By Jerry Waxman
*Author’s Note-I am an independent advisor to the Shayan Elahi Campaign. I have no responsibility for managing it, my opinions are strictly my own and I am not being compensated. I would normally only offer my endorsement, however, the circumstances here are extraordinary and I feel compelled to let the sun shine through this miasma.
The Real Deal vs. the Interloper
Early on in late 2011few people in OCDEC knew who Joe Saunders was. He worked for Equality Florida in the Progressive Center. His job was to promote, raise money and advocate for narrowly defined equality issues in Florida. He regularly went to Tallahassee and met with other groups to influence legislators, as well as he met with city and county officials for the same purpose. It’s called lobbying even though he’s not a registered lobbyist. Frankly, the work he was doing was and is admirable. All of a sudden he started showing up at Democratic Party meetings and in quick succession he was appointed Chairman of the Fund Raising Committee by Party Chair Scott Randolph. All of a sudden a host of new members were coming into the party, many of whom were also working at the Progressive Center and those members were also being appointed to committee chairmanships, although untried and untested. Randolph thought he had inherited a cash cow in Saunders that would help propel him to Florida Party Chair to replace Rod Smith. The best way to effect that was to promote Joe and others for legislative seats in Tallahassee so he could be looked at as a kingmaker. District 49 was an open seat in East Orlando, and in a redistricting year Joe didn’t actually have to live in the district to run. Since Joe was capable of raising significant money Randolph and others in party leadership got behind him. Joe was raising money and primed to be the sole Democratic candidate in House District 49.
Unfortunately for Joe and Scott, Shayan Elahi put a crimp in their plans. Elahi is a 24 year resident of the district who works as a criminal defense and civil rights attorney and at the time was the Affirmative Action Chair of OCDEC. Elahi is famous for representing Orlando Food not Bombs and many of the Occupy Orlando activists. He also works closely with the ACLU, the Florida Civil Rights Commission and other legal organizations. He did participate heavily in the Trayvon Martin discussions having been a guest on many network and cable news shows. At that point Joe’s backers including party leadership started a negative whispering campaign against Elahi implying that he and his staff are too radical, undisciplined and too unprofessional to be considered seriously. Seriously?……… Seriously! The same party people who were in love with him two years ago and backed him 100% in his run for Circuit Court judge are now running away from him because he’s radical? What bunk! Successful attorneys have to be both disciplined and professional. That he represents supposedly fringe groups is what civil rights are all about. No. They’re against Elahi because he’s thinning out their cash cow. They also said that Shayan couldn’t raise money. They were proven wrong on that too, so they had to change tactics; they had to build a carefully crafted image of Joe. The only way to do that was to misrepresent who he is and what he does. Why not? Everyone does it. Well, no, actually they don’t. There are people like Shayan who are the real deal, and then there are interlopers like Joe who aren’t.
To hear Joe’s campaign tell the story Joe’s family has lived and worked in the district for a long, long time. As a student he constantly fought for and advocated for his issues and he has been doing that ever since. The problem with that is that Joe is from Broward County and other than the years he spent at UCF he never again lived there. He was a registered voter in Broward until recently and never connected with people there. Up until the other day he was living in the Williamsburg area with his partner, but now is sharing space with his brother near the UCF campus. He only yesterday changed his address at the SOE office and voted. So, let’s peel away the well-crafted veneer of the Joe Saunders candidacy and really examine who he is.
All of his campaign literature shows him fighting for families. One piece, well-staged even implied that he was a family man with a wife and child in a crowd of adoring relatives even if you include Jack and Margo Dixon, Democratic strategists, in the family. Sources say that the photo shoot took place outside district 49. Very misleading. His work for Equality Florida should be all consuming, yet he claims that he also works tirelessly at the Osceola Center for the Arts advocating for education, as a volunteer. The fact is that he’s only there because that’s where his (former) roommate works. His claims that he helped keep Planned Parenthood alive are way overstated. He didn’t even join their Board until a full month after he announced. He has been taking credit for causes that he has worked on only in the periphery much the same way a football player piles on to a runner after the tackle. No one is accusing him of not doing good work, however padding the resume’ is risky business.
His relentless seeking of endorsements is also of concern. He sought the endorsement of the UCF College Professors neglecting to tell them that he had a democratic opponent. Once they found out they also endorsed Shayan. When Joe sought the endorsement of the AFL-CIO unions the Central Florida Labor Council balked and also influenced the statewide unions to withhold endorsements. Desperate for endorsements Joe went after other statewide unions including the FEA who did endorse without ever vetting his opponent. Joe now claims he has Florida’s Teachers, which again is dishonest because the local unions including the Orange County CTA and the Osceola County CTA (where he claims to work) have not endorsed him. He got Buddy Dyer’s endorsement which means little or nothing in District 49 but after Shayan embarrassed the city in the Food not Bombs case there’s no way Dyer would endorse Elahi.
When the Elahi campaign took Joe to task over his claims he cried foul and got Scott Randolph involved. Randolph and much of party leadership had been acting unethically by openly supporting Joe. There were no lies and there were no misrepresentations in Shayan’s literature; there were simply comparisons and contrasts. If Joe’s ego is that fragile he’s in the wrong business.
The Saunders campaign hit back with its most recent mailer, which is from one of Joe’s legally questionable PACs with completely misleading claims. They completely took Elahi’s FCAT remarks out of context and claimed that Elahi wanted more testing. The statements are completely untrue. Add to that the claim again that he has the support of Florida’s Teachers; it is pure fantasy. Joe or his handlers and funders should have more integrity than that, yet they are the first to cry unfair when they are caught. Is Joe’s campaign being run by the Republican Party? The Central Florida AFL-CIO upon hearing this news sent out an e-mail blast at 5:00 PM today to all member affiliates urging them to e-mail blast all of their members as to the Saunders campaign’s disrespect of their decisions and misuse of endorsements.
The final outrage came on Aug. 10 when the Political Hurricane, under the title “Is Joe Saunders vs. Shayan Elahi Really Scott Randolph vs. Doug Head?” It is a pure and simple hit piece on Doug Head, former chair of OCDEC because of his backing of Shayan Elahi. Dave Trotter the head guy at PH is a recalcitrant Saunders supporter regardless of the facts presented to him. Doug Head is capable of fighting and winning his own battles and he laughed off the article. Doug neither wants to control nor chair the party again. He just wants Randolph to do his job properly and stop advocating for Joe in the primary along with others in party leadership.” What Scott and the others are doing is against the bylaws of the party and highly unethical” said Head. “He needs to concentrate on building the party, not tearing it apart.”
What this boils down to is winning at any cost regardless of who the candidate is. Joe Saunders the pretender whose funders and handlers have mislead everyone or the real deal, Shayan Elahi who actively fought in court and participated in the labor rallies, the civil rights rallies the March Against the War on Women Rally, The Awake the State rally, the Redistricting battles as well as the Domestic Partner Registry, and a host of others. It’s all real and all on video. Where was Joe during all of this? Missing! If the real Joe Saunders had been running in this race honestly it might have been a more interesting and less contentious race. Let’s send the real deal to Tallahassee. Vote for Shayan Elahi.