Tim Canova, Onetime Bernie Sanders Adviser, Is Running Against Debbie Wasserman Schultz

In 2011, Sen. Bernie Sanders asked Tim Canova, who was then teaching law in California, to sit on his Wall Street-reform advisory panel alongside renowned economists like former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich and Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz.

This, Canova says, gives him the right to be a bit critical of Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Since sitting on the panel, Canova, 55, has moved to Hollywood, Florida. He has taught law at Nova Southeastern University since 2012. "I'm very unhappy with Wasserman Schultz's representation of the district," he says. "Time and time again, she has voted to protect the pools of dark money in politics. My dissatisfaction with her has gone back many months, to when she voted to fast-track the Trans-Pacific Partnership."

("Fast-tracking" gives the president the power to negotiate international trade agreements, which Congress can then confirm or deny. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, meanwhile, is a much-ballyhooed trade agreement between the United States and 11 other nations, including Canada and Japan. The agreement lowers trade barriers among the nations, but critics say the deal will exacerbate income inequality.)

Given his own experience as an outspoken Wall Street critic, Canova came to one conclusion: He ought to run to take Wasserman Schultz out. So, on January 8, he officially announced his candidacy in Florida's 23rd District, which encompasses Hollywood and Miami Beach.

Canova, on paper at least, has the pedigree of a politician. He grew up on Long Island, attended Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., and, after graduating, worked as a legislative aide to former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas. From there, he practiced commercial law at the then-prominent New York City law firm Mudge, Rose, Guthrie, Alexander, and Ferdon. Among other prominent alumni, Richard Nixon and former Sen. Pat Buchanan worked for the firm before going into politics.

Canova says he has not received any sort of endorsement from the Sanders campaign.

Canova chose to go into teaching afterward, becoming a professor of economic law. He took a professorship at the University of Miami and then at law schools at the University of New Mexico and Chapman University in Southern California. He also began writing articles criticizing Wall Street and the Federal Reserve. 

Canova is an outspoken liberal who believes the Federal Reserve should be reformed. While at Chapman, Canova was driving to a meeting with then-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2011 when he noticed an encampment had emerged around Los Angeles City Hall. It turned out to be one of the nation's largest #OccupyWallStreet protests.

"I found it fascinating," he says. "The encampment itself was a revelation. There were a lot of young kids, for most part, who had voted for Obama just a year or two earlier, but the new administration had not done much of anything for this generation. Many were homeless or out of work, but they were intelligent people." Some of the protesters had set up their own classroom, called the People's Collective University, where guest lecturers taught economics courses. Canova began volunteering his time there. "Some students were better-informed on the federal reserve than a lot of law professors I know," he says.

That same year, a Government Accountability Office report showed that employees with big banks, like Goldman Sachs, sat on the boards of regional Federal Reserve banks while their own firms received Fed money. This, the report said, suggested a conflict of interest. After reading the report, Sanders asked 19 prominent economists, and Canova, to help him reform Wall Street. Obviously, the panel has a long way to go before that is accomplished. 

After Wasserman Schultz voted to fast-track the Trans-Pacific Partnership midway through 2015, Canova says he tried to contact the congresswoman's office to explain his issues with the bill. He says he never heard back. So, he says, he had no choice but to try to remove her from office himself.

"All our efforts to influence her fell on deaf ears," he says. "She was completely unresponsive."

This, he says, is likely due to the money the congresswoman has received from large-scale "corporate interests."

"She takes a lot of money from the alcohol industry, the private prison industry," he says. "I think South Florida voters are tired of playing this money game." Canova also says the congresswoman's opposition to medical marijuana Consumer Finance Protection Bureau rules that would protect minorities from predatory car and payday loans show she is out-of-touch with the rest of the nation's progressives.

Local political consultants, however, say these issues aren't likely to make much of a difference. David Custin, a longtime political analyst in South Florida, says that, while the congresswoman could be vulnerable this year, he doubts either Canova or fellow challenger Doug Hughes will be the people to take her down.

"It totally comes down to money," he says. "The conventional wisdom says, 'Nope, no way. The guy running against her just isn't going to have the money.' She's got some bad things going — that Iran deal is absolutely radioactive in her district. But the guy who's running against her just isn't going to pull it off."

Wasserman Schultz could lose, he says, to a bigger-name candidate like former State Sen. Ken Jenne or current State Sen. Eleanor Sobel, if either were to run. And, he says, this would be the year. But without big-name punch, he says, it's unlikely any candidate will make a dent in a district that leans so traditionally blue.

"When was the last time an incumbent in Florida was taken out in a nonpurple" — that is, not squarely Democratic or Republican — "district?" he asked. "The answer is zero."

David Heller, a political media consultant who splits his time between Miami Shores and Washington, D.C., says he doesn't see anyone topping her in 2016, no matter who it is.

"I think running against Debbie Wasserman Schultz would be political suicide," he says. "She is beloved in that district. She has great constituent services. Look, I don't work for her, I've never worked for her — I just don't see anyone taking her out this year."

For more information about Canova, go to timcanova.com.
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Jerry Iannelli is a staff writer for Miami New Times. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. He moved to South Florida in 2015.
Contact: Jerry Iannelli