Propelled by U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s support of the Iran agreement, Miami-Dade School Board Member Martin Karp says he may challenge the national Democratic leader next year.
Karp, a Democrat, said he hopes to make a decision by Oct. 1 about whether to run in the liberal Broward-to-Miami Beach district. If he runs, this would be the first time Wasserman Schultz has faced a serious primary challenge since she won the seat in 2004.
Karp started to think about running for Congress during the past couple of weeks as he drew attention for helping organize protests against the Iran agreement including outside of Aventura City Hall where Wasserman Schultz has a local office. Politico first reported Karp was mulling a bid.
“As more and more people approached me, they were very serious about their intentions,” he told the Miami Herald. “I said, ‘Well, I want to digest that and think about it.’ ”
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Wasserman Schultz announced Sunday in a statement to the Herald that she would support the Iran agreement — a top priority for President Barack Obama. The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the agreement this week, and the Senate could debate it, but Obama has secured the votes to pass it.
“I have subsequently come to the conclusion that the agreement promotes the national security interests of the United States and our allies and merits my vote of support,” she wrote. “This agreement is not perfect. But I join many in the belief that with complex, multilateral, nuclear non-proliferation negotiations with inherent geopolitical implications for the entire world, there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ deal.”
Wasserman Schultz has easily fended off Republican challengers in the past by at least 20 percentage points, and she would still be tough to beat because of her deep roots in the district, ability to raise gobs of campaign cash and national stature as chair of the Democratic National Committee since 2011. A spokesman for Wasserman Schultz declined to comment about Karp’s potential challenge.
Karp will only be a serious contender if he can draw major backers. He wouldn’t disclose who has recruited him to run or offered to help him financially, although he said they are people who have been involved in local, state and national races.
“These are people who have given hundreds of thousands of dollars — in some cases more than that,” he said. “I haven’t really looked up the dollar amount given. A couple of names would be people who are very well known. They are people from different political parties — Democrat and Republican or people I haven’t really discussed their political party affiliation.”
Karp said he assumes he will run as a Democrat, but “I haven’t even gotten to that step yet.”
His family would also help support a race. His parents, Ruth and Irving Karp, ran a successful produce business for many years and give generously to the University of Miami and other organizations. Karp’s net worth was about $3.8 million as of the end of 2014, according to his financial disclosure form filed as a school board member.
Congressional District 23 is one of the more liberal districts in the state and has one of the higher populations of Jewish residents. Both Wasserman Schultz and Karp are Jewish.
It’s difficult to ascertain what percentage of the voters in the district oppose the Iran deal and how much that would factor into their decision on election day next year. But Wasserman Schultz said that in the invite-only meetings she held in the Jewish community in South Florida the majority of participants were opposed.
Karp said he spoke against the agreement at a meeting she held at the Jewish Community Center in northern Miami-Dade in August. He also spoke at a protest Monday where opponents of the Iran agreement rode their bicycles from Aventura City Hall to Pembroke Pines. Many were members of Beit David Highland Lakes Shul in Miami where Karp is a member.
A July Quinnipiac poll showed that Americans nationwide oppose the deal 2-to-1, while an August Quinnipiac poll showed Florida voters oppose the pact 61 percent to 25 percent. Polls of Jews have shown mixed results, and experts have criticized the methodology of some of those polls, making it difficult to reach a definitive conclusion about Jewish opinion on the Iran deal.
Karp was first elected in 2004 to represent a swath of North Dade. He is known for pushing bilingual education and gifted programs and a pilot program to let high school students start school later in the morning. He is also an advocate for animals, launching the Help Eliminate Pet Euthanasia contest, which gets kids thinking about how to address the issue.
He sits on a board that has enjoyed widespread respect under its popular superintendent, Alberto Carvalho. The school district has racked up prizes in recent years, including the prestigious Broad Prize. Miami-Dade is the largest school district in Florida and the fourth-largest in the country.
Karp would not have to resign to run for Congress. However, he would have to decide in June whether he wants to qualify for Congress or his school board seat, because he can't file for both.
Miami Herald staff writers Christina Veiga and Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.