Apr 23, 2024 - News

Race for Democratic party chair heats up after Billy Corben files to run

Florida state Sen. Shevrin Jones and Miami filmmaker Billy Corben.

Florida state Sen. Shevrin Jones (left) and Miami filmmaker Billy Corben (right). Photos: Marco Bello/AFP via Getty Images; Jim Spellman/Getty Images

The race to lead the Miami-Dade Democratic Party has been marked by infighting and finger pointing.

Why it matters: Whoever is elected chair will take the reins of a county party losing ground to Republicans, who have been turning Miami-Dade red in recent years.

  • The former chairman, Robert Dempster, was removed from office by the Florida Democratic Party last month for alleged violations of state party rules.

The election, open to Democratic Executive Committee members, is scheduled for Friday evening.

Catch up fast: State Sen. Shevrin Jones, a rumored 2026 gubernatorial hopeful, was the first candidate to file for the position last week.

  • Soon after, local filmmaker and political activist Billy Corben jumped into the race to prevent Jones' unopposed "coronation."

Friction point: Corben sparked dissent within the party when he invited Dempster and other former chairs to help moderate a candidate forum this Wednesday.

  • Politico reported that Jones disagreed with the list of moderators and wanted the forum to be organized through the acting chair, who, Corben pointed out, had already endorsed Jones.
  • Corben blasted Jones on Instagram, saying he "backed out" after agreeing to do the forum.

Jones tells Axios he agreed to have a forum if it was organized through party leadership.

  • "I want to be clear that I'm open to the dialogue and I believe that people deserve to hear what our visions look like," he says.

The latest: The party is organizing a virtual candidate forum on Wednesday to be moderated by Miami Herald editor David Smiley.

  • Other candidates running for chair include Miami-Dade College Democrats club president Manuel Fernandez and Biscayne Gardens Chamber of Commerce president Bernard W.H. Jennings.

Meanwhile, Corben is calling on the party to reschedule the Friday election because it coincides with the Sabbath and Passover.

  • He tells Axios that some party members are recruiting proxies to vote on their behalf while they observe the holiday.
  • Corben says the scheduling conflict could create the perception of antisemitism, though he doesn't believe it was done on purpose.
  • "There's a very real feeling among Jews that we are not welcome in this party," he says. "I don't necessarily feel that way, but I also don't want my fellow Jews to feel that way."

Jones says Corben's concerns were "valid" and he would support rescheduling the election if needed.

  • A spokesperson for state state Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried told the Floridian that the election will not be rescheduled, citing party rules.

On his vision for the party, Jones says: "I'm not interested in getting involved with internal personality battles or ego battles. I genuinely just want to come in to unify a broken bridge in order to get us back on track."

For his part, Corben says he faces long odds going up against the establishment wing of the party.

  • "I don't really have a chance, because at the risk of sounding like DJ Khaled, they don't want me to be chairman, they won't want me to win."

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