Politico

Bloomberg backs former Miami mayor Diaz to lead Florida Democrats


Former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, who earned a reputation as a turnaround artist in his home city, is campaigning for an even tougher job: leading the foundering Florida Democratic Party.

Diaz, who began making calls Friday to gauge support, has the backing of billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who is ready to open his wallet for the party again if Diaz is chair, even after dropping $100 million into a failed state effort to defeat President Donald Trump.

Local billionaire Jorge Pérez, who has good relations with former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, also has pledged his support.

“The idea for me is to rebuild the party by one precinct, one county at a time, bottom up and from the grassroots,” Diaz said in an interview. “I’m going to roll up my sleeves, put my head down and work my butt off.”

Diaz promised to raise the money needed to hire top talent, upgrade the party’s data operation, and turn it into a constant presence to register, engage and turn out voters in communities across the state.

It‘s a job others are running from. Democrats in Florida have been out of power in the state for more than two decades. They’ve lost four straight top-of-the-ticket races, culminating with Trump steamrolling Democrat Joe Biden on Nov. 3. Two incumbent Democrats were ousted from Congress that day, and down-ticket candidates took a beating.

The losses were so great that national Democratic leaders aren’t confident they can win the state in 2022, when Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Ron DeSantis, both Republicans, are up for re-election.

Other prominent Democrats — including former state Sen. Oscar Braynon and Sen. Annette Taddeo — have said they‘re not interested in the position.

Current Chair Terrie Rizzo has been sharply criticized in the aftermath of Election Day, which some Democrats have called a “bloodbath”, but she has yet to say if she would seek a new term. Rizzo’s term expires early next year.

Diaz, who is eligible for the post as a member of the Democratic National Committee’s finance committee, said he knows he’ll have to earn the job. And while money can’t fix the party’s problems, he intends to make fundraising a top job, starting with Bloomberg and Perez.

“No one is better suited for Florida Democratic Party chair than Manny Diaz,” Bloomberg said in a written statement to POLITICO. “Manny ran the largest city in the state and intimately knows the districts and communities that Democrats lost this cycle. He is an inclusive leader who will expand the map and help us turn Florida blue again.”

Bloomberg and other big donors are necessary to return the party to relevancy. State Democrats were so hard up for money this year that the party sought aid from a government-backed program for small businesses. The party eventually returned the roughly $800,000 it received under the Paycheck Protection Program, but it couldn’t undo the political damage done to candidates who came under sustained attack over the loan.

Pérez said he’s prepared to help Diaz.

“Manny is the guy,” Pérez said in an interview. “A lot of dreamers don’t do anything and a lot of guys that do small things don’t dream. Manny has, like I said, that rare quality of combining them.”

Diaz, 66, immigrated to Florida from Cuba and rose to prominence during the 2000 drama surrounding Elián González, a Cuban boy found clinging to a raft off the coast of Florida. The Clinton administration‘s repatriation of González infuriated Cuban Americans. Diaz was there when federal marshals took González at gun point.

Diaz left the party in protest, but he was elected mayor the following year, serving until 2009. He returned to the party spoke at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Diaz was seen as such a political asset to Obama’s re-election campaign that it featured in him in an ad.

Taddeo said she is excited about Diaz’s decision to seek the state party’s top job.

“I’m very concerned a lot of the donor base and a lot of our national donors are ready to give up on Florida,” Taddeo said. “If we don’t show them we are making the necessary changes, that we getting our s— together, we are not going to get the resources to be competitive.”

Diaz will help build a “Black and brown coalition” that will help Democrats regain power, she said.

Diaz’s selection, however, could disappoint some Democrats who have voiced support for naming a Black person to lead the party.

Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Miami Gardens Democrat and one of six Black state senators, said he‘s open to Diaz taking the helm and said it would be “great” to have either a Black or Hispanic leader.

“I am willing to work along with anyone who is going to move the Democratic Party the direction we need to go,” said Jones, who talked to Diaz for 20 minutes on Sunday. “We can’t keep going the direction we’re going.”

Leslie Wimes, a Democratic Party insider, said she is concerned that Trump increased his share of votes from Black males and she believes the party needs a Black woman to lead it.

“While Black women still came through for the party, we are tired of being overlooked when it comes to leadership,” she said. “The chair needs to be someone who represents the most loyal base for democrats: Black people.”

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