Long in race for Young's seat, Ehrlich short on answers

Published Nov. 3, 2013

These are tough days for Jessica Ehrlich, the Democratic St. Petersburg lawyer, who has devoted about two years to running against U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, only to have Alex Sink suddenly jump in after Young's death and suck up all the energy.

The influential group Emily's List promptly expunged Ehrlich from its website and endorsed Sink. The Florida Democratic Party and