Stephen Bittel, a millionaire Miami real estate developer and major Democratic donor, resigned as chairman of the Florida Democratic Party Friday, hours after six anonymous women he had worked with accused him of inappropriate behavior.
- Bittel resigns as chairman after reports of sexual misconduct
- Six anonymos women came forward in online news piece
- Bittel's successor will be chosen Dec. 9
The allegations were detailed in an online news piece. The women, who had served as party staffers and consultants, said Bittel made sexually suggestive comments, invaded their personal space and invited them to his house when his wife was out of town.
They also took offense to breast-shaped stress balls he kept on his desk, which he maintained were gag gifts from a former female associate.
While the women denied that Bittel ever sexually assaulted them, the revelations – coming amid an expanding public focus on the dalliances of some of Tallahassee's power players – proved too damning for Democrats to ignore.
Roughly 12 hours after the news broke, all four of the party's 2018 gubernatorial candidates had called on Bittel to step down.
"When my personal situation becomes distracting to our core mission of electing Democrats and making Florida better, it is time for me to step aside," Bittel wrote in a statement posted on the FDP's Twitter account.
"I am proud of what we have built as a party and the wins we have had for Florida families, but I apologize for all who have felt uncomfortable during my tenure at the Democratic Party," he said.
Bittel assumed the state party's top post earlier this year, winning a hard-fought contest, pitting the party's moneyed elite against its grassroots contingent.
Fundraising on his watch has been brisk, and his sudden departure and the search for a replacement will almost certainly impede the party's preparations for Florida's critical 2018 elections.
Speaking with reporters Friday afternoon, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum – one of the Democratic candidates for governor – acknowledged the potential fallout, but argued the party was taking the high road, especially as Republicans have put forward a relatively muted response to sexual harassment allegations against GOP state Sen. Jack Latvala.
"It's a small price to pay for curing our party of any individuals and any environment that treats women as if they are objects, treats women in a less than respectful manner.” Gillum said. “It's a small price to pay."
Bittel's successor will be chosen Dec. 9 at a meeting of the state party's executive committee.