the national committee to accept money from lobbyists and PACs. The DNC just entered a joint fundraising agreement with Clinton’s campaign, the money raised being available only for the general election.
Munoz issued a public, supportive statement saying the expanded team will put the committee in a better position "for down the road, after 2016," but added, “In a tough general election, with what may well end up being unlimited sums of money from the Koch brothers and other self-interested donors, our party needs to do everything we can in this new environment to compete and win.”
Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been trying hard to hang onto her DNC chairmanship. At the end of August she was the target of many top Democrats, including President Barack Obama, not only for embarrassing the party with her televised gaffes but for failing to support the president's Iran nuclear deal. (She has since pledged her support for it.) And Clinton was said to have "gone off" DWS because she limited the number of Democratic presidential candidate debates to six.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith