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Janet Cruz reflects on racially-tinged incident at Florida Democrats gala

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Two weeks ago, state Rep. Janet Cruz was part of a group of Democrats angry at Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel for racially-tinged remarks made backstage at the Party’s biggest annual fundraising event.

Now, the House Minority Leader from Tampa says those bitter feelings are mostly forgotten as the party looks to seize on anti-Donald Trump sentiment in 2018.

“It was disappointing,” Cruz says about the fact that before former Vice President Joe Biden took the stage to give the keynote address to more than 1,300 Democrats gathered at the party’s Leadership Blue Gala in Hollywood, the auction raised $250,000 in a matter of minutes, “not the kind of stuff that Democrats have an easy time doing.”

“Everything was done so well, and yet the focus was on this one area,” Cruz says, referring to Bittel’s labeling some members of the legislative black caucus “childish” after they complained of being bypassed from recognition on stage before Biden’s appearance.

Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon had told POLITICO that Bittel said: “The black caucus members were acting like three-year-olds and childish.”

Cruz, the first Latina Minority Leader in the history of the Florida Legislature, definitely took umbrage at the comments. But she’s known Bittel for a long time, and doesn’t think ill of either his motives or intentions.

“I know Stephen Bittel, and I have never, ever thought of him or known him to be a racist,” she says. “I think perhaps he might be elitist, but I have never known him to be a racist, so I was really sad that was the focus of the press and the focus of the attention.”

Cruz also cautions Democrats in Hillsborough and throughout Florida that while energy at the grassroots level has been astonishing since November, it’s still a long time before the 2018 election, when Florida Republicans traditionally vote in much larger numbers than Democrats.

“People continue to tell me that it’s the midterms and Trump’s numbers are in the crapper, but I don’t underestimate the followers and the following that Trump has,” she says. “I don’t underestimate that. If they feel the threat of the midterm, I think that they will come out in record numbers,  so nothing is a given.”

“If they feel the threat of the midterm, I think that they will come out in record numbers,  so nothing is a given.”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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