Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Ailing Florida Republican Party chairman Dave Bitner to step down

Dave Bitner could barely speak.

His voice weakened from Lou Gehrig's disease, the Republican Party of Florida's beloved chairman told fellow Republicans on a conference call Wednesday that he's stepping down because the illness has become too much.

Bitner, a former state House member and lobbyist, discovered he had the disease, also known as ALS, shortly after winning his post in a sometimes-bitter internal party race earlier this year. Bitner calmed tempers, won plaudits from former rivals and set about righting the ship in time for the 2012 election season.

"At the time I first discussed my health with you, I also made a promise that I would serve as the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida only as long as I could do so with all the energy and attention this position deserves," Bitner said in a written statement that he read on the call. "I have kept that promise, and it has been the honor of a lifetime to serve you and my beloved Florida."

Bitner said he would step down Sept. 23 — in the midst of the party's Presidency 5 event featuring the party's major presidential and senatorial candidates. He called on Republicans to rally around the party's vice chairman, Lenny Curry, to become party chairman.

Bitner didn't read his entire letter. He couldn't. And it deeply saddened those who know him, love him and supported the man once known for his impressive size, deep voice and outgoing demeanor.

Alan Levine, one of Gov. Rick Scott's appointees to the Republican Executive Committee of the state party, described it in one word: "heartbreaking."

Levine said he would often see Bitner "dripping with sweat" at party events to help candidates campaign, "and he got nothing in return … just wanted to help."

Levine said it was tough to think that a man as virile as Bitner has had trouble walking and talking as he "struggled" through parts of the call with his wife, Wendy Bitner, and top Republicans.

"David spoke briefly at the beginning but his voice was clearly very weak and he couldn't say very much. He has clearly worked as hard and for as long as his health would let him. The man has given it everything he has and I am so proud of him," said Levine, who was hospital chief under Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and current Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Republican leaders from across the state echoed Levine, a hospital executive. So did the head of the Florida Democratic Party, Rod Smith.

"While we often differ on our views, I have always respected him as a talented and able spokesman on behalf of his party," Smith said in a written statement.

"Party allegiance aside, we all wish Bitner the very best in the difficult days ahead. We pray God's grace is upon him and his family."

Bitner had planned to make his announcement later, but word leaked out and was first reported Tuesday night on the Shark Tank blog. Mainstream media reporters and other bloggers then followed suit.

Bitner indicated he didn't appreciate it.

"Whether out of malice or in the interest of political posturing, some who had been entrusted with my thoughts about the future shared that information with the media. Something I would never allow to happen on my watch is for the future of the RPOF to be called into question."

Times political editor Adam C. Smith contributed to this report.

Ailing Florida Republican Party chairman Dave Bitner to step down 08/31/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 31, 2011 10:08pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Deputies: Tampa man killed after car strikes tree

    Accidents

    TOWN 'N COUNTRY — A 24-year-old man was killed early Sunday after he lost control of his car, causing it to hit a pine tree.

  2. O.J. Simpson had a 'conflict-free life'? Not really, not in Florida

    Nation

    LOS ANGELES — When O.J. Simpson told a Nevada parole board last week that he's led a "conflict-free life," he seemed to overlook a few episodes that had him cycling in and out of courtrooms and jail cells for nearly 20 years before the Las Vegas hotel-room heist that sent him to prison in 2008.

    Former NFL football star O.J. Simpson appears via video for his parole hearing at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nev., on Thursday, July 20, 2017.  Simpson was granted parole Thursday after more than eight years in prison for a Las Vegas hotel heist, successfully making his case in a nationally televised hearing that reflected America's enduring fascination with the former football star.  [The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP]
  3. Baby Charlie protesters to rally as hospital reports threats

    World

    LONDON — Protesters who want critically ill British baby Charlie Gard to receive an experimental medical treatment are planning a rally and prayer vigil Sunday, while hospital officials say emotions are running so high in the heart-breaking case they have received death threats.

    Reverend Patrick Mahoney from Washington DC, centre, speaks to the media outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, as he joins other Charlie Gard supporters, Sunday July 23, 2017. Protesters who want critically ill British baby Charlie Gard to receive an experimental medical treatment gathered for a rally and prayer vigil Sunday, while hospital officials say emotions are running so high in the heart-breaking case they have received death threats. [Associated Press]