Miami megadonor Stephen Bittel can add a new job to his resume: State Democrats elected him Saturday chairman of the Florida Democratic Party.
Bittel handily won the election against four challengers, taking 614 weighted votes, or 55 percent of the vote. In fact the other four in the race received 507 votes combined.
“I am proud and honored to be elected as the chair of the Florida Democratic Party and I want to congratulate my fellow officers on their election and thank every Democrat who participated in this process and made their voice heard,” said Bittel. “I grew up in Florida at a time when Democrats commanded legislative majorities and I’m looking forward to putting us on the path back toward success. By working with Democrats from every part of the state, we will build a new, united party that will provide our grassroots the necessary resources to turn Florida blue from the bottom up.”
Bittel is a progressive donor and supporter of candidates and causes including Teach For America and the New Leaders Council. He also served as National Finance co-chair for the DNC.
Bittel's Miami-Dade ties are indisputable. He was born at Jackson Memorial Hospital and attended Miami-Dade Public Schools. His wife is a public school teacher. Two of his three children served in the Peace Corps.
While in law school at the University of Miami, Bittel started a small property management company out of his home that he grew to become one of the most successful real estate companies in Florida. He serves as CEO of Terranova Corporation -- which houses and supports progressive and Democratic campaigns statewide.
The Miami-Dade Democratic activist had the backing of some of the state party's top names, for instance U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.
His candidacy wasn't without controversy. Grassroots activists accused Bittel of buying his way into the position, wielding influence and pressuring Miami Dems to step down from their positions so he could run for party chair.
Bittel wasn't the only one who wanted the job. Four other contenders threw their names in the ring for the position to take up the chairmanship and steer the party in a new direction as it tries to heal from catastrophic losses in 2016.
Other Democrats wanted the job so badly, in fact, that two of them moved to entirely different counties to make themselves eligible for the position.
Longtime Hillsborough County activist Alan Clendenin was one of them. Clendenin received the second-highest number of votes, taking 230 votes in the first ballot. His hopes seemed dead on arrival when he lost the race for Hillsborough County state committeeman last month, but he had an itch only the title "party chairman" could scratch, so he went above and beyond to make it happen.
Though unconventional, Clendenin's path seemed clear. That was until Friday evening, when the FDP rules committee said they didn't buy his sudden move story, and disqualified him from the race.
The ineligibility didn't stand for long. By Saturday, the state committee had allowed Clendenin back on the ballot, and the Dems were off on the chairman rat race.
Former state Sen. Dwight Bullard put up a strong fight against Bittel. On Saturday, he said he was "sick and tired" of the way the party had been run, finding specific criticisms with party chairs for "forcing candidates for leadership" down party members' throats.
Bullard had a great deal of grassroots support going into the Miami-Dade state committeeman election, even being endorsed by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders' political organization. But ultimately he lost to Bittel.
Bullard's supporters vehemently opposed Bittel all the way to the end, protesting his candidacy and saying he broke party rules to run for the job.
Bullard, too, had his sights set on the state Dems' top job, so he moved to Gadsden County and became state committeeman there, putting himself back in the race once more.
Bullard finished third in the race, receiving 115 votes.