The Miami-Dade County Republican Party leader quickly summed up the opposition’s greatest strength.
“The best asset that the Miami-Dade Democratic Party has is Annette Taddeo,” Nelson Diaz, chair of the local GOP, said during a spring good-government seminar arranged by the Miami Dade College faculty union.
“As the Democrat chair, she’s very involved,” he said. “She worked hard to organize and mobilize the left wing of her party — which is now the party’s base — making them more of a presence. She made us work harder.”
Now, Taddeo has a much bigger role in state politics: running mate for Democrat Charlie Crist, who tapped her on Thursday to become the first female Hispanic lieutenant governor if the ticket can knock off Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.
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Unlike Lopez-Cantera, Diaz says, he doesn’t believe Taddeo, a Miami businesswoman who runs a translation company, is ready to become governor because she has never held elected office or run a large company.
But when it comes to the mechanics of fundraising and generating buzz, Republicans should not — and will not — take her lightly, Diaz said.
Taddeo twice has run for elected office — Congress in 2008 and the Miami-Dade County Commission in 2010 — and lost both times. An avid partisan Scott-basher, Taddeo jumped at the chance to help Crist when he called her Tuesday to offer her a spot on the ticket.
“I am so fired up. And I’m ready,” Taddeo told Crist, paraphrasing the Obama campaign’s fired-up, ready-to-go call-and-response mantra.
Crist was eager to have her for a number of reasons: her demeanor, reputation, biography, ethnicity, gender and Spanish-language skills.
As a longtime Democrat, Taddeo also gives a measure of partisan cover to Crist, a Republican turned independent turned Democrat.
Gubernatorial candidates usually wait until after contested primaries to pick running mates. However, Crist decided to make the announcement well before the Aug. 26 primary to generate buzz and earn some free positive press to counteract the effectiveness of Scott’s $15 million ad blitz, which began in early March and has started to take a toll.
Taddeo also is a prodigious fundraiser, loved by many in the donor class.
“At a time when Tallahassee needs outside blood and an outside perspective, she brings a unique approach you can only get from being a businesswoman and a working mom,” Crist advisor Steve Schale said. “I think she’ll be a very refreshing voice in Tallahassee.”
Though she twice has stumped and had her name listed on the ballot as “Annette Taddeo,” Taddeo used her legal name, “Annette Taddeo-Goldstein,” in the party.
“Taddeo-Goldstein is probably too long to print on a sign,” she said.
She denied Republican claims that she’s trying to play up her Hispanic roots by dropping “Goldstein” — even though Taddeo is an Italian name.
Taddeo’s counterpart, Lopez-Cantera, has always campaigned under his full name. As does Taddeo, he has Hispanic-Jewish roots, speaks fluent Spanish and hails from Miami-Dade. The two crosstown neighbors have a friendly rivalry.
“She’s an intelligent woman. She’s a class act,” Lopez-Cantera said. “I think she’s got a big job ahead of her. She’s going to have to be defending and keeping track of all the different positions that Charlie takes, because he takes every side of every issue.”
Like Crist, Taddeo has reversed her position on supporting the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, saying it hasn’t worked. Lopez-Cantera and Scott say lifting the embargo is tantamount to aiding the Castro regime.
Annette Joan Taddeo was born April 7, 1967, in Barrancabermeja, Colombia. She was born with a cleft lip and had 19 surgeries over the years to repair it.
Her late father, Anthony, was an Italian American from New Jersey who was a combat fighter instructor in World War II and the Korean War and settled in Colombia, where he opened a helicopter school and met Taddeo’s Colombian mother, Elizabeth.
Her father was briefly kidnapped on the family ranch by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC. Soon after, 17-year-old Annette was sent to live with family friends in Huntsville, Alabama, for her senior year at Grissom High School.
“I didn’t realize how bad my English was until I came here,” she told the Miami Herald in 2008. “I certainly stood out as a sore thumb as a Hispanic.”
