Politics

Miami-Dade senator: My opponent offered me $25,000 to get out of his way

Miami Democrat Andrew Korge, now a candidate in state Senate District 40, is accused of offering a bribe to a state senator to get him to switch districts in the 2016 election and also trying to convince another opponent to swap races. Korge denies the accusations.
Miami Democrat Andrew Korge, now a candidate in state Senate District 40, is accused of offering a bribe to a state senator to get him to switch districts in the 2016 election and also trying to convince another opponent to swap races. Korge denies the accusations. Andrew Korge’s state Senate campaign

Miami Democratic state Senate candidate Andrew Korge is so ambitious for public office that he’s willing to go to extremes, his primary opponents say.

In the past month, Korge tried to pay a state senator to switch districts in Miami-Dade County, and he tried to persuade his other competitor to swap races with him, Korge’s two Democratic opponents in District 40 each told the Herald/Times.

Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, said Korge approached both him and his political consultant within the past two weeks and offered $25,000 if Bullard left the District 40 race for the open, coastal seat in District 38 — now being vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Gwen Margolis.

I told him [Andrew Korge] to stick it where the sun doesn’t permeate.

State Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay

“I told him to stick it where the sun doesn’t permeate,” Bullard said Thursday, adding later: “The guy with all the money tried to bully me out of my seat by offering up money.”

Korge’s alleged offer to Bullard was first reported by Sunshine State News. Bullard said he didn’t plan to publicize Korge’s proposal, but he wanted to answer honestly when a reporter directly asked him about it.

“This isn’t foreign for Miami politics by any stretch,” Bullard said, “but it’s unfortunate.”

In a campaign statement, Korge — who on Wednesday switched from the District 39 race to the District 40 contest — said: “I unequivocally deny the accusation that I offered Dwight Bullard $25,000 cash to move to the District 38 Senate race.”

“It was common knowledge that Dwight was debating whether he should run in District 38 or District 40,” Korge said, claiming Bullard called him to ask “if I would raise money for his campaign if he elected to run in District 38. I told him that I would help like I have done in the past.”

I unequivocally deny the accusation.

Andrew Korge, Democratic candidate for Senate District 40

“I am extremely disappointed that Dwight Bullard has failed to disclose that he contacted me for support and would intentionally mischaracterize our conversation for political gain,” Korge said.

Bullard disputed Korge’s comments. He said he never considered going to District 38 and said he only ever called Korge “to read him the riot act over going to District 40.” Bullard also questioned Korge’s assertion that Bullard — a longtime legislator and current Miami-Dade Democratic Party chairman — would seek the political advice of Korge, a “novice.”

“He can call it whatever he wants to but the reality is, that’s what he put forward,” Bullard said. “He said, ‘Listen, I am willing to cut you a check for $25,000 if you move to 38.’ Whether it’s in my campaign or in my hands, I felt disrespected either way.”

When Korge was asked via email whether he had offered $25,000 in campaign support or fundraising help, he replied: “I have no further comment at this time regarding this false attack.”

If Korge did indeed offer money to Bullard, it’s unclear whether that might have violated any state laws or elections regulations — especially since Bullard is a sitting public official.

Korge is a political newcomer. He’s a real estate businessman and entrepreneur and the son of prominent Democratic fundraiser Chris Korge.

Andrew Korge is quickly building a reputation among fellow Miami-Dade Democrats for an aggressive, cutthroat approach to politics. He has switched campaigns several times in the past 15 months, drawing criticism for “shopping” for a favorable seat that he could win.

Since March 2015, Andrew Korge has filed to run in one state Senate race, mulled a congressional bid, changed to a second state Senate race and then, on Wednesday, qualified for the August primary ballot in a third.

In his latest move, Korge announced Wednesday that he was switching from District 39 — where he had been challenging Miami Republican state Sen. Anitere Flores — to the District 40 Democratic primary against Bullard and former state representative Ana Rivas Logan. He qualified for the primary ballot late Wednesday. District 40 is in central Miami-Dade County, and State Rep. Frank Artiles is the only Republican candidate for the seat.

Rivas Logan told the Herald/Times on Thursday that she, too, was approached by Korge to change races, although she said Korge offered her no money to do so.

She said they met at a Starbucks on May 27 — five days before Rivas Logan filed for the District 40 race — and she said Korge wanted her to swap races with him, so that he would take on Bullard and Artiles and she could face Flores.

“He said I would, ‘do better against a Cuban woman.’ I was flabbergasted,” said Rivas Logan, who was born in Nicaragua to Cuban parents. (Flores is Cuban-American.)

Korge did not comment on Rivas Logan’s claim.

Rivas Logan said she never considered Korge’s proposal, because it would mean uprooting her family and a costly move to unknown territory, personally and politically.

“This is the community I’ve been representing since 2004. ... I have lived in this district pretty much all of my life,” said Rivas Logan, who was a Miami-Dade School Board member from 2004 to 2010. She served as a Republican in the state House from 2010 to 2012.

He said I would, ‘do better against a Cuban woman.’ I was flabbergasted.

Ana Rivas Logan, Democratic candidate for Senate District 40

In reference to the remark Rivas Logan said Korge made about Flores, Flores said: “I’m called to public service because of a desire to serve my community.”

“That should be the driving force of anybody that is in public service — not because they fit a demographic or because they’re only fighting for one type of person,” Flores said.

It’s not the first time Korge has tried to get other candidates out of his way to make his path to elected office easier.

Earlier this spring, he persuaded Daniel Horton — a temporary Democratic challenger in District 39 — to change races so Korge could take Flores on alone. Horton opted to move to the District 120 state House race against Republican Rep. Holly Raschein. (He hasn’t yet qualified for the ballot in that seat and could still move back to the Flores race; noon Friday is the deadline to qualify.)

Horton said Thursday Korge offered him nothing to make that switch back in early May and he reiterated the “very positive” conversation they had had about the House and Senate races.

“Senator Bullard is probably my No. 1 political hero in Florida and Andrew is a good friend,” Horton said. “I can’t really say anything negative about either of them.”

Both Bullard and Rivas Logan described Korge as “aggressive” when they turned down his offers, and they each said that he boasted about how much money he could raise against them. (Korge has already raised $700,000 this cycle.)

“It’s been the overarching theme behind Andrew as he’s move around: He’s used his ability to raise money as some sort of threat,” Bullard said.

Bullard, a high school social studies teacher, said he’s also disappointed because Korge’s proposal to him goes against everything he teaches his students.

“You try to convince these soon-to-be 18-year-olds that democracy is a real thing, that it’s not a theory to have a government of the people, by the people, for the people,” Bullard said. “So when someone comes along and tries to undermine a guiding principle of mine, it’s disgusting.”

Kristen M. Clark: 850-222-3095, kclark@miamiherald.com, @ByKristenMClark

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