Part IV: Chairman Ceasar and the Dirty Election
[Pulp Note: At long last, here's the next installment in the Mitch Ceasar series based almost entirely on interviews with former Democartic Party executive directors who worked directly under him. Ceasar refused comment. Here are links to Part I, Part II on his lobbying, and Part III regarding his "hands-on" management style.]
When the 2000 presidential election was stuck in Broward County and the world watched the recount, Democratic Chairman Mitchell Ceasar talked a lot about the sanctity of elections and votes.
Everyone deserves to have his or her vote counted, he said over and over again. It was a basic American right. "There are people all over this country and certainly Florida who feel that a great disservice has occurred, that their votes were not counted accurately or at all," he solemnly told the Herald.
But when it comes to his own power base in the Democratic Party, those high ideals go out the window. Ceasar runs his party like a despotic fiefdom, say numerous party insiders, with more ballot-stuffing and vote-fixing than the worst of the old ward system in his native Brooklyn. And in one of the Democrats' most important national strongholds, it has turned the party into a
bitterly dysfunctional mess that does little to help Democratic candidates or anyone else other than Ceasar and his profiteering loyalists, like Diane Glasser, Barry Harris, and Jack Shifrel.
To understand the level of Ceasar's hypocrisy -- and the cause of so much outrage by on-the-ground Democratic activists -- ask only one question:
Where are the ballots?
During Ceasar's contentious reelection as chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee in 2008, there were rampant allegations of election fraud against him. An official complaint was filed with the state party; affidavits were submitted alleging ballot stuffing, wrongfully banning anti-Ceasar voters, stacking the rolls with pro-Ceasar voters who weren't qualified (some unregistered to vote, according to affidavits, some who were actually Republicans), and myriad other irregularities.
The only way to get to the bottom of that election, as any other, was to inspect the ballots and do a recount. That was the first order of business for Ceasar's challenger in the election, former Congressman Peter Deutsch.
When the vote was over, the ballots disappeared.
"They were never returned to the office," says Coffman. "They were supposedly sent to Tallahassee, but nobody ever saw them again. For all we know, they're buried in Mitch's backyard."
Understand that the election involving several hundred committeemen and women was done in a middle-school auditorium in Tamarac -- Ceasar's political base -- and the votes were counted behind a curtain that had been set up on the stage by Ceasar and his controversial allies.
So much for transparence. Ceasar's supporters, including Barry Harris, were also seen carrying handfuls of ballots, a violation of election rules and a sign of ballot-stuffing.
Today Coffman, the former executive director working directly under Ceasar and Glasser, says the election was clearly fixed. In a sworn affidavit, she described rule-breaking by Ceasar at a number of levels:
-- Ceasar hoarded information, keeping important election-related deadlines and election meeting information from going out to DEC members.
-- As Ceasar tried to stack the precincts with friends and cronies, state Democratic official Milli Smith informed Coffman that 20 to 30 of the committee members submitted wrong information to the Supervisor of Elections. Some didn't live in the precincts they represented, some weren't members of the Democratic Party at all, and some were even Republicans. She said Ceasar told her he would "take care of it."
-- In November 2008, about a month before the DEC election, Ceasar gave Coffman a list of DEC members whom he wanted "purged" from the "roster" because they were "ineligible." Coffman said she then learned that several of those Ceasar wanted gone were eligible. "I reported each discrepancy to Chair Ceasar, showing the evidence presented to me," Coffman wrote in the affidavit. "Chair Ceasar [said] that I was to keep them off because the State had made their ruling on the matter." This is a recurring Catch-22 that Ceasar uses: He claims the state party is responsible while state party officials claim it is Ceasar's jurisdiction.
-- When Coffman had what she thought was the great idea of recruiting Obama volunteers into the DEC, she made the mistake of telling Glasser about it (Ceasar's sister, incidentally, is married to one of Glasser's sons). Glasser told Coffman she would talk to Ceasar and get back to her on the issue. Not only did she not do that but she didn't return any of Coffman's calls prior to the December 7 election.
-- On December 6, 2008, the day before the election, Ceasar entered party headquarters while Coffman, Glasser, and several volunteers unknown to Coffman were getting ballots ready. Ceasar then came into the room and demanded that no ballots would be given to the purged members. Glasser disagreed, and a "disagreement with shouting ensued between Mitch and Diane Glasser." Glasser assured Ceasar that none of the ballots would actually be counted, but she wanted to give them out to prevent "scenes." Ceasar agreed. Interestingly, Glasser also ordered Coffman to produce 60 sets of extra ballots above and beyond the ballots produced for eligible voters. "I attended the election the next day and never saw what happened to these extra ballots and no extras were returned to the DEC office," Coffman wrote in the affidavit.
-- On the day after the election, Coffman received a call from Peter Deutsch's assistant, Robin Rorapaugh, asking to review the ballots. Coffman called Ceasar, who told her the ballots were probably in the trunk of Diane Glasser's car. Coffman then called Glasser, who didn't return the call. Then she received a call from Milli Smith of the Florida Democratic Party. "She instructed me to say that on Sunday night after the election that I saw Rhett Bullard from the Florida Democratic Party put the ballots in 3 boxes, seal them then hand them to me and that I mailed them out Fed Ex on Monday Morning," Coffman wrote. "I responded by asking, 'Are you asking me to lie?' She answered, 'Never mind,' and then hung up."
Understand this is just one affidavit filed regarding the election's irregularities. There were others. Former Democratic committeewoman and state Senate candidate Linda Bird submitted a written statement explaining how she was one of the anti-Ceasar committeewomen who was kicked out of the DEC because there was an alleged problem with her required loyalty oath to the party, even though it had been accepted by the Supervisor of Elections. "Other good Democrats were removed from the Broward DEC rolls who Ceasar and Glasser suspected would vote for their opponents...," Bird wrote. "We have pictures of people involved in stuffing the ballot box, including a picture of one of their supporters with four sets of ballots in his hand during the election. That is the most damning evidence that the Broward DEC election was ripe [sic] with election fraud."
Democrat Phil Busey also submitted an affidavit giving firsthand information on Ceasar's dirty tactics. An official grievance -- complete with a photo-filled PowerPoint presentation -- was filed last year with the Florida Democratic Party, but that was to no avail. Florida Democratic Chairwoman Karen Thurman -- and other officials named in Coffman's affidavit -- at best turns the other way and, numerous sources say, is often directly complicit in the Ceasar's shenanigans.
And Ceasar, of course, remains in power as if nothing had happened -- while dozens of the most dedicated and honest Democrats in Broward County end up disenfranchised and alienated from the party.
"He's good at making money, and that's all," says Coffman of Ceasar. "The party now has the lobbyist that is their chairman, and that right there causes some problems. The next person down [Glasser] also makes money [on her influence in the party]. Then you have all the other cronies making money off of it. It's supposed to be a government thing, not a money thing. And the thing is, it is really hurting the party. I wanted to go out and make a difference in campaigns, get volunteers going. None of that happened. Nothing happened under Mitch. It's a meeting once a month, and they make their money, and that's it."
Coffman says she was totally disillusioned with the party after the election and was planning on quitting, but on December 31, 2008 -- New Year's Eve -- Ceasar and Glasser beat her to the punch and fired her. She says Ceasar only told her, "We have just decided to make changes."
According to the affidavit, Glasser expounded a bit on the reason. "I can't shut up about this," Glasser told her. "There was too much information coming out of this office."
And that was it. Coffman's stint as executive director, a position she held for more than two years, was over because she had tried to follow the rules instead of playing along with the secretive and corrupt management of Ceasar and Glasser.
And those ballots? They haven't been seen since.
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