Florida's Republican chairman and the GOP county leaders represented by rehabbing Congressman Trey Radel called on him to “resign immediately” Monday, saying his recent cocaine-possession arrest and guilty plea were not tolerable.
“These actions have violated the trust of those whom he was elected to represent and fall short of the standards for an elected official; especially a member of the United States Congress,” the statements from the Lee and Collier county Republican executive committees said.
“His actions clearly disqualify the pursuit of another term and if he should run for re-election, he would not enjoy our support,” Radel's hometown Republicans wrote. “We feel it is in the best interests of all involved that he resign immediately.”
The two counties approved the statements in separate emergency meetings — all with the support of Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“The people of Florida’s 19th Congressional District need a Congressman who is 100 percent focused on the needs of Southwest Florida,” Curry said in a statement. “Therefore, Congressman Radel should step down and focus his attention on rehabilitation and his family.”
Radel, 37, couldn't be reached for comment.
Fueling the move to call for Radel's resignation: A sense among some Republicans that his rehabilitation at a pricey Naples facility wasn't genuine and that he wasn't honest with them.
Two Republicans, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of disclosing private GOP talks, said Radel was reaching out to fellow Republicans to shore up support and talk politics while he was in rehab — instead of focusing on getting well.
“That left a bad taste,” a source said.
More broadly, Radel had become a national embarrassment for Republicans, the subject of late-night jokes and comparison's to Toronto's now-infamous crack-smoking mayor, Rob Ford.
Radel's travails were also a distraction for the state and national party, which wants to focus on attacking Democrats over the Affordable Health Care Act — not defending a congressman who was arrested for buying cocaine.
Radel's problems also hit close to home for Florida Gov. Rick Scott, an anti-drug conservative and Naples resident who's represented by Radel.
Five days before the Republicans called on him to step down, Radel was sentenced on Wednesday to probation in a Washington, D.C. court for buying 3.5 grams of cocaine from an undercover agent. He kept the Oct. 29 bust secret until news broke the morning before his court appearance.
Radel apologized, admitted he had a problem but said he'd stay in office as he went to rehab.
Democrats quickly pounced and called for the Republican to leave office. So did the Fort Myers News Press and the Naples Daily News.
Meanwhile, advocates for two big Republican figures in the district — state Senate Republican leader Lizbeth Benacquisto and former U.S. Rep. Connie Mack — have been pushing their candidacy. And two of Radel's five primary opponents from 2012—- consultant Chauncey Goss and former state Rep. Paige Kreegel — say they're not ruling out a bid.
But they're not ready to run, either.
As a political newcomer who won in a crowded GOP primary in 2012, Radel was likely to face a challenger anyway, said Lee County Republican Chairman Terry Miller, but Radel's recent troubles greatly increased the chances of drawing challengers.
“Trey is a friend and we all wish him the help he so desperately needs,” Miller said.
As Lee County and Collier County Republicans prepared to meet, Politico reported that two Radel staffers — spokeswoman Amanda Nunez and digital director Caitlin Rush — were leaving for a Washington public relations firm, Endeavor Strategic Communications.
Miller said Nunez had submitted her resignation on the Friday before the news about Radel broke, which the office acknowledged as well.
Radel's fall from grace was swift. Earlier in the year, the News Press made the Fort Myers Republican their “2013 Person to Watch.”
“Recently we in Congress found out that our approval rating hovers below root canals and cockroaches,” Radel said in a statement as an aide accepted his award, “and I take this as a challenge to work with my colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans, to restore the faith of the American public.”
But Radel’s arrest, and the way he handled it, deeply disturbed many in his conservative district.
Days after his arrest, Radel held a posh country-club “Gourmet with Trey” Naples fundraiser — and he didn't tell some or all of the donors about the drug bust.
Former state Rep. Tom Grady, R-Naples, said he didn't attend the fundraiser but could understand why some constituents and supporters are upset.
Like Miller, Grady also expected Radel to face stiff Republican competition now and he expressed regret that Radel's good record is being drown out amid the negative publicity.
“Trey has voted the right way,” Grady said earlier. “He has been everywhere and he has immersed himself in the community in a way no one has in a long time. And that shouldn't be forgotten.”
But by Monday night, Grady's fellow Republican leaders had clearly had enough. Still, they wished him well.
“We hope that he can focus solely on his rehabilitation and allow the citizens to begin their own healing process,” the county leaders said. “We thank Trey for his service and wish only the best for him and his family.”