Democratic Party Chair Faces Multiple Challenges
By Anthony Man, Sun Sentinel (TNS)
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — From the gyrocopter pilot who landed on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol to angry supporters of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to feminist activists and supporters of medical marijuana, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is facing a barrage of criticism from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.
They’re complaining about her stewardship of the Democratic National Committee, with some demanding her ouster. They’re raising Cain about statements attributed to her about marijuana and complacency among young female voters.
And they’re trying to apply pressure at home in South Florida, with vows to challenge her in the August Democratic primary aimed at denying her a seventh term in Congress.
“There’s a new round of land mines that she has figured out a way to step in here. Every time she manages to pull herself out of the morass, she manages to figure out a way to step back in it,” said Ben Pollara, a South Florida political strategist and Wasserman Schultz critic.
“What it means, what will come of it, I have no idea,” Pollara said.
Tim Canova and Doug Hughes hope it means she won’t continue as the region’s most prominent member of Congress.
Canova, a professor of law and public finance at Nova Southeastern University, and Hughes, the now-fired letter carrier awaiting sentencing for his gyrocopter flight through restricted airspace and landing on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol last year, are seeking the Democratic congressional nomination in the Broward/Miami-Dade County 23rd Congressional District.
Barbara Effman, president of the West Broward Democratic Club, and Andrew Weinstein, a Coral Springs Democrat who was a major fundraiser for both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, said they don’t think today’s currents will sink Wasserman Schultz.
Weinstein said he doesn’t see a premature end to Wasserman Schultz’s term as Democratic National Committee chairwoman (which runs through the end of the year). And neither Weinstein nor Effman thinks she’ll lose the Democratic congressional primary (which takes place Aug. 30).
Wasserman Schultz, who has been in public office in South Florida since 1992, is used to criticism. For years it’s been a constant refrain from Republicans. Last year it came from some Jewish community leaders who were angry that Wasserman Schultz, the state’s first Jewish congresswoman, supported the Obama agreement aimed at curbing Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon.
And as Obama’s handpicked chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee since 2011, Wasserman Schultz has been a nationwide voice of the party and a frequent lighting rod for criticism.
“Find me the Democratic chair that hasn’t been bumped and bruised through their tenure,” she told the Sun Sentinel. “There is always something. I’m never going to be able to please everybody all of the time.”
One of her predecessors as Democratic chairman, Ed Rendell, the former Pennsylvania governor and Philadelphia major, likened the job to being the mayor of a big city. “If you’re mayor and everybody loves you, it guarantees you that you’re not doing anything,” he said in a telephone interview. “You tick people off. You’ve got to be decisive, and I think Debbie has been decisive.”
The current wave of criticism comes largely from supporters of Sanders, the U.S. senator from Vermont who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. Many of his fans believe Wasserman Schultz has used the party to help Hillary Clinton’s candidacy at Sanders’ expense.
For example, they think she authorized a small number of debates among the 2016 Democratic presidential candidates and holding them on nights with relatively low viewership to help Clinton.
“That’s ridiculous. I don’t know how many times I have to say it,” Wasserman Schultz said last week.
She said the Sunday night debate in Charleston, S.C., wasn’t scheduled in the middle of what is a holiday weekend for many in order to reduce viewership. She said it was scheduled during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend on the recommendation of black Democratic members of Congress. It’s in Charleston because of the massacre of black churchgoers there last year. And it’s on a night when it would get network TV exposure on NBC.
Critics have also seized on two comments in a heavily condensed interview published Jan. 6 by The New York Times magazine. She was quoted as saying that young women who have grown up in the age of the Roe v. Wade ruling from the Supreme Court guaranteeing abortion rights are “complacent.”
Wasserman Schultz said that wasn’t an attack on those who are voting and active. “Of course I’m not talking to them. I’m talking to the millions of young women who don’t take the time to vote, that don’t take the time to pay attention to the fact that their rights are under attack,” she said. “I make no apologies for sounding that alarm bell, and I will continue to sound it. That’s my job.”
Proponents of medical marijuana, like Pollara, a leader of the effort in Florida, were critical of the suggestion in the interview that marijuana use could lead to more use of hard-core drugs such as heroin.
Online petitions run by liberal groups Credo Action and Roots Action, which allow people to click and express their displeasure, now have more than 100,000 people who say Wasserman Schultz should resign or be removed as party chairwoman.
Pollara said he doesn’t see an imminent Wasserman Schultz departure. Rendell said once Clinton or Sanders locks up enough support to become the de facto Democratic nominee, it’s up to that person to decide who will run the party. “The putative nominee takes over the DNC.”
Effman, who leads one of the largest political clubs in the county, said Wasserman Schultz has a deep reservoir of support.
“In her district they love her. She votes the way they want,” Effman said. “She shows up at everything, and you would almost never realize that she is out of town. She takes care of her district and the voters of her district are very committed to her.”
©2016 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Photo: studio08denver via Flickr