November 17, 2017
On November 17, the Orlando Sentinel reported that billionaire Democratic donor Stephen Bittel resigned from his position as Florida Democratic Party Chair after allegations surfaced that he created a “creepy” work environment for women.
“Six former Florida Democratic Party staffers and consultants say that current party Chairman Stephen Bittel has created an unprofessional workplace environment for women that includes persistent inappropriate comments, leering at young women and even inviting them on his private jet, ”Politico reported.
One woman said “it became a policy that women, especially junior staff, were never to be left alone with him in his office, plane or house” and another said “there was always a lot of boob stuff in his office.”
“When my personal situation becomes distracting to our core mission of electing Democrats and making Florida better, it is time for me to step aside,” Bittel wrote in a statement.
Bittel’s brief tenure in office was marred in controversy, starting with the way he first became chair of the Florida Democratic Party in January.
Bittel became a member of the Florida Democratic Party Committee, when former Committeeman Brett Berlin abruptly resigned from that position. That made Bittel eligible to run for the chair of the Florida Democratic Party.
But a leaked email from lobbyist Stephanie Grutman to Miami-Dade County Democratic Party members, revealed she was soliciting support for Bittel’s bid for Berlin’s seat, even though he wasn’t eligible to run for the position at the time. Bittel wasn’t sworn in as a party precinct committeeman until December 6, and Brett Berlin didn’t resign from his position as state committeeman until December 10. Bittel later appointed Berlin to a vice chair position in the Florida Democratic Party, and appointed Grutman as chair appointee at-large.
Bernie Sanders delegate Bruce Jacobs and Dr. Mae Christian—a civil rights activist who marched at Selma on Bloody Sunday, Congressional Gold Medal recipient, and Chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Black Caucus— filed a lawsuit against the Florida Democratic Party for violating its own rules in allowing Bittel to run for the chair position. Five candidates banded together against Bittel in the Florida Democratic Party Chair race, but Bittel won with the help of his ally, former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Bittel’s efforts to manufacture a sense of unity in the Florida Democratic Party after his election backfired. In June 2017, Bittel offered to resign after he accused the Florida State Legislative Black Caucus of using the “race card” during a party event. Bittel apologized for the remarks to quell pressure for his resignation. DNC Chair Tom Perez had recently appointed Bittel to the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, but Perez has not yet commented on whether Bittel will maintain that position.
Democrats in Florida face an uphill battle to recoup the losses they suffered over the past decade. Republicans currently hold a trifecta in the state government; majorities in the state senate, state house, and governorship. Two Democrat Florida State Senators resigned in the past few months, one due to an affair with a lobbyist and another after she plead guilty for perjury. Republicans also hold 16 out of the state’s 27 congressional seats. Bittel’s resignation serves as another obstacle for Democrats to overcome as they work to recover in the 2018 midterm elections.