In wake of financial scandal, Democrats calling for ouster of state party’s old guard

After waves of new reports emerged suggesting financial mismanagement of the Florida Democratic Party over the past year, five Democratic officials are calling for several top officials’ resignations, noting that many more Democrats back the demand.

In an open letter Friday, three Florida members of the Democratic National Committee and two officials from Leon County demand resignations of former FDP Chair Terrie Rizzo from her current position in the DNC, FDP Secretary Casmore Shaw, and FDP Treasurer Francine Garcia.

DNC members Nadia Ahmad, Thomas Kennedy, Sanjay Patel, State Committee member Nicole Soza of Leon County, and Leon County Democratic Chair Erik David signed the letter.

They also called for an audit of the Party’s finances during the previous administration, from 2017 through the Jan. 10 Party elections.

The quintet contended in the open letter that they have the support of over 1,000 elected Party leaders ranging from precinct levels to the DNC members.

“We stand in opposition to the previous administration’s practices and call for the immediate resignation of the individuals who were reelected to serve in this administration: Terrie Rizzo, Casmore Shaw, and Francine Garcia,” the letter says.

They also have petitioned for a special meeting of the Florida Democratic Party State Executive Committee, with what Patel said were sufficient signatures to require that the meeting be held with 20 days of the submission, which occurred Jan. 31.

As of Friday morning, there was no immediate response from the Party on its behalf or Rizzo, Shaw, or Garcia’s.

Those calling for changes also say they have not yet received response to either the letter or the petition, except for acknowledgment that the petition was received.

The trio of state leaders under fire and the five calling for their resignations were elected or reelected last month or in December.

That developed a split in leadership, with newcomer Manny A. Diaz winning the chair vacated by Rizzo, and several reformers such as Patel getting elected to other posts.

“Many of us believed that anyone who was part of the failed leadership should not have even run again this cycle,” Patel said in a text to Florida Politics. “After a disastrous election cycle for Florida DEMs which included preventable mistakes like the PPP scandal, you have to bring in entirely new leadership t right the ship. But because of the weighted vote and a pervasive mentality of party loyalty, the former Vice Chair, Secretary and Treasurer ran again and were reelected, as were several DNC members who serve on the Budget and Finance Committee.”

The elections came after much of the Party’s financial woes had been made public, including its ill-advised and later canceled acceptance of COVID-19 bailout loans from the federal Paycheck Protection Program. The letter said those problems caused irreparable harm to the Party’s reputation. However, the elections came before the latest reports that showed the Party’s finances were so bad that Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida had canceled health insurance for Party employees after Nov. 30.

Friday’s letter also contends that the Party never approved a budget for the entire year of 2020.

“We find this mismanagement and irresponsibility appalling,” the letter claims.

Diaz announced earlier this week that the Party restored health insurance, retroactive to when it was canceled Dec. 1, but that the Party’s financial situation was still poor.

“Unless we have a full picture of what has happened, it’s hard to correct it,” Ahmad said in an email to Florida Politics. “Until the new administration came in we could not know the extent of the damage. The health insurance scandal was the tip of the iceberg. But the concerns about the FDP have been raised over a long period.”

The new letter opens with, “As increasing evidence is uncovered regarding serious financial mismanagement by the previous administration of the Florida Democratic Party (FDP), we are concerned that officers from that same administration were either reelected or elected to new leadership positions within our Party.

“We demand the immediate resignations of at least those directly implicated in the mismanagement of the Party’s financial affairs: former FDP Chair Terrie Rizzo, who was recently elected to the Democratic National Committee and reelected Chair of the Palm Beach County DEC, and Casmore Shaw and Francine Garcia, who were reelected to their positions as FDP Secretary and Treasurer, respectively. We also believe a complete audit of the FDP’s finances during the prior administration is appropriate and necessary under the circumstances.”

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