A change is coming to the Florida Democratic Party this weekend, with the clock ticking until state Democrats select a new leader Saturday to carry the party into 2018.
Three women are vying for the top position in the FDP, which was vacated last month when former chairman Stephen Bittel resigned amidst allegations he had made inappropriate comments and gazes to female staffers and consultants, creating an “unprofessional” and “creepy” work environment for women.
Leading the pack among the possible contenders is Palm Beach Democratic Party chair Terrie Rizzo, who many of the state’s top-ranking Democrats say is their best shot for strong leadership headed into next year.
Rizzo, who has served as head of the Palm Beach Democratic Party since 2012, nabbed the endorsements of several elected officials this week, some of whom carry significant weight in the chair voting process.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson announced he’d back Rizzo’s nomination on Friday and would throw his 42 votes her way.
Rizzo has also reeled in the endorsements of Florida Democratic circles, including South Florida U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Val Demings and Alcee Hastings.
“I’m honored to receive the endorsement from such a diverse group of electors,” Rizzo said.
Rizzo will face off against two other Democratic activists: Alma Gonzalez of Hillsborough County and Stacey Patel of Brevard County.
Gonzalez currently works at the Hillsborough County Civil Service Board and is allegedly receiving the backing of FDP First Vice Chair Judy Mount, who said she wanted to run for the job but dropped out after Sunshine State News uncovered her unusual cart-before-the-horse declaration she was interim party chair — which she was not.
Stacey Patel represents Brevard County, which recently sent the highest amount of delegates to the FDP’s conference in Orlando this year and won the “Golden Gavel” award for knocking on the most doors to get Florida Dems to the polls.
Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Florida President Monica Russo was also pondering a bid for the job, but Russo technically wasn’t eligible since she isn’t a party chair or a state committeewoman.
Russo ultimately threw her weight behind Patel after backing out of the race this week.
“We are at a moment where we need to embrace our young leaders and bring them into the fold to help us reach that finish line together and united,” Russo wrote in a Facebook post. “The grassroots energy we have across the state should be uplifted, not sidelined. The values that guide Stacey Patel’s #OurParty movement exemplifies this vision.”
The party opened up electronic voting to members on Friday and results of the election will be available Saturday. Miami-Dade Democrats control a significant chunk of the ballot. A total of 1,204 votes will be cast to elect the next chair.