A 16-year-old campaign volunteer for a candidate challenging U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in tomorrow's Democratic primary says the congresswoman shoved her while she was trying to talk with voters outside a Broward County polling place on Saturday.
Martina Velasquez, a high school student involved in climate activism, tells New Times she was stumping for Jen Perelman, Wasserman Schultz's progressive opponent, outside the Southwest Regional Library in Pembroke Pines. On three occasions that afternoon, Velasquez says, she was attempting to speak with voters or hand out so-called palm cards when Wasserman Schultz moved her body between Velasquez and the voters, making physical contact with Velasquez.
"She, every time, would come and shove me out of the way into a group of other poll workers, moving my arms so I couldn't give out a palm card," Velasquez says. "She was saying, 'That's my opponent, that's my opponent, you can't vote for her.'"
Earlier today, Velasquez filed an informational report with the Pembroke Pines Police Department. She says she is not pressing charges at this time but wanted to create a record of the incident.
"I want her to publicly apologize to me, Jen's campaign team, and Jen," Velasquez says.
A spokesperson for Wasserman Schultz's campaign did not respond to two emails from New Times seeking comment. The Democratic primary between Wasserman Schultz and Perelman will be decided at the polls tomorrow.
Amanda Conwell, a spokesperson for the Pembroke Pines Police Department, confirmed that an informational report had been filed against Wasserman Schultz but said that it could not be released because it was not yet finalized.
This is my volunteer, Martina Velasquez, who was shoved & accosted. #DebbieMustGo https://t.co/OGVWym6tH4— Jen Perelman For Congress (@JENFL23) August 16, 2020
"The complainant wished it documented that the second party (Ms. Wasserman Schultz) allegedly bumped into/made physical contact with her as they were both handing out flyers," Conwell writes in an email. "The complainant believed that this contact was intentional."
Because Velasquez does not wish to prosecute, the police department will not investigate further, according to Conwell.
Earlier this evening, Velasquez tweeted out images of the police report she filed.
"I come from a vulnerable family. We are first gen immigrants with no money to fight a legal case....BUT
@DWStweets you will NOT intimidate or bully," she wrote.
"you're a hoax,"— Martina Velasquez (@noiaparadoxa) August 17, 2020
"a scam before the election,"
"some gross neoliberal comment,"
"the GOP is desperate,"
"this is a distraction from missing children,"
I'm not an accuser, I'm a producer.
I expect a public apology tomorrow. @DWStweets @JENFL23#DebbieMustGo pic.twitter.com/AxAz1mnT4D
Another campaign volunteer for Perelman tells New Times he saw one interaction between Wasserman Schultz and Velasquez that appeared aggressive. According to the volunteer, the congresswoman "went around behind Martina's back and shoved in front of her physically to get the attention of the people she was talking to." The volunteer asked New Times not to use his name, saying he feared retaliation from Wasserman Schultz and her supporters.
Lastly,— Martina Velasquez (@noiaparadoxa) August 17, 2020
I come from a vulnerable family.
We are first gen immigrants with no money to fight a legal case.
The system has never helped us, quite the opposite.
My family is worried for my future, Debbie plays DIRTY.
BUT @DWStweets you will NOT intimidate or bully.#DebbieMustGo
Velasquez says she saw Wasserman Schultz at the same library polling place on Friday without incident. On Saturday, when Velasquez returned to the site, she says the congresswoman was there, too.
That morning, Velasquez says, there was a palpable tension in the air between Wasserman Schultz and the Perelman volunteers, but nothing atypical of a political rivalry. The 16-year-old says Perelman showed up to the library around noon with snacks and water for the volunteers. After Perelman left, "the tension became a lot thicker," Velasquez says.
Velasquez says that afternoon, she approached voters who appeared undecided to give a last-minute pitch for Perelman. She says Wasserman Schultz seemed irked. According to the teen, the congresswoman used her body to box out Velasquez, making physical contact with her hard enough to cause her to lose her balance.
"The first time, I completely shrugged it off. The second time, I was like OK, I guess she just likes dirty politics," Velasquez says.
The third and final time, Velasquez says, a group of three men was getting ready to enter the library to vote. Two of them seemed to be supporters of Wasserman Schultz and began speaking with the congresswoman. Velasquez says she had a conversation with the third man.
"He had an LGBT T-shirt on...and I was like, 'Oh, I love your shirt, I'm LGBT myself," Velasquez recalls. "He really liked the fact that Jen was so LGBT-friendly and really cared for LGBT [people]."
Just when Velasquez thought she had captured the voter's attention, she says, Wasserman Schultz entered the picture.
"I think he was gonna vote for Jen, and that's when Debbie came in through the left side again. She went actually around me, kind of sneaked around me, around my back, and entered through my left side, pushing me, shoving me so hard that I didn't fall but went back a couple feet," Velasquez recounts.
According to Velasquez, the congresswoman and the two men laughed. The two voters began peppering Velasquez with questions about climate change, and Velasquez says she "called out Debbie."
"This is when Debbie snapped. She started calling me a liar and humiliating me and screaming names in front of everybody," Velasquez says. "It was just really humiliating, degrading, and awkward."
The 16-year-old says Wasserman Schultz left the polling place not long after. When Velasquez returned home, she told her dad what happened but still wasn't sure what to do. When she saw Perelman the next day, she told the story as sort of a funny incident depicting a stewing congresswoman.
"I didn't process how mistreated I was in that moment, and how degraded," she says. "I was kind of justifying it in my head."
Velasquez says Perelman and the other adults made it clear that what happened to her wasn't OK. On Sunday, Perelman tweeted a photo of herself and Velasquez, addressing the congresswoman by her Twitter handle, @DWStweets: "Don't you EVER touch my volunteers."
Earlier today, after speaking further with her parents, Velasquez filed the informational report with Pembroke Pines police. She says the officers made clear the gravity of the situation, explaining that what she was describing was a battery and that the congresswoman could end up with criminal charges. Velasquez says she isn't interested in that but wants Wasserman Schultz to know that her behavior is not acceptable.
"I refuse to be the person that doesn't speak out about it," Velasquez says. "I did nothing to instigate her, being nothing but friendly and playing clean politics."
Wasserman Schultz, who serves Florida's 23rd Congressional District, has held the seat since 2004. As former chair of the Democratic National Convention, she came under fire in 2016 from critics who said she showed bias against progressive candidate Bernie Sanders and in favor of the establishment pick, Hillary Clinton. Nevertheless, Wasserman Schultz ran unopposed in the 2018 Democratic primary and won the district with 58 percent of the vote, defeating Republican Joe Kaufman and independents Tim Canova and Don Endriss. [pdf-1]