Listen to Augie Ribeiro talk, hear his ads or read his campaign literature and two themes stand out: Ribeiro is an attorney who fights for the little guy and he’s the only “true Democrat” in the race for state Senate District 19.
But a flyer that landed in Democratic mailboxes Monday — the first day of early voting in Pinellas — tells voters just to hold on. Ribeiro, it says, is not only not a true Democrat, he wasn’t even a Democrat until 29 months ago. And, worse, he has no Florida law license. And, although it does not use the term “carpetbagger,” the flyer says multimillionaire Ribeiro is a “New York lawyer” who “thinks he can buy an election.”
“Like [Gov.] Rick Scott, now he’s spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and wants to be your voice in Tallahassee,” the flyer says.
The mailing is a product of the Ed Narain-connected political action committee “Floridians for Principled Leadership.” Narain, Ribeiro, Darryl Rouson and Betty Reed are facing off for SD 19 in the Aug. 30 Democratic primary. The winner will face Republican John “Mr. Manners” Houman in the Nov. 8 general election.
“If someone’s going to make an allegation that I’m not a true Democrat, that’s a little surprising to me,” Ribeiro said Tuesday.
That’s because, Ribeiro said, he has impeccable Democratic credentials. Not only did he support President Barack Obama, but he’s also been on Hillary Clinton’s Florida finance team since before she became an official candidate.
And, Ribeiro said, state Democrats heavily recruited him to run for the state Senate seat held by Republican Jeff Brandes. He didn’t run because redistricting excluded him from the district.
So, instead, he decided to run for the District 19 seat held by Arthenia Joyner, who is terming out. That, he said, upset some party leaders.
“You can’t tell me I’m not a Democrat,” he said.
Ribeiro concedes he has no license to practice law in Florida although he’s admitted to the bar in Connecticut and New York. He is also admitted to the federal bar.
But, Ribeiro said that, in the lawsuit over the BP oil spill, he represented local cities — St. Petersburg, St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island — and Tampa municipal subdivisions — Raymond James Stadium, the Florida Aquarium, golf courses and others — as well as local nonprofits. He did that because he had local attorneys on the case, which was tried in a federal court in Louisiana. He filed a special appearance in that court, he said.
That’s similar to a lawsuit filed against General Motors, which made use of local attorneys. The federal trial was in New York.
“I never claimed to have a local practice or be soliciting local clients,” Ribeiro said.
Ribeiro conceded his success at suing big companies has made him wealthy. The flyer and his financial declaration indicate he’s worth about $29 million.
And he’s spent about $300,000 on his campaign, according to the flyer.
It’s true, Ribeiro said, that he has been able to finance his campaign because of his own wealth and the generosity of relatives and friends. That was the goal — to avoid taking money from special interests.
“I think it’s hard to be in the state Legislature and bite the hand that feeds you. I won’t be bought,” Ribeiro said. “I don’t want to be beholden to the special interests that have taken control of the Legislature.”