Scott Powers - SaintPetersBlog

Scott Powers

Stephen Bittel promises rapid growth as new Florida Democratic Party chief

Newly-elected Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel isn’t the kind of guy who shies away from a fight.

And judging by his resounding victory Saturday, after a nasty campaign against four other candidates for the Party leadership, he doesn’t fight to lose.

“Contentious elections are reflective that there are Democrats all over Florida that are passionate, committed to coming together, moving forward together to win elections. So contentious is good. It means you care,” Bittel said after defeating some candidates with much longer- and better-known records in state party politics.

Bittel is taking over a Party that consistently has more registered voters statewide, but rarely wins statewide. Democrats now have almost powerless minorities in the Florida House, Senate and congressional delegation. The battle Bittel won, between the candidates and their backers, was one of shaking up the Party, and the question was whether that could be best done by someone claiming grassroots credentials or someone well-established in the money class.

During a break in the FDP annual meeting at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort in Orlando Saturday, Bittel talked about building out a staff and leadership team “in a way that is reflective of all parts of our party, including people who supported my candidacy or other candidates.”

Judy Mount of Jackson County, previously serving as party treasurer, was elected first vice chair. Francesca Menes of Miami-Dade, from the county’s Little Haiti community, was elected treasurer. Casmore Shaw of Osceola County became state secretary.

Bittel said he’d be in the FDP’s Tallahassee headquarters for several days this coming week to meet staff and others.

“I have plans for enormous staff expansion,” Bittel vowed. “We’re going to grow this party to a size and strength that has never been seen before.”

He also noted how the FDP has been under-resourced for a long time: “that changes today.”

On Saturday, Bittel said that published reports suggesting he is a billionaire are not accurate. Yet the Miami Beach lawyer and businessman with interests in real estate development, oil and gas [chair of the Terranova Corp.] is wealthy enough so to beg the question. Bittel is also a well-known bundler of campaign contributions, and a big donor on his own, having personally donated more than $900,000 to various Democratic candidates and party committees. He said he’s also contributed generously to non-partisan, progressive issues not related to candidates, such as voter registration, public education and health care. I’m not stopping any of that.”

“I’m not stopping any of that,” he added.

Both Bittel and one of his chief rivals, Alan Clendenin, survived challenges to their candidacies just before the election on Saturday.

And enough controversy surrounded Bittel, Clendenin and, to a lesser extent, Dwight Bullard, that Bittel found a need to defend how he came to run for the position, saying he ran because party leaders came to him. There were protesters in the hallway of the Rosen Shingle Creek, holding up signs accusing Bittel of “buying” the Democratic chairmanship. A Democratic activist lawyer and a civil rights leader in Miami have sued to have it overturned. Because of the sharp divide, some delegates refused to vote.

Nevertheless, Bittel drew 55 percent of the ballot, in a weighted system that gives some delegates more votes than others.

And plenty of Democrats at the event appeared happy to have him, whether they voted for him or not.

State Rep. Amy Mercado, a former chair of the Orange County Democratic Party, praised the entire elected slate of officers led by Bittel as strong and diverse.

That diversity includes the fact that they do not all represent the same factions.

“There are enough differences in that group now that they have to figure out how to balance and move forward,” she said.

Still, others expressed some anger, particularly those delegates who self-identified as Bernie Sanders Democrats.

Bruce Jacobs, a Miami lawyer who served as a Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention last summer, and Mae Christian, a prominent Democratic civil rights activist from Miami, sued Bittel and the Party, charging that his path to the chairmanship was rigged.

A court hearing is set for Friday with Judge Lisa Walsh of the Miami’s 11th Judicial Circuit.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

Florida Democrats tab wealthy developer Stephen Bittel to lead party

Despite challenges from leading, longtime Democrat activists from Tampa, Miami, Jacksonville and Kissimmee, wealthy South Florida developer and party fundraiser Stephen Bittel was elected chairman Saturday of the Florida Democratic Party.

Bittel won on the first ballot, winning 55 percent of the weighted votes against Alan Clendenin, Dwight Bullard, Lisa King and Leah Carius, quickly ending weeks of wheelings and dealings, charges and counter charges. There remains a lawsuit in Miami-Dade challenging Bittel’s candidacy qualification.

Bittel, who runs several companies in South Florida and has been reported to have a net worth more than $1 billion, took 614 weighted votes on the first ballot. Clendenin finished second with 230 and Bullard third with 115.

