A one paragraph summary in the last issue of South Miami News’ editor opinion column on comments made by Chair of Parks and Recreation Richard Ward during public remarks at the January 3 city commission meeting about a Mayor Philip Stoddard “Meet and Greet” campaign event flyer has become central to the “whole election” according to an extremely agitated Stoddard upon his departure from an interview recently with Community Newspapers (CN). The copy in question read: Election Violations Already?
At the last city commission meeting Parks and Recreation Board Chair Richard Ward went after Mayor Philip Stoddard for approving a re-election campaign event flyer sponsored by area Democratic party groups. “Not since 1962 has anyone brought partisan politics into local elections,” said Ward. “If the Democrats or Republicans want to endorse somebody we cannot stop them. What you did that was wrong was the ad was paid for and approved by your campaign. You have violated the election laws in Miami-Dade County that are supposed to be non-partisan elections. You should not have put out this flyer as a fundraiser for your campaign, asking people to attend. If you had not put it that way I would have not nailed your hide to the wall. You should be more consistent and follow the election laws while your buddy on the bike hands out flyers.”
Stoddard did not respond to Ward’s comments. Florida Statute Chapter 2011- 40 on page 77 reads: “A candidate for nonpartisan office is prohibited from campaigning based on party affiliation.” Stoddard conceded to an interview with CN after initially declining the opportunity because of executive editor Michael Miller’s op-ed style according to Stoddard.
Mayor of Pinecrest Cindy Lerner appeared. before the commission at the last regular meeting to defend the questionable disclaimer at the end of the flyer. The flyer in its entirety reads:
Event Notice….In Support of Mayor Stoddard’s Re-Election (Election Day- Feb 14, 2012). The Host Committee: Miami-Dade Democratic Executive Committee, Democrats of South Dade Club, Ron Brown Democratic Caucus of South Dade, Coral Gables Area Democratic Club, Democracy for America * Miami-Dade Cordially invite you to a “Meet and Greet” with Mayor Philip Stoddard of South Miami Thursday January 12, 2012 5:30pm to 7:30pm @ Marhaba’s Restaurant 5701 Sunset Drive South Miami Mediterranean appetizers-Cash Bar Political advertisement paid for and approved by Philip Stoddard Campaign At the end of the emailed version of the flyer the Democrats of South Dade Club email address and web page links were listed along with forwarding and unsubscribing options.
Lerner, who is the Florida State Chapter of Democratic Officials Chair, said to the commission: “we can work with partisan organizations. We are allowed to show party affiliation and can act partisan in policy issues and perspectives…we can freely collaborate with Democratic organizations.” In an interview following her public remarks Attorney Lerner also said that it was she who told Stoddard to put in the disclaimer. “The disclaimer that reads political advertisement paid and approved by Philip Stoddard Campaign must be put in. It would have been more trouble if he had not put it in. He did nothing wrong. I cautioned him to put in the disclaimer.”
Ward was in the audience at the meeting when Lerner spoke and refuted her remarks afterwards by first agreeing with everything she said as a lifelong Democrat himself. Ward then went on to explain that the only part of the flyer that was a campaign violation according to Florida Statute 106.143 (the original quoted statute was actually resolution language prior to becoming a statute) was the disclaimer. Ward also contends that Stoddard violated his Nonpartisan Office Loyalty Oath (Florida Statute 876.05-876.10 of the Florida Statutes).
When asked about the flyer by CN, Stoddard said: “the history is simple. The Democrats created an invitation. Mayor Lerner looked at it and said the disclaimer needs to be there and I said ok let’s do it. She said that under the new law it must be there. When people ask me if I am running as a democrat or republican I say neither.”
Stoddard also said he believed there was no conflict with the loyalty oath and that he serves all of the residents of South Miami. “They are just trying to make an issue of a non-issue. We got an opinion from the Deputy General Counsel for the Florida Department of State who said ‘there were no rules concerning a partisan election.’”
When asked for the name of the general counsel he spoke with Stoddard did not know but referred us to the city clerk. The city clerk did not return calls prior to publication deadline. Stoddard also said he did not know which statute Ward was referring to as he did not know them all by heart.