Miami-Dade Democratic Chair Candidate Slams State Party For Excluding Citizens From Its Forum

Miami-Dade Democratic Chair Candidate Slams State Party For Excluding Citizens From Its Forum

Miami-Dade Democratic Chair candidate Billy Corben blasted Democrats for excluding the public from its Wednesday night forum

Liv Caputo
Liv Caputo
April 24, 2024

MIAMI, FL—Miami-Dade Democrats are hosting a forum for candidates running for the dramatically vacant seat of county chair, though no members of the public will be allowed to attend; one of the candidates says this is because the Party doesn't want local Democrats to hear what he has to say.

Candidate Billy Corben, an acclaimed South Florida filmmaker, is running to become the next chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Executive Committee.

In the process, he created a public forum scheduled for Wednesday evening in which local Democrats and chair candidates could engage in "an open and honest discussion about our vision for the future of the Party", Corben's post reads.

In a series of dramatic twists, Corben's rival for the seat—Senator Shevrin Jones—backed out of the event on Saturday, saying he was uncomfortable that Corben didn't go through Acting Chair Laura Wagner to create the event.

Corben's forum was then canceled. Now, the Democratic Executive Committee (DEC) is hosting another forum, approved by them, on the same night Corben's forum was supposed to happen.

The difference? Only DEC members will be allowed to attend.

"We have the ability to do the right thing—we're just allergic to it"

"What do I have to hide? Nothing," Corben told The Floridian, explaining his reasons for wanting his now-defunct forum to be public. "You know what they have to hide? Me, that's what they have to hide."

"They're saying only DEC members can vote for chair and that's why it's private," Corben continued, referencing DEC bylaws only allowing members to elect their chair. "I would argue that we are the organization for all Democrats in Miami-Dade, so we represent them. So why not let all the Democrats who want to attend, attend? How can you ban the press?"

Corben explained that under DEC laws, only business meetings must be available to the public. Forums, however, can either be made public or kept private. Because of this, he wondered why DEC members chose to create "a walled garden and secret society" for their forum.

"We have the ability to do the right thing—we're just allergic to it. I wish they would just do one thing right the first time—it's just unbelievable," he said, before delving into the DEC's recent decision to not reschedule the county chair election until after Passover."

"When some wrong is brought to their attention, they're capable of recalibrating—but they don't.  The bad faith here is just off the charts. This is a charade and political theater at its worst," he added.

Florida Democrats, who currently suffer a near 900,000 voter registration deficit to Republicans, have been under fire from within for the past month.

Just earlier this week, Corben accused the Party of religious insensitivity and a disregard for Jewish Democrats for refusing to reschedule the Miami-Dade chair election until after Passover.

In March, state Chairwoman Nikki Fried suspended three county chairs. The executive committee removed the two black members—including one from Miami-Dade whose ousting created this vacancy—while keeping the white woman chair in Palm Beach.

"Bad Faith and Hypocrisy"

Corben turned to his opponent, Jones, alleging he was specifically asked by Fried to run.

"Nikki Fried removed the Chair, asked Jones to run—she made Jones a DEC member like two weeks ago—she appointed him. He wasn't even eligible to run for Chair, because he wasn't even a DEC member!" Corben said.

Fried did not respond to a request for comment. Jones did not respond regarding Corben's allegations of his ties with Fried, but did tell The Floridian about his issues with Corben's now-canceled forum, saying, "I shared with Mr. Corben that the right thing for us to do is ensure we pass the forum through the acting chair, because members have great concern."

"As it pertains to the event tonight being private, I don’t have any control over that, but I would also be in favor of having an open forum," Jones added.

Acting Chair Wagner, meanwhile, is listed as having endorsed Jones for chair before Corben entered the race, though she denies having shown any public sign of favoritism. Nonetheless, Corben has publicly called for Wagner to recuse herself from overseeing the election process.

Wagner told The Floridian that the forum was chosen to be private by a 23-member Steering Committee on Sunday night, stating, "This is not a business meeting—it's just a special event. So everybody felt that they wanted to have a more intimate experience with the candidates since they're the only ones who can actually cast a ballot."

Corben responded shortly, questioning, "What could be more important business to handle?"

Wagner then highlighted the importance of making a "mutual" decision amongst DEC members, criticizing Corben's "unilateral" attempt to create a forum in which only he decided the "location, style, moderators, and time."

She continued, saying she would have opposed the forum even if it wasn't a unilateral decision, as Corben's forum only included himself and Jones, and did not include two other candidates running for Vice Chair.

Corben, meanwhile, expressed intense frustration with the DEC's system, summing up, "I was prepared for the dysfunction, disarray, and disorganization, but I was less prepared for the bad faith and the hypocrisy,"

"This is more than a little disappointing."

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Liv Caputo

Liv Caputo

Livia Caputo is a senior at Florida State University, working on a major in Criminology, and a triple minor in Psychology, Communications, and German. She has been working on a journalism career for the past year, and hopes to become a successful reporter after graduation. Her work has been cited in Fox News, the New York Post, and the Daily Mail

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