King lost again moments later in the race for the party’s first vice chair, to FDP Treasurer Judy Mount.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

Alan Clendenin wins appeal to seek Democrats’ state chair

Longtime Florida Democratic leader Alan Clendenin is back in the running for the party’s state chairmanship after winning an overwhelming vote to reject a committee’s ruling from Friday night that had disqualified him.

Clendenin’s candidacy for the state chair was restored after he made a “you know me” speech Saturday morning to the Florida Democratic Party executive committee, to toss the Friday ruling by the party’s Judicial Council, which had ruled him ineligible.

“What happened yesterday had very little to do with the facts and more to do with agenda,” Clendenin said in unsuccessfully arguing his case before the executive committee. “I’ve spent 42 years working hard for the Democratic Party.”

The executive committee also upheld a ruling by that council to keep Miami-Dade developer Stephen Bittel o the ballot.

Bittel still must face Lisa King of Duval County, Leah Carius of Osceola County and Dwight Bullard of Gadsden County.

Party Vice Chairman Clendenin was disqualified by the Democrats’ Judicial Council Friday night from running for the statewide chair’s position. On Saturday morning he sought, unsuccessfully to stay alive in the chair’s race with an appeal to the executive committee.

Yet a challenge against Bittel was denied, and that denial was upheld Saturday morning by the executive committee. But it remains an active issue. Attorney Bruce Jacobs, who is challenging Bittel’s qualification, was denied the opportunity to speak Saturday morning, but said the matter would go to court.

And that pair of challenges hangs over the gathering Saturday, leading to shouts from the crowd.

Jacobs has filed a lawsuit in Circuit Court in Miami-Dade County to legally challenge how Bittel was elected state committeeman in Miami-Dade, making him eligible to run statewide. He said a hearing had been set for next Friday in the court of Judge Lisa Walsh.

Bittel’s attorney then told the gathering that Bittel’s election in Miami-Dade followed the letter of the law, and said the extensive evidence is prepared to show that.

Democrats are trying their hands at new technology to count votes.

Each qualified delegate has been given a digital, Wi-Fi clicker, assigned to them. To vote, they click their choices, and their votes are instantaneously recorded and displayed on a screen at the front of the room, with a timer showing when time expires.

The technology should result in much quicker results as the Democrats pick a new chair this morning, along with other top officers and ten delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

“They’re rented, so the Russians can’t hack them,” quipped Helen McFadden, the DNC’s parliamentarian.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

Bob Graham, Chris Hand pushing new edition of ‘America The Owner’s Manual’

Someone might be forgiven for thinking that maybe Bob Graham and Chris Hand might not want to tell people how to fight city hall and win.

Graham, of course, is Florida’s former U.S. Senator and former governor. Hand is a former aide of his who also served chief of staff – at city hall, in Jacksonville. Fighting city hall, or the governor’s office, or Congress, might have put them in awkward positions at times.

But the two are pushing a new edition of their book, “America The Owner’s Manual” with the new emphasis and subtitle, “You Can Fight City Hall – And Win.”

The 287-page, 10-chapter book is a how-to guide for citizens to define the problem that’s annoying them and take action to convince the government to take care of it, available on Amaazon.com and other online bookstores. The book is a fully-updated and revised version of the book the first owner’s manual published in 2009, mainly addressing such rapidly changing arenas in media and social media.

Graham said the idea goes back to 1974 when, as a member of the Florida Senate, he was challenged by a Carol City High School civics teacher in Miami Gardens about civics education, and together they worked up a how-to curriculum for the students and helped teach it.

With chapters such as “Just the Facts, Ma’am: Gathering Information to Sway Makers,” “The Buck Stops Where? Identifying who in Government Can Fix Your Problem,” and “All for One, and One for All: Coalitions for Citizen Success,” the book aims, Graham said, at creating and training what he called the “citizen lobbyist.” Hand and Graham said it applies to all levels of government, but probably most important and effective at the local level, where they said most decisions directly affecting people are made.

“Really, what we’re trying to do in this book is, we want the everyday citizen who says that I’m concerned with the Orange County School Board changing the boundaries of my school, or I’m worried that government hasn’t cleaned up a local lake, or I’m worried about that new highway construction they’re talking about through downtown Orlando, that they can pick up this book and work in a step-by-step process to address their concerns with government,” Hand said.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

Daniel Webster gets seat on Science, Space Committee

U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster of Clermont has been appointed to a seat on the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee, essentially replacing former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson as Central Florida’s second member of that committee.

Webster, whose Florida’s 11th Congressional District includes parts of Lake County plus most of west-central Florida, joins fellow Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey of Brevard County on the committee that reviews the NASA budget and initiatives, including programs at Kennedy Space Center. Grayson, a Democrat from Windermere, often pushed minority positions on that board, particularly pressing for NASA to be more involved in direct management of the human space programs.

