Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida Republican Party chairman David Bitner diagnosed with ALS

TALLAHASSEE — Just over three months since being elected chairman of Florida's Republican Party, David Bitner said Friday he has been diagnosed with ALS, a progressive and ultimately fatal neuro­degenerative disease.

The 62-year-old former legislator was as upbeat and energetic as ever as he wheeled into a GOP headquarters conference room in a snazzy new motorized wheelchair.

"Give me a break if I run into something," Bitner said. "This is the first day I've really been driving this thing around."

Life expectancy of an ALS patient averages two to five years from the time of diagnosis, according to the ALS Association, but "this disease is variable and many people live with quality for five years and more."

Bitner had been using a motorized scooter and walker for two months because of weakness in his legs and arms, but the diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often called Lou Gehrig's disease, came recently.

"Though the diagnosis was difficult to hear, it has not dampened my passion for serving as your chairman or my motivation to make the Republican Party of Florida as strong as possible heading into the 2012 election," Bitner wrote in an e-mail Friday to members of the Republican executive committee.

He told reporters he expects to remain active leading the party.

"The only thing I have is weakness. It's hard for me to take a bottle top off, but I can still sign. I'm signing charters now, 200-some of them for new clubs," Bitner said. "I get up in the morning and get my shower, and my wife helps with that, and that's not really a bad thing, guys, I've got to tell you."

Republican Senate President Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon hailed Bitner for his courage. They said they supported him staying on as chairman heading into a heated election cycle featuring a "Presidency 5" conference and televised presidential debate in September, followed by a year consumed with redistricting and campaigns for U.S. Senate and the White House.

"Today, I ask all Floridians to keep Republican Party chairman Dave Bitner and his family in their thoughts and prayers," Florida Democratic chairman Rod Smith said in a statement. "His determination to continue as Republican Party chairman as he seeks treatment is courageous, setting an example for all Floridians with this tragic disease."

Bitner said his van is specially equipped with a ramp so he can drive the wheelchair into the vehicle's right-front passenger seat area. His wife Wendy — whom Bitner calls "the warden"— does all the driving.

He planned to be at a party event in Jacksonville today and the state party quarterly meeting on May 13, followed by a three-day Republican National Committee meeting in Dallas.

The former state legislator from Port Charlotte described himself as "prolife" and said he opposes expanded use of stem cell research to seek a cure for ALS.

Joking about being in a wheelchair, he said: "I probably won't be doing a lot of door-to-door campaigning for candidates this summer."

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Adam Smith can be reached at [email protected]

Florida Republican Party chairman David Bitner diagnosed with ALS 04/29/11 [Last modified: Friday, April 29, 2011 8:57pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. One of the best places for investing in a rental house is in Tampa Bay

    Real Estate

    Two Tampa Bay ZIP Codes are drawing national attention.

    . If you're looking to invest in a house to rent out, few places are better than  ZIP Code 34607 in Hernando County's Spring Hill area, according to ATTOM Data Solutions.
 file photo]

  2. Bucs' Vernon Hargreaves: 'I'm not making any plays'


    TAMPA — Eli Manning gathered his receivers together on the sideline during the Giants' Week 4 game against the Bucs and told them he planned to target the weakest link of the secondary all afternoon.

    Patriots receiver Chris Hogan gets position in front of Bucs cornerback Vernon Hargreaves for a 5-yard touchdown pass in New England’s win on Oct. 5.
  3. Suspect in Maryland office park shooting is apprehended


    EDGEWOOD, Md. — A man with a lengthy criminal past who was fired from a job earlier this year for punching a colleague showed up for work at a countertop company on Wednesday and shot five of his co-workers has been arrested, authorities said. Three of them were killed and two critically wounded.

    Harford County, Md., Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler shows a picture of Radee Labeeb Prince, the suspect in the workplace shootings.
  4. Lightning's J.T. Brown to stop anthem protest, focus on community involvement

    Lightning Strikes

    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Lightning wing J.T. Brown will no longer raise his first as a protest during the national anthem before games.

    J.T. Brown says he will work more with the Tampa police and groups that serve at-risk young people.
  5. The two Ricks tangle at what may be final debate


    ST. PETERSBURG — In what was likely the last mayoral forum before the Nov. 7 election, Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Rick Baker started out small, discussing neighborhood issues like recycling and neighborhood funding. They ended tangling over familiar subjects: the future of the Tampa Bay Rays, sewage …

    Ex-Mayor Rick Baker, left, and Mayor Rick Kriseman, right, debated familiar topics. The Times’ Adam Smith moderated.