Under attack by her Democratic opponent and facing criticism for her national role as Democratic National Committee chair, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz fired back Tuesday at Tim Canova and portrayed him as an outsider.
“I have consistently, actively, vocally supported and advanced the causes that help make people's lives better and my opponent has done absolutely nothing,” she said. “He has never been involved in this community and so it’s very nice to say you share the same opinions on an issue. There is a difference between putting your body in front of an oncoming train and making sure that you are standing up actively engaged on these issues and saying, yeah, I’m going to stick up my hand and say yeah, me too.”
Her comments at a press conference followed her bagel fundraiser hosted by former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank at a real estate investment office on Las Olas Boulevard, where donors were asked to donate up to $5,400.
That prompted Canova to ask in a fundraising email “$5,400 for a bagel?” At the same time as her fundraiser, he offered up free bagels at a deli in Cooper City.
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“Access to the ears of our representatives shouldn’t be so costly,” Canova said, after introducing himself to voters.
It was just another morning in the increasingly fierce battle between the Democrats running in Congressional District 23, which spans Weston to northern Miami-Dade County. This is the first time that Wasserman Schultz has faced a primary challenger since her first bid for office in 1992 for the state Legislature. She won the left-leaning congressional seat in 2004 and has easily fended off longshot Republican challengers since that time. Canova, a first-time candidate and Hollywood resident, is a Nova Southeastern University law professor.
This means Wasserman Schultz finds herself in the rare position of having to work hard on her own re-election while simultaneously handling her duties as DNC chair. And that national role comes with a heap of criticism.
Wasserman Schultz has been accused by Bernie Sanders’ campaign of favoring Hillary Clinton during the presidential primary — a charge she denies. Last week, The Hill reported that some Democrats were talking about dropping Wasserman Schultz as chair, prompting other Democrats to rush to her defense. It seems unlikely the party would give Republicans the ammunition of dropping her six months before election day.
“I will summarize that as noise you have to tune out,” to focus on electing a Democratic president and representing her own district, Wasserman Schultz told reporters at a press conference Tuesday.
Canova has followed Sanders’ lead in terms of fighting party structure and income inequality while calling for campaign finance reform. Wasserman Schultz has reminded voters of her long record fighting for gay rights, abortion rights and access to health care.
There are some key issues the candidates disagree on, including medical marijuana, which Canova supports. Wasserman Schultz opposed the 2014 state contitutional amendment that narrowly failed, although she recently voted in favor of access to medical marijuana for veterans. Asked where she stand her position on a similar 2016 medical marijuana amendment in Florida, she said, “I am still evaluating my position.”
Canova has also attacked her position on payday pending. On Tuesday, the liberal group Allied Progress unveiled a $100,000 TV ad attacking Wasserman Schultz’s position on payday loans. Wasserman Schultz has defended Florida’s payday law, even though some consumer advocates have bashed it and say it traps the poor in a debt cycle.
The ad quoted Wasserman Schultz telling CBS4’s Jim DeFede: “Payday lending is unfortunately necessary.”
Wasserman Schultz said the ad omits her full statement, which included that she has called for balancing access for the working poor to payday loans and protecting consumers, as well as calling for an increase in the minimum wage.
Frank stood by her side during the press conference — an important endorsement for her by the first openly gay member of Congress. Also, Frank was the co-author of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill intended to crackdown on financial industry abuses, which helps her fend off criticism that she is a shill for financial corporate interests such as payday lenders.
Frank, who will co-chair the rules committee for the Democratic National Convention, defended Wasserman Schultz for holding a leadership position that opens her up to criticism.
“It’s not fun these days when it's become fashionable to denigrate political parties, but they are an essential element of functioning democracies, and Debbie’s willingness to take that on in addition to doing her congressional duties is something I very much appreciate,” he said.
Many of Canova’s supporters are big Sanders fans, and some have voted for Wasserman Schultz in the past, as did Stuart Reed, a Hollywood resident and lawyer. Some said they had no choice in the past but to vote for her, since she was the only Democrat on the ballot.
“I always had a good feeling about her, what I knew about her, and I am a Democrat,” said Reed who attended the free bagel event to meet Canova. However, as DNC chair, he said, “she seems more like a party-machinery type of person. She seems more corporate and holding on to power.”
Canova has drawn considerable national media attention in recent weeks following an endorsement by Sanders, which led to a spike in donations. Canova has raised more than $1.5 million through May. Wasserman Schultz raised $1.8 million through March and hasn’t provided an updated total.