“Congressman Webster is a great addition to the Science Committee. His degree in engineering and his many years of public service speak to his expertise that will be an asset to our team. I look forward to working with him, and I know he will make the 11th District of Florida proud,” committee Chairman Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, stated in a news release issued by Webster’s office.

Webster also joins the Committee on Natural Resources, and will continue to serve on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“Continuing to serve on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee provides me the opportunity to advance innovative solutions for increasing connectivity of our nation’s infrastructure and transportation systems, balance transportation budgets and eliminate government waste. I’m excited to join these additional committees and look forward to working with my colleagues on policies that will improve opportunities for Floridians, protect our vital natural resources and strengthen America’s position as a world leader in space, science and technology,” Webster stated in the news release.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

Airbnb inks tax deal with Polk County

Airbnb, the internet-based home-sharing lodging service, announced Thursday it reached a deal with Polk County to collect tourism taxes from host clients.

The company said it is seeing rapid growth in Polk County over the past year, ending 2016 with 160 hosts — people who make their houses or apartments available through Airbnb for visitors on a night-by-night basis -and about 3,000 guest arrivals. That’s more than double the 2015 activity. Based on that, Airbnb projected it could collect more than $200,000 in new annual tax revenue for Polk County in 2017.

Airbnb said it generated $4.8 million in rent for the property owners in 2016.

“Tens of thousands of travelers are authentically experiencing Polk County’s neighborhoods and attractions through Airbnb,” Airbnb Florida Policy Director Tom Martinelli stated in a news release issued by the company. “While Polk County’s hosts and merchants are already benefiting from this economic impact, our collaboration with Tax Collector Tedder will unlock a new revenue stream for the County continue marketing itself as a preferred family-friendly tourist destination.”

Polk is now the 35th Florida county, out of 67, in which Airbnb is collecting and remitting bed taxes on behalf of its hosts, joining neighboring Hillsborough and Pasco counties as well as other large counties like Pinellas, Orange, Brevard and Lee. In the past month, Airbnb signed tax collection agreement with Hillsborough, Okaloosa and Hardee counties,

“We began negotiations with Airbnb early in 2016 and stayed focused on making sure the agreement was not confidential and available for public inspection, that it was understood our office would continue to pursue back taxes due from prior rental activities, and that there were adequate mechanisms in place for our office to conduct audits and pursue enforcement actions,” Tedder stated in the release.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

Marco Rubio, bipartisan group of Senators, throw down gauntlet on Russia

As new allegations arise charging details of Russian interference in the American presidential campaign, Florida’s U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio joined a bipartisan group of senators to unveil a bill calling for comprehensive sanctions on Russia for cyber intrusions, aggression, and destabilizing activities.

Rubio, a Republican, was joined by Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin, Arizona Republican John McCain, New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez, South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar, Nebraska Republican Ben Sasse, Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, and Ohio Republican Rob Portman in announcing the “Countering Russian Hostilities Act of 2017.”

The bill is far sweeping in its directives, including imposing specific sanctions on Russia, codifying executive orders issued by President Barack Obama, authorizing a campaign by the Department of Homeland Security to educate the public about cybersecurity, identifying Russian government-controlled media and the American companies that advertise with them, and developing campaigns to counter “fake news.”

The bill explicitly states that Russian President Vladimir Putin orchestrated an influence campaign to affect the 2016 American elections; and also addresses Russian activities in attempting to influence elections in other countries; and Russia’s invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, and its operations in Syria and elsewhere.

The move, introduced Tuesday evening, may become a Senate gauntlet throw-down to President-elect Donald Trump‘s reluctance to criticize Russia or express serious concerns about the election influence allegations. Rubio, McCain, Graham, the Democrats and many of the other senators signed on as co-sponsors already have spoken out forcefully about Russia’s activities. That criticism is reinforced by statements made by each of the co-sponsors in a news release they jointly issued, though none of them explicitly criticize Trump.

The bill had entered the Senate before new allegations emerged on CNN Tuesday evening and the internet site BuzzFeed.com published a dossier floating around Washington D.C. claiming that Russia not only gathered and leaked embarrassing and harmful intelligence on Democrat Hillary Clinton but also collected and is holding embarrassing and damaging intelligence on Trump.

“Vladimir Putin is not an ally of America, and he only understands strength, not weakness in the form of unilateral concessions. These two facts are important to remember as a new president takes office,” Rubio stated in the release. “I will continue working with our bipartisan coalition to pressure Putin and his corrupt regime until Russia changes its behavior.”

