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Florida Democrats remove the Miami-Dade party chair, and one other, after suspensions

Miami Herald
Florida Democrats on Sunday voted to permanently oust Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chairman Robert Dempster from his post, according to four people familiar with the matter.

The decision came after roughly five hours of deliberations by the party’s central committee, according to two people who were at the meeting. Eighty-three of the central committee’s 122 members cast their votes in favor of removing Dempster, who has helmed the Miami-Dade County Democratic Party since 2021. Party rules require a two-thirds vote to remove a county chair.

Nikki Fried, the chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party, suspended Dempster earlier this month — citing repeated violations of the state party’s rules and bylaws. At the time, Fried cast the decision as part of a strategy to “get our local parties back on track” following poor electoral performances and infighting among party members.

At the same time she suspended Dempster, Fried also moved to suspend Palm Beach County Democratic Party Chair Mindy Koch and Franklin County Democratic Party Chair Carol Barfield. According to Fried, Koch failed to cancel contracts that weren’t approved by the Democratic executive committee, while Barfield’s party was allegedly missing a membership list and financial audits from 2022.

In a statement, Fried said that her goal was to “get these local parties fully operational and back on track,” and argued that Sunday’s votes were a step in the right direction.

“We need our local parties to register voters, recruit candidates and raise money to ensure that we’re competitive in 2024 and beyond,” Fried said. “Just like every other day, I will continue to work with all Florida Democrats to take back Florida and win elections in November.”

The state Democratic Party central committee voted to remove Barfield on Sunday, the sources said. The vote to remove Koch failed; she’ll be reinstated to her job.

‘An embarrassing waste of time’

Dempster declined to comment on the vote. However, Thomas Kennedy, a Dempster ally and former Florida Democratic National Committee member, called the chairman’s removal a distraction from more pressing issues facing Florida Democrats.

“Just an embarrassing waste of time for a party that has a 876,000 voter registration deficit against Republicans in the state,” Kennedy said. “You’d think they would spend time talking to voters like me that have switched to [no party affiliation].”

In her initial letter suspending Dempster, Fried outlined several complaints about the Miami-Dade party, including failing to reach a quorum at its meetings, endorsing candidates without having the requisite number of district committee positions filled and having outdated membership rolls that included several people that no longer live in Miami-Dade County.

Dempster and his allies decried the suspension as an unjust punishment that would only further set back the party as it looks to rebuild itself after years of financial struggles and internal turmoil.

They noted the Miami-Dade Democratic Party was told only a few months earlier that it was in compliance with party rules, and argued the bylaws Dempster was accused of violating amounted to only minor infractions.

Since Dempster’s suspension, the Miami-Dade party has been led by acting Chairwoman María Elena López, who issued a scathing statement earlier this month accusing Fried and the state Democratic Party of effectively doing nothing to help the county party and falling short of their promise to fund initiatives like voter registration efforts.

“Chairwoman Fried, I strongly object to the recent press statements and actions by the FDP questioning our leadership and execution. I strongly object to the suspension of our Chair, and demand his timely reinstatement,” López said. “Time is of the essence.”

Dempster’s removal on Sunday creates a vacancy in the office that Miami-Dade Democrats will have to work quickly to fill – especially with elections just months away.

A special election to replace him will have to take place within 45 days.

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