Less than a year after taking the job, Florida Democratic Party chairman Stephen Bittel is calling it quits, resigning amidst allegations he made “inappropriate” and “creepy” comments to six female staffers and consultants.
The allegations were first reported by Politico Florida.
Bittel admitted his personal situation had become “distracting” to the core mission of electing Democrats and decided to step down just before noon Friday.
“I am proud of what we have built as a Party and the wins we have had for Florida families, but I apologize for all who have felt uncomfortable during my tenure at the Democratic Party,” Bittel said in a statement.
Bittel said he was working with party leadership to set a date to find his replacement.
FDP Vice Chair Judy Mount will take over for Bittel until a permanent replacement is decided. Mount has said she intends to run for the position.
The women, who contacted Politico Florida, said chairman Stephen Bittel repeatedly made “inappropriate comments,” gazing at young women and even inviting some to live the high life and hop onboard his private jet.
Between the comments, leering and invites to sail the skies with Bittel, the women say the FDP chair had created an unprofessional work environment.
Though the women said they were never touched inappropriately, fears of the possibility still existed. The women told Politico they did not want to be alone with Bittel.
Bittel’s body language and remarks, they said, did the talking for them.
And that’s not to mention the breast-shaped squeeze ball Bittel has been known to keep on his desk.
“There was a lot of boob stuff in his office,” said a former Democratic fundraiser. “I was told by other women not to go into his bathroom. I was warned.”
Other women said they found Bittel “demeaning,” saying he had a reputation among party loyalists and staffers who all knew what might happen if a woman was left alone in his company.
Calls for Bittel’s resignation flooded in Friday morning, with all four Democratic gubernatorial candidates calling for him to step down while former party chair Allison Tant joined in the chorus.
Bittel just recently took the reins of the state Democratic Party, beginning his term to replace Tant in January.
A real estate investor, Bittel has some serious jingle in his pocket and was well-known for being a prominent donor to the party before he decided he wanted to become chair. He’s tight with top Democrats like U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and former Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and has held numerous fundraisers for the national party throughout the years.
Bittel’s term has not been entirely without controversy, though. In June, he was ready to tender his resignation after he made racially-tinged criticisms about the state legislative black caucus over the summer.
The problem occurred during the party’s annual fundraising event featuring former Vice President Joe Biden.
The night’s schedule had fallen behind and Bittel was trying to speed up the speakers. Two Democrats — Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon (who is black) and House Minority Leader Janet Cruz — were cut from the program as a result.
The black legislative caucus was unhappy about Braynon being axed from the event, to which Bittel said “the black caucus members were acting like three-year-olds and childish.”
Friday’s allegations come at a time when extra focus is being put on political officials and lawmakers, some of whom have also been accused of sexual harassment, misconduct and inappropriate behavior.
Former Sen. Jeff Clemens resigned from office last month after controversy broke out due to an extramarital affair with a Tallahassee lobbyist. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, is also facing allegations from six women that he groped or sexually harassed them in Tallahassee.
This is a breaking story. Check back for updates.