Life is always difficult for the nation's Democratic National Committee chair. Like the presidency itself, chairing the party is a thankless job, one typically beset by accusations that you are inevitably driving the left wing into the ground. Howard Dean was roundly criticized for the direction he took the party during the 2000s.
But the current chair, Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, has had a particularly rough go of things. She's been roundly — and rightly — criticized for taking money from less-than-upstanding corporate industries like payday lenders. She's put her foot in her mouth on numerous occasions, like that time she said superdelegates exist so established candidates "don't have to run against grassroots activists." Her opponent in this year's primary, Nova Southeastern University law professor Tim Canova, has spent the last five months saying she's lost touch with the voters in her own district.
And now, a video circulating on Facebook isn't exactly helping her cause.
Canova is demanding that Wasserman Schultz debate him in public. Though this is fairly common practice among congressional candidates, Wasserman Schultz has not just refused to comment — she's barely acknowledged Canova's candidacy at all. Besides accusing him of taking money from "outside donors" in a recent fundraising email, she's effectively said nothing about her newfound competitor.
So when a Canova supporter walked up to her last week and asked, point blank, if she'd agree to debate her opponent in public, she reacted in what has become classic Wasserman Schultz style: by refusing to acknowledge that Tim Canova even exists.
"I was wondering if you are going to have a debate with Tim or not," one woman, Maria Victoria-Ramirez, asked the congresswoman on video. Wasserman Schultz then stiffens.
"We haven't had qualifying yet," she responded, referring to the fact that the Florida Division of Elections doesn't start "qualifying" candidates until June 20.
She then added: "We don't know what the field is going to look like yet."
"So you haven't agreed to a debate? You don't want to do it yet?" Victoria-Ramirez asks.
"The congresswoman has actually answered that," a staffer responds. "She's answered your question. She didn't say no. She just told you they haven't qualified yet." Wasserman Schultz then explains that qualifications don't begin until June, and then turns her back to walk away.
"At that time, you would decide and let us know if you're doing it?" Victoria-Ramirez says.
"Have a nice day," Wasserman Schultz says over her shoulder.
Now, it's somewhat unfair to ambush any candidate with a camera, local TV-style, and bombard him or her with questions. But it's also not the first time Canova supporters have caught Wasserman Schultz's camp swatting them away like flies. Canova says one of Wasserman Schultz's staffers also shoved a camera away from the congresswoman in April.
So was this latest clip an unfair ambush or another case of Wasserman Schultz's chronic foot-in-mouth disease? You decide:
Keep New Times Broward-Palm Beach Free... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering South Florida with no paywalls.