Florida Politics

State Sen. Gwen Margolis’ 40 years in politics comes to abrupt end

Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Coconut Grove, debates on an abortion bill during session in March in Tallahassee.
Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Coconut Grove, debates on an abortion bill during session in March in Tallahassee. AP

Miami state Sen. Gwen Margolis will no longer seek reelection and instead retire in November after four decades in politics, the Democrat announced Thursday, three days after she publicly disparaged her five opponents as “three Haitians, some teacher and some lawyer.”

“My passion has been to serve the people of Florida, and my commitment from day one was to make our community a better place for all,” Margolis said in a statement to the Miami Herald. “I look back at 40 years of public service with great humility and joy as I reflect on all the work we accomplished to empower people’s lives. It has been a remarkable journey and one that has allowed me to see how our county, state and nation evolved on so many issues.”

The Herald reported Tuesday that Margolis derided her rivals at a Monday night meeting of the Sunny Isles Beach Democratic Club. The executive director of the Miami-Dade County Democratic Party, Juan Cuba, called on Margolis to apologize.

She didn’t — which on Wednesday prompted one of her competitors, former state Rep. Phillip Brutus, who is Haitian American, to urge other Democratic leaders to denounce Margolis’ remarks. He also asked his fellow candidates to consider a “unity” news conference against Margolis.

“I think it’s the honorable thing to do after making such a blunder,” Brutus said about her stepping down. “At least it shows some common sense to realize people were upset. I say happy retirement to her.”

Her comments prompted the AFSCME union to start the process of yanking its endorsement, which Margolis had just announced she had received Wednesday.

“We cannot tolerate that type of rhetoric especially for a union that represents a large majority of African Americans and Haitians,” said Andy Madtes, union executive director.

Thursday morning, Margolis bowed out of the race with a retirement announcement that included praise from Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Allison Tant and incoming Senate Democratic leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens. Margolis, 81 and the longest-serving senator currently in the Florida Legislature, became the first female Senate president in 1990.

“Sen. Margolis shattered glass ceilings in 1990 when she ascended, with the support of her peers, as the first woman to serve as Senate president,” Tant said. “She set a mark in history that will always be remembered and one that the Democratic Party is forever grateful for. I know she will continue to do great things in her community and her leadership will be missed in the Florida Senate.”

“Serving with Gwen Margolis has been a true treasure because of her passion to be a fierce advocate for our community,” Braynon said.

Her campaign consultant, Christian Ulvert, noted Margolis “was an early voice in the fight for equality and justice and it’s because of leaders like Gwen that LGBT Floridians today have been able to knock down barriers.”

Margolis’ unexpected retirement suddenly leaves open a newly redrawn, Democratic-leaning seat that runs along the northern coast of Miami-Dade, from Miami Beach to Aventura.

Other Democrats had eyed the seat after redistricting, thinking Margolis, the dean of the Florida Senate, wouldn’t run at all (the new district required her to leave her Coconut Grove home, which was no longer in its boundaries). But state Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, who had started fundraising for the seat, said he wouldn’t run against Margolis. And businessman Andrew Korge chose to run instead for a Southwest Miami-Dade seat against Republican Sen. Anitere Flores. Bay Harbor Islands Mayor Jordan W. Leonard is considering a run.

Reached by text, Richardson said Thursday morning that he is in Washington, D.C., on business and “any reaction from me to this news will be next week after I return.”

Sen. Dwight Bullard said some folks had reached out to him to run, but he said he has no plans on switching districts.

“I know all four of the remaining candidates,” Bullard said. “They are all credible. I believe wholeheartedly there is a good group of folks to choose from, and I will leave it up to the voters of District 38 to make that determination.”

Candidates have until June 24 to qualify to run.

Margolis had raised far more money then her opponents: Brutus, state Rep. Daphne Campbell, businessman Anis Blémur, attorney Jason Pizzo and high school teacher Don Festge. Pizzo has loaned his campaign $200,000.

Festge attended Monday night’s Sunny Isles meeting and publicized Margolis’ remarks.

“I appreciate everything she has done over the past 40 years,” Festge said after hearing about her retirement. “I know she has really helped the community and done a lot of good but it ended up being a point now where the sense of entitlement shouldn’t occur anymore. ... Whoever ends up being chosen to represent the district has to look out for best interests of everyone in the district.”

Among the candidates, the second highest fundraiser was Campbell who had raised about $25,000. No Republicans have filed so far in the left-leaning district.

Margolis made no reference to her opponents in her retirement announcement, choosing to look back at her long career instead.

“I am guided by the belief that one must leave your community a better place from where you started,” she said. “Today, I am proud to say that we have done that. The last 40 years have been a blessing because so many milestones and history-making moments were reached on behalf of Miami-Dade and Florida. I look forward to the journey ahead as I continue to lend my voice and leadership on issues that will take our community to new heights.”

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