Palm Beach County continues to be an enigma for outsides to analyze. As someone who has in the past worked extensively in the county, including for the local Democratic Party let me attempt to bring some clarity to recent events.
The Palm Beach Post has in the last three months, run a series of expose articles and editorials on former State Senator Dave Aronberg and his campaign for State Attorney. The charges against Aronberg are very serious but many Democrats in the county are fighting back. The Post is a paper whose circulation has been declining steeply in recent years and is now read by fewer than 125,000 people on daily basis. Scuttlebutt among local Democrats is that the Post has picked Aronberg as a target in order to stem the decline in readership. Still, I am not sure the Post’s management would authorize a “crusade” against a single candidate for office in order to increase readership. More likely, a few bitter people are driving the Post’s coverage. It should also be stated that regardless of the motivations for these pieces, the charges are serious enough to dim the star on what was considered to be one of the Democrats best statewide electoral prospects.
Today, local Democrats will replace Pamela Goodman with Former House Speaker Tom Gustafson as the Democratic nominee in House District 89 at a special meeting. This is a winnable seat carried by Barack Obama in 2008 and nearly carried by Alex Sink two years later. Gustafson has been active politically even though he has not appeared on a ballot in twenty two years (when he ran for Lieutenant Governor on Bill Nelson’s ticket in 1990) he is a more formidable candidate that Goodman could have ever hoped to be. Still the late start means Gustafson will have an uphill fight.
Moreover, questions need to be asked as to why local Democrats failed to field a credible candidate in House District 85 against Pat Rooney. This is after all a district both Obama and Sink carried and where the Democrats came close to winning in 2006 and 2008. The self- recruited candidate David Lutrin has some long-term promise and should generate backing now, since he is the only candidate the Democrats have fielded in a seat where the top of the ticket is certain to be strong. But from all indications, Lutrin has not been given the type of support from the party needed to seriously contest this Democratic leaning seat.
The county’s Democrats are also being torn apart by a primary in House District 81, where Former Rep. Kevin Rader is looking to regain his old seat against Current Rep. Steve Perman. This is a race between annoying perennial candidates. Rader has been in and out of three races this year, first challenging Maria Sachs in a Senate Democratic Primary before shifting to the District 27 Senate race where TPH has endorsed Rep. Jeff Clemens. Now, Rader seeks to reclaim his old House seat which was captured by Perman in 2010 when Raer sought a Senate seat which spans to Lee and Charlotte counties. Prior to his election to the State House in 2008, Rader ran for State House in a primarily Broward County district (where he ran a very strong campaign it should be noted against Connie Mack IV) and for Palm Beach County School Board. Perman for his part has run in four consecutive elections in this seat, losing the first two and finally winning in 2010.
The District 81 race has pitted progressive against progressive and activist against activist. The race is a microcosm of the unproductive nature of southeast Florida primaries. Two relatively liberal Democrats pitted against each other, hurting feelings and dividing the party before a critical fall election. This script has been repeated time and time again through the years.
The Palm Beach County Commission will be getting an overhaul this year. Commissioner Burt Aaronson, the leader of southern Palm Beach County Democrats for almost two decades is term-limited. For his seat he has endorsed his long time Commission Aide Mary Lou Berger. Berger was the early leader in the race but recently local Attorney and star of the 2000 Presidential recount Steven Meyer has come on, thanks to a grassroots campaign which has seen him walk much of the district. Meyer also received the endorsement of the Palm Beach Post.
Concerns continue among Democratic activists that several party insiders may turn a blind eye towards the important 22nd Congressional District race if Lois Frankel is the Democratic nominee. Former State Rep. Adam Hasner who has already secured the GOP nomination has previously enjoyed support from many local Democrats and the fear is abound that should their be a Frankel-Hasner race, some Democrats will opt for Hasner. In the District 22 Democratic Primary the Political Hurricane has endorsed Lois Frankel.
Elsewhere, the fallout from the Evelyn Garcia matter continues. Garcia was forced to resign from DNC but continues her campaign for State House which has now become a lightning rod. The fear among many Democrats is that Republicans can seize upon Garcia’s statements should she be elected to create pressure points for years to come. But in fairness, Garcia is a smart and savvy pol and her missteps may in fact prove to be teaching and learning moments for the entire party, not the cause for the great panic it has created internally.
The local DEC was previously rocked by the immigration fraud scandal involving C. Shahid Freeman. Freeman now faces a criminal investigation into fraudulently practicing law and collecting money to help with immigration cases locally. The scandal diverted the local Democratic Party from focusing on the election and threatened the good work Chairman Mark Alan Siegel and his board have done to organize Palm Beach County over the past several years.
As always, Palm Beach County is providing more than its fair share of scandal, intrigue and excitement in this election cycle.
Disclosure: Steven Meyer is a close personal friend of mine and I have informally advised his campaign at various times in the past six months.