Florida’s largest teachers’ union is throwing its weight behind Miami superdonor Stephen Bittel over former state Sen. Dwight Bullard in the race for Florida Democratic Party chair.
On Monday, the Florida Education Association added its name to the growing list of names supporting his bid for Miami-Dade Democratic Party State Committeeman, a springboard position to take the reins of the struggling FDP.
In the endorsement, the FEA called Bittel a “strong advocate” for Florida’s teachers and education professionals.
"A product of the Miami-Dade Public Schools, his commitment to protecting and improving our public school system is well-established,” said the FEA. “Stephen Bittel’s progressive values are displayed in his actions and with every campaign and issue he champions. We believe that Stephen has the best combination of experience and leadership to help rebuild the Florida Democratic Party.”
The FEA sent a rallying cry to its 140,000 members, asking them to join in their support for Bittel.
Bittel, whose wife is a teacher, vowed to make the party inclusive and representative of “all Florida Democrats” on Monday.
“We’ve received the support of South Florida progressives because they understand what’s at stake and they want a Democratic Party leader who isn’t afraid to shake things up to ensure more voices are heard and more Florida Democrats win elections,” said the candidate for Miami Dade Democratic State Committeeman.
Bittel is set to face off against former state Sen. Dwight Bullard for the committeeman job. The winner of their race is expected to run for Florida Democratic Party chair.
The endorsement surely comes as a blow to Bullard, a teacher, who has worked closely with the FEA throughout the years. The state teachers’ union dumped $825,000 into his campaign against Republican Frank Artiles in SD 40 last month.
Sunshine State News attempted to contact Bullard regarding the FEA endorsement, but he had not responded to media requests at the time of this article’s release.
Bittel also announced the endorsement of the Florida Service Employees International Union Monday. SEIU members interviewed both candidates for the endorsement, but said Bittel’s “compelling vision” to transform the Democratic Party is part of what won the group over.
Critics of Bittel’s said that “compelling vision” was nothing more than a front for what they say has truly driven unions to back Bittel: cold, hard cash.
“They’re looking at money so when they start putting money over people, that’s when you’re going to get endorsements,” said Democratic African American Women’s Caucus president Leslie Wimes. “That indicates...the pressure that his money seems to put on people.”
Grassroots activists have complained about Bittel’s maneuvering to climb the ladder to the FDP chair throne, criticizing the idea of bringing a Daddy Warbucks-style leader to head the party.
Some say Bittel has allegedly been making calls and threatening organizations and state lawmakers, saying he will withhold money from their organizations if they don’t hop onboard with his newfound FDP aspirations.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has remained quiet about who he supports for Democratic Party chair, but Bittel and Nelson have had contact about the job.
Wimes told Sunshine State News the endorsements represented a total disconnect from unions to the wishes of the people -- and said Nelson is the puppet master pulling the strings behind the scenes.
“Union bosses have disconnected from the actual people for a while now,” she said. “They do what they want to do, and what they want to do is say “how high?” when Bill Nelson tells them to jump.”
That, she warned, could spell trouble for Nelson when he seeks reelection in two years. A Republican competitor hasn't emerged just yet, but it's widely speculated Gov. Rick Scott will make a run for the job.
“It’ll be Bill Nelson packing his bags when the people speak in 2018,” she said.