“Every American should be alarmed by Russia’s brazen attack on our democracy,” McCain stated.

“The facts are clear, and it’s time to act. America must stand united in sending a strong message to the Kremlin that this attack on the foundation our democracy will not go unpunished,” Shaheen stated.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

Rick Scott wants to hire counterterrorism agents

Vowing to do everything he can to prevent another terrorist attack like the June 12 Pulse nightclub massacre, Gov. Rick Scott pushed for nearly $6 million to create a new counter-terrorism and law enforcement intelligence task force in Florida.

“Terror, like we saw in the attack on the Pulse nightclub, is a threat to our state, our nation and each of us,” Scott said in announcing the proposal at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Orlando Regional Operations Center Wednesday. “We need specialists who are solely dedicated to identify these terrorists and stopping them before they can attack.”

Joined by other law enforcement leaders including Orlando Police Chief John Mina, Scott and FDLE Commissioner Richard Swearingen outlined plans to seek $5.8 million in this year’s budget to hire 46 anti-terrorist specialists who would be divided into eight units and assigned to work with the eight joint anti-terrorism task forces coordinated in Florida by federal authorities.

The new positions would include 38 anti-terrorism special agents and eight crime intelligence analysts. He said the new positions would be in addition to anti-terrorism efforts the agency already has. But he said the current efforts sometimes require agents to be pulled off from other units on an ad-hoc basis and the new positions would better assure that full-time anti-terrorism officials are pursuing terrorists.

Swearingen said the current threat environment has “seen a vast expansion in terrorism relate threats in recent years and our federal law enforcement partners – who do a great job – have said they do not have sufficient resources to combat the spread of terrorism on their own,” he said. “This must be a collaborative effort of federal, state and local law enforcement.”

The budget request, of course, will have to survive in one form or another the Florida Legislature’s budget-writing. Two lawmakers present with Scott Wednesday, state Reps. Mike Miller of Orlando and Bob Cortes of Longwood, both spoke positively about the proposal Wednesday. Both are Republicans.

Miller, a member of the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, said he looks forward to championing anti-terrorism money this spring. Cortes said a recent national anti-terrorism symposium he attended has him convinced of the need and said $5.8 million is “not a big ask.”

“We live in a very difficult time, and we’re going to do everything we can to help keep everyone safe,” Scott said.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

Stephen Bittel makes official his run for Florida Dems’ chair

Fresh off his step-three victory last week among Miami Democrats, Stephen Bittel has formally launched his candidacy to become chairman of the Florida Democratic Party.

Bittel announced his candidacy Tuesday, though he’s been securing endorsements and backing for weeks for the vacancy created by the departure of FDP Chairwoman Allison Tant.

The Democrats will select their new leader Jan. 14.

Bittel has been among several prominent Democratic activists around the state trying just to qualify for the opportunity to run for the party leadership. In his case, he qualified last week when he defeated former Sen. Dwight Bullard for the state committeeman post in the Miami-Dade Democratic Party. Both were positioning to run from there for the state chairmanship. And that Miami position became available only because the guy who had just won that post, Bret Berlin, stepped aside to make it available for Bittel or Bullard as the stepping stone to Tallahassee.

Another candidate, Alan Clendenin, moved to Bradford County to get the state committeeman post there after losing election to get the job in Hillsborough County early this month. Duval County State Committeewoman Lisa King and Osceola County Democratic Party Chair Leah Carius also are in the running.

Bittel is laying claim to the progressive wing and has lined up numerous endorsements including U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, Democratic National Committee chairman candidate U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison of Michigan, and two of the most powerful Democratic-supporting unions, the Florida Education Association, and the Florida Service Employees International Union.

“The Florida Democratic Party needs a new direction, a change in strategy, and a clear message,” Bittel stated in a news release. “I am a different kind of candidate who brings a fresh outsiders view and a new approach.

“Democrats are the party of working families and we need to expand beyond Tallahassee and get on the road to engage working Floridians from Pensacola to Key West,” he added. “As chair, I will work with leaders from every Florida county to build a bench of Democratic candidates with fresh voices and together we will assemble a permanent progressive infrastructure that Florida Democrats need in order to be successful in the upcoming elections. We must invest in a 67-county grassroots approach focused on our Democratic clubs and executive committees, with offices and organizers throughout the state.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us

Airbnb reaches agreement with Hillsborough County over tourist taxes

Airbnb has reached an agreement Wednesday with the Hillsborough County Tax Collector Office, in a deal that could immediately add thousands of dollars in county revenue.