She graduated from the University of North Alabama with a degree in commercial Spanish and moved to South Miami-Dade after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 destroyed the Saga Bay home of her parents, who by then had left Colombia.
She began doing translations and eventually launched a business — now called LanguageSpeak — in 1995. Her involvement in national politics began about a decade later, through groups for Hispanic and women small-business owners.
Taddeo, who had converted to Judaism in her 20s, married Eric Goldstein, a psychologist she met after a mutual friend set them up to meet at a fundraiser for then-Sen. Bill Bradley’s 2000 presidential campaign. She proposed to him four weeks later.
The couple and their 8-year-old daughter, Sofia, live in a 5,000-square-foot Pinecrest home valued at about $750,000. Goldstein also has twin 24-year-old daughters.
Taddeo didn’t run for office until 2008, challenging Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. On her voter registration, Taddeo lists her ethnicity as “non-Hispanic white.” A Taddeo spokeswoman said Friday that Taddeo was unaware that was the case.
During the campaign, Taddeo chastised Ros-Lehtinen for initially not agreeing to debate and for not showing up at a forum, leaving Taddeo next to an empty chair (Taddeo is now part of a ticket that’s employing the same debate-dodging technique against Crist’s major Democratic primary opponent, former state Sen. Nan Rich of Weston.).
Ros-Lehtinen won the 2008 race handily. But Taddeo, who poured $400,000 of her own money into the campaign, made an impression as a hard worker. She jumped back into politics in 2010, running for an open Miami-Dade County Commission seat, which she lost.
Taddeo seemed relegated to the ranks of has-been candidates. Yet she remained involved behind the scenes in party politics.
She became chairwoman of the Miami-Dade Democratic Executive Committee in December 2012 and briefly ran for Florida Democratic Party chair before dropping out and endorsing the eventual winner, Allison Tant.
As the head of the Miami-Dade party, Taddeo backed a winning Democratic candidate in a Miami Beach city commission race and helped organize a field campaign in Homestead for the Democrat who was elected mayor.
At County Hall, Taddeo turned up regularly to push Mayor Carlos Gimenez, a Republican, and the majority-GOP county commission to redraw some voting precincts, allow Obamacare navigators at local health facilities and increase funding for public libraries.
But Taddeo rankled Democrats by unilaterally taking a stance last year against a plan to renovate the Miami Dolphins’ stadium partly with public dollars. She didn’t oppose the idea until after the GOP did, and at least one Democratic commissioner argued that the party shouldn’t meddle.
Democrats also griped privately that Taddeo broke an unwritten rule by endorsing a state legislative candidate — in an email bearing the party logo — in April before he won a primary against two other Democrats. Taddeo said she was free to endorse candidates individually.
“She’s a fantastic fundraiser, and she’s been very instrumental in bringing new ideas,” said Bess McElroy, the party’s parliamentarian, who said the way Crist has treated Rich has made it difficult to support him.
“She really goes after what it is she believes, but other people get pushed to the sidelines. They’re not given the opportunity to decide.”
When Taddeo announced last month that Democrats would run a candidate in every local legislative election this fall, some party faithful worried the idea was a publicity stunt that would divert resources from Democratic challengers who have a real shot at winning.
But Taddeo has embraced the attention.
To appeal to Hispanics, she opened a party office in Little Havana. To promote a higher minimum wage, she and a state lawmaker pretended to live for a week on minimum wage. To woo party switchers, she and former state Rep. Ana Rivas Logan stood outside the elections office and destroyed Rivas Logan’s Republican voter-registration card.
Yet some members of the Democratic Executive Committee said the made-for-media events have done little to fire up volunteers.
Taddeo said her record speaks for itself. And she hopes her biography will say even more to voters.
“I’ve lived the American dream,” she said. “And I want to make sure that everyone in Florida has a fair shot to do the same thing.”
El Nuevo Herald reporter Alfonso Chardy and Steve Bousquet of the Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau contributed to this report.