Chairman Ceasar, the Introduction | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

Chairman Ceasar, the Introduction

In the middle of a huge election season in arguably the most important Democratic county in America and the party chairman is nowhere to be found. In addition to a slew of local races, the Democrats have big contests involving Alex Sink, the Democratic nominee in the governor's race; Congressman Kendrick Meek in his Senate bid; and incumbent U.S. Rep. Ron Klein, who is fighting for his political life against Allen West. 

Yet little to nothing has been heard from the party, except some recent photos that show Ceasar's second in command, Diane Glasser, and other party leaders schmoozing with Meek opponent Charlie Crist.

Even the corresponding secretary for the Democratic Executive Committee, Alex Johnson, is dumbfounded.

"Where is the Democratic Party?" asks Johnson. "Obviously, it's critically important that we get a Democratic governor. Ron Klein is in a fight. There is some work to be done, but there is no call to arms."

One might think that Ceasar, who is in his 14th consecutive year running the party, should have a well-oiled machine by now. But his reign has been marked by inaction, low funds, dissension, allegations of vote-rigging, influence peddling for lobbying contracts, and rampant corruption in Democrat-controlled Broward County government.

So where is Ceasar? Well, last night he was at the Sunrise City Commission meeting lobbying for red-light camera company American Traffic Solutions. He was part of a lobbying team that also included Alex Heckler and George Platt (ATS won the contract after a 4-1 vote). Ceasar can also be found occasionally in Tamarac and other cities where he has gotten lobbying contracts from some of the same politicians he has backed as party chairman. 

Ceasar was looking out for Ceasar, which is what those familiar with him say is what he does best. The more appropriate question, though, may be: Who is Mitch Ceasar?

To find that out, I decided to ask some people who know him and his work best. Here are some quotes from four knowledgeable sources.

-- "He is really one of the most unsavory characters I've ever met in my life. He doesn't care about the party. Mitch only cares about Mitch."

-- "To me, he's a cancer. I think he's the stem of where your cancer grows, and then it spreads out to the little cities, to the county, to whoever he decides to pursue."  

-- "He's cheap, he's deceitful, he uses his minions to spy on people. He talks about these things in the office; he sends his spies out. He's a master of the game plan... I am an independent now, it made me so sick."

-- "I really believed that the Democratic Party was better, that it was really grass-roots, that it cared about people. I didn't know it was all about special interests. Now I do."

Inside, see who uttered these words and what else they had to say.

All four quotes came from past executive directors of the Broward Democratic Party whose job was to run the party, to manage its day-to-day activities, and to answer to Chairman Ceasar.  

The first quote came from Alicia Briggs, an attorney who worked as executive director of the Democratic Party under Ceasar in 1999 and again in 2001. 

The second came from Nadezda Stefanovic, who worked for Ceasar as executive director from 2003 to 2005 and now is employed at the AFL-CIO.

The third came from Donna Greenberg, who was the party's director from June 2005 to June 2006. "It was very unpleasant," said Greenberg. "The fun part was meeting all the politicians; the unpleasant stuff was dealing with Mitch."

And the fourth quote came from Carol Coffman, the party's executive director from 2006 to 2008. "I was a political virgin, so to speak, when I came in there, and I left so scarred that I am going to become an independent," she said.  

They worked for Ceasar a combined eight years, and all four left with a profound distaste for the man. They invariably described Ceasar as a reprehensible person who left them disillusioned with the party. They spoke of his breaking rules to keep his stranglehold on party power, of his using his influence with Democratic officeholders to keep his government lobbying contracts, and three of the four said he had a disturbing habit of touching them inappropriately while under his employ. 

I contacted Ceasar's office twice, leaving detailed messages about the content of the allegations made against him. He didn't return the calls and abruptly hung up the phone when I contacted him last week.

This is the first in a series of posts on Ceasar based on the interviews with the four directors. In all, I contacted five former executive directors who have worked for Ceasar in the past 11 years. Only one -- Sunrise Commissioner Sheila Alu, who is now in the midst of a reelection campaign -- refused to comment about Ceasar (Alu, incidentally, was the lone "no" vote against the red-light camera contract). 

Coming next: Revelations about Ceasar's lobbying contracts and his alleged involvement in the Tamarac races of 2006 that are now under investigation by the State Attorney's Office.