TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Manny Diaz, the former Miami mayor who had pledged to rebuild the Florida Democratic Party after years of losses, abruptly announced his immediate resignation as party chair on Monday amid growing calls for his ouster.
Diaz’s departure came after Florida Democrats suffering some of their worst losses ever, including the re-election of Gov. Ron DeSantis by 19 points over Charlie Crist, the election of a supermajority in the Florida Legislature and the flipping of several counties including once-reliable blue Miami-Dade County.
Diaz, in a statement to Democrats Monday, said he was unable to carry out his plans to build a year-round operation that would carry the party forward, blaming unnamed Democrats and others. He also decried national groups for not providing more funding the state party.
“During my tenure, I hoped to address these issues, and build a united party without silos, focused exclusively on our purpose- to elect Democrats,” Diaz wrote in his statement, first reported by the Florida Phoenix. “Instead, I found obstacles to securing the resources and a long-standing, systemic and deeply entrenched culture resistant to change; one where individual agendas are more important than team; where self-interest dominates and bureaucracies focus on self-preservation.”
He also took aim at legislative campaign organizations, including the one run by Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book for focusing “exclusively” on their candidates and not helping the party.
Even before the election results were in, some Democrats pointed fingers at Diaz. But he initially signaled he would not step down and planned to instead serve out the remaining two years in his term.
That changed as a swell of both progressive and moderate Democrats threatened to call for a vote of no confidence at a late January meeting of the party’s executive committee.
Diaz’s departure leaves the party without a statewide leader who could take charge of an organization that is seemingly adrift and lacks adequate resources to compete with Florida Republicans. Several possible contenders, including former Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, have already said they were not interested in the post. There are also growing fissures between the progressive and moderate wings of the party.
“I do not care about the ideology of the next chair,” said former State Rep. Sean Shaw, whose name has been mentioned as a possible contender. “I care about their ability to register voters and run the actual operation of the Florida Democratic Party competently. Everything else comes after that.“
Among the possible contenders for the job is former state Sen. Annette Taddeo, who unsuccessfully challenged Rep. María Elvira Salazar last fall and also ran for governor. Taddeo said on Twitter late Monday: “I am humbled by the overwhelming number of calls I’ve received in recent days, and as I always do, I will consult with leaders across the state, especially our grassroots, as I consider any future opportunities.”
Jeremy Matlow, a progressive city commissioner in Tallahassee who just won re-election, announced late Monday that he was going to run to fill Diaz’s slot.
Diaz came into the job in early 2021 with great fanfare, picking up endorsements from deep-pocketed donors such as Mike Bloomberg and South Florida billionaire Jorge Pérez. He was endorsed by a long line of Democratic politicians including Fried, who at the time was the party’s only statewide officeholder.
Diaz initially outlined a series of steps to expand party operations, including setting up offices in central Florida, bolstering vote-by-mail and voter registration efforts, and improving data operations. He contended later that the party had a sizable debt coming out of the 2020 elections that prompted layoffs when he first started and delayed his plans.
There were also signs of dissatisfaction heading into the crucial 2022 elections, with many Democrats privately whispering that Diaz appeared “missing in action” as the Republicans caught — and then zoomed past Democrats in voter registration numbers.
State Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) said “there is close to no Democratic Party in Florida,” which is what led her to launch her own voter registration and organizing group, People Power for Florida. “I wasn’t going to wait for the party to step up and I’m glad I didn’t. We — as individual Democrats — are the party, and we have to get back to basics and think long term if we’re going to win this state for everyday people.”
Diaz’s lengthy missive announcing his resignation savaged national Democratic organizations that raised millions from Florida donors but did not spend that money in the state.
“It is impossible to build or ‘rebuild’ an organization without resources,” Diaz wrote. “Huge sums of money continue to be outside the control of the FDP. When reflecting on our disappointments during the past 20 years, one must follow the money. Who received the investments? What was the return on these investments?”
Diaz also added that national Democratic groups did not work well with their Florida counterparts, even though the party was no longer receiving large infusions of out-of-state help.
“Washington continues to believe they are better equipped to determine our campaign strategy, target universe, messaging, staff hiring and firing decisions,” he wrote. “People with little, if any, familiarity with Florida hand many of these directives down to us. Once, just once, those of us on the ground, who know our communities, would love to have a say in these decisions.”
Other veterans of the party see the chair’s shakeup as both a signal to national groups and another in a long line of deflating gut punches.
“This is going to make dry January impossible,” said Beth Matuga, a veteran Democratic operative.
“In seriousness, we should consider asking the DNC to be more involved in the FDP,” she added. “This is the perfect time to show they’re not giving up on Florida.”
House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell (D-Tampa) agreed the party should use this moment of turnover to send overtures to national party leaders who increasingly see states like Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina as more viable spending targets. During the 2018 midterms, for example, national Democratic groups spent nearly $60 million in Florida, a number that dropped to under $2 million in 2022.
“If we can get a chair who can do things like raise money, help with partisan voter registration, and show we are a good financial partner, then I think we can show our national partners can trust us,” she said.
Diaz also contended that the party did not have an effective message to voters and had difficulty finding volunteers to help the party: “We have plenty of social media activists, not roll-up-your-sleeves volunteers. We communicate virtually, not personally.”
On messaging he wrote: “Campaigns are about winning and winning requires hard work and resources. No amount of hard work or resources can overcome a bad message, a message that fails to connect with people where they are. The point of messaging is to win votes. You do that by not prompting ideological polarization.”
Diaz’s more than 2,000-word resignation letter was replete with excuses, but generally most party leaders greeted the idea of change.
“While the Florida Democrats seem to be in perpetual rebuilding mode, after a tough series of election cycles, it was time for a change in chair,” Book said. ”But to regain what has been lost, the changes cannot being or end there — and Manny Diaz cannot be used as a scapegoat for what has transpired.”
“One person didn’t get us into this mess and one person can’t get us out,” she said.