Elections

He questioned U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy’s debate-dodging and was told to leave

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy spoke to the Plantation Democratic Club in Broward County on Aug. 10. His appearance ended with a liberal activist confronting him on why Murphy won’t debate his main primary opponent, Alan Grayson.
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy spoke to the Plantation Democratic Club in Broward County on Aug. 10. His appearance ended with a liberal activist confronting him on why Murphy won’t debate his main primary opponent, Alan Grayson.

A liberal activist in Broward County was booted from a local Democratic club meeting Tuesday night after confronting U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy about why Murphy won’t debate his primary opponent, Alan Grayson.

Joe Kreps, a Grayson supporter from Plantation, challenged Murphy to explain why he backed out of the debate with Grayson this week, the only one planned ahead of the Aug. 30 primary.

We are being given no choices as far as Democratic candidates are concerned. ... It’s got to stop. Somebody’s got to stand up and say, ‘Stop hiding.’

Joe Kreps, Broward County liberal activist

But others at the Plantation Democratic Club’s meeting — which included a friendly audience of Murphy supporters — said Kreps was out of line for forcing his question on the Jupiter congressman. The club’s acting president, Ralph Rickel, on Wednesday admonished Kreps as “a real wackadoo” and an embarrassment.

“Joe has a long history of these kinds of emotional outbursts in meetings,” said Rickel, who supports Murphy. “Joe just mortified me.”

After the meeting, Kreps alerted local media and his Facebook friends to what happened. He told the Herald/Times on Wednesday that he’s among the Democrats angry with party leaders who back chosen candidates before voters have their say. Murphy has been widely endorsed by the Democratic establishment ahead of the Senate primary — perks that have included campaign stops in Florida alongside President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

“We are being given no choices as far as Democratic candidates are concerned. People are anointed,” Kreps said. “They’re not being vetted, they’re not answering questions, they’re smearing.”

He added: “All I wanted was an answer to my question. . . . It’s got to stop. Somebody’s got to stand up and say, ‘Stop hiding.’ 

The incident comes as Murphy is being criticized for hiding from voters by having relatively few public appearances this summer, avoiding town halls or candidate forums with his opponents and ducking out of the debate with Grayson.

Tuesday’s confrontation happened just as Murphy was about to leave the meeting, after he had addressed the club for almost 15 minutes and spent a few more minutes answering questions.

Kreps said he had his hand raised throughout the Q&A, and when he was ignored, he shouted from the back — “Sir! One question, please!” — so Murphy could hear him amid the audience of more than 50 people.

“I have some bad news for you, Congressman Murphy. You are not running against [Republican incumbent Sen.] Marco Rubio. You’re running against Alan Grayson,” Kreps said, according to an audio recording of the meeting provided by Murphy’s campaign. “And since you didn’t mention his name once, I was wondering: What are you afraid of? Why won’t you debate him? Why won’t you take questions about your campaign?”

Murphy did not directly answer Kreps’ question, although Murphy spokesman Joshua Karp said he did and “was applauded for his answer.”

“The group of over 50 Democrats was incredibly supportive of Patrick and you could feel the enthusiasm in the room,” said Karp, who was not among the Murphy aides in attendance. The campaign declined to make Murphy available for an interview.

Murphy told Kreps he had “just answered questions,” which drew some applause. (The questions were about whom he’d support for the Senate Democratic leader, what the government was doing about the Zika virus and whether he supported fracking in the Everglades.)

“I don’t like to try to smear my opponent’s record. There’s plenty to learn about Congressman Grayson — if you’d like to go through the ethics investigation, a 1,000 page report,” Murphy said, referencing a congressional ethics investigation into hedge funds that Grayson managed.

Kreps can be heard interrupting Murphy, yelling “smear!” while the crowd tries to shout him down.

The group of over 50 Democrats was incredibly supportive of Patrick and you could feel the enthusiasm in the room.

Joshua Karp, spokesman for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy

Murphy insisted, “I’m not going to bad-talk my opponent,” but Kreps interrupted to challenge him: “As a child of divorce, you have the nerve to talk about his divorce?”

Kreps said he called Murphy “gutless” as he exited. The campaign’s recording ended before that.

Murphy’s explanation for why he backed out of the debate was that he didn’t want to give Grayson a platform for his Senate campaign, because Grayson’s ex-wife recently accused Grayson of abusing her during their 25-year marriage that was annulled last year.

Rickel said he interjected and asked Kreps to leave because “I have to protect that federal officer. . . . He was getting into Patrick’s face.” Kreps said he didn’t get within 20 feet of the congressman.

“I’m a concerned citizen who sees what’s going on and our democracy is not our democracy anymore,” Kreps said.

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

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