Home hosts in Hillsborough will begin paying bed taxes for overnight guests, which is estimated at about one-quarter million dollars a year.

Airbnb will collect and remit taxes from 838 property owners countywide who rent out bedrooms, apartments and even entire houses as lodging for visitors, Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden said in a statement announcing the deal.

“As an elected official tasked with the collection of tax revenue for Hillsborough County,” Belden said, “it’s my job to ensure the best possible outcome for taxpayers and the county.”

Property owners offer short-term rentals through Airbnb, an international company that uses a mobile app to connect tourists and other visitors with homes for bed-and-breakfasts or private residences. The service has become part of the fast-growing peer-to-peer lodging industry.

Currently, only those savvy property owners with the will to collect and remit tourist taxes have done so.

The Hillsborough agreement brings further integrity to Airbnb’s rapidly-growing business in Florida, which has been sharply criticized by some for avoiding regulation and taxes, as well as placing lodging facilities in neighborhoods, sometimes inappropriately.

Nevertheless, the company’s positive efforts have attracted strong political backing.

And the Hillsborough deal brought some praise from critics.

“We applaud the Hillsborough County Tax Collector’s office for holding Airbnb’s feet to the fire and finalizing a deal with them that makes them not only provide real data, but allows them to audit their website and collect for back taxes,” Sarah Bascom, spokesperson for AirbnbWATCH Florida, said in a statement. “We believe County Tax Collectors, like Mr. Belden, are right to be skeptical about the data secrecy that Airbnb has been known for. Counties shouldn’t take a bad deal that potentially undermines neighborhoods while picking winners and losers in the tourism industry just to gain some quick revenue.”

Gov. Rick Scott expressed support for the operation Tuesday, joined Wednesday by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

In a statement from Buckhorn’s office, the mayor calls the agreement with Airbnb to collect local tourist taxes “transparent and accountable.”

Airbnb will report information on accounts to the county for auditing purposes, and ensure they collect the appropriate taxes.

As part of the agreement, the Tax Collector’s office and Airbnb reached a consensus on all points: public records exemptions, waiver of “look-back” on back taxes, and the process for auditing host accounts.

“I am very pleased to announce that Airbnb acquiesced to all the terms; I am a firm believer that if you cannot do the right thing, then you just should not do it at all.”

The agreement was executed Tuesday evening, becoming effective February 1, 2017.

“This agreement is yet another way to allow people traveling to the City of Tampa more options to authentically experience our incredibly unique culture and neighborhoods,” Buckhorn said in the release. “I’m proud of this collaboration with Airbnb to enhance Tampa’s status as a truly world class city and am excited to work with my Hillsborough County counterparts to put this new tax revenue stream to good use.”

Belden hopes other jurisdictions in the state of Florida will adopt the agreement.

In fact, Airbnb announced Tuesday similar agreements with 31 Florida counties, including Pinellas, Orange, and Osceola, and is seeking such deals with others.

“Airbnb and our host community are passionate about cultivating Hillsborough County’s growing tourism industry,” said Tom Martinelli, Airbnb Florida policy director. “We’re particularly excited that this brand-new tourist tax revenue will infuse new funding for Visit Tampa Bay to continue its mission of marketing Hillsborough to the rest of the world. We are committed to serving as steadfast partners to Mayor Buckhorn, Tax Collector Belden and the rest of this remarkable community.”

If the 2016 number of guest arrivals and host income were to remain consistent in Hillsborough, Airbnb projects that, through the new agreement, it would collect and remit to the county about $250,000 in annual tax revenue.

Airbnb’s presence in Florida has more than doubled over each of the past two years. Hillsborough County saw a similar increase — 198 percent in 2016 — according to a statewide report Tuesday from Airbnb Florida.

In 2016, Hillsborough County hosts earned $5.1 million in supplemental income. Tampa hosts accounted for $4.53 million, with hosts in the suburbs and other Hillsborough communities making approximately $580,000.

Tampa’s 600 Airbnb hosts welcomed about 32,000 guests in 2016. That represents 198 percent year over year growth in guest arrivals, one of the highest growth rates of any major American city and far outpacing the Florida statewide rate of 114 percent year-over-year increase in visitor arrivals.

Airdna, a consulting firm doing data analysis on Airbnb, reported Wednesday the company now claims 838 hosts in Tampa.

The tourist development tax is used for Hillsborough County to promote the region as a tourism and convention destination, as well as helping support tourism and sports facilities.

In fiscal year 2016, Hillsborough County collected $ 29.6 million in bed taxes.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit
Share On Stumbleupon
Share On Youtube
Contact us
Show Buttons
Hide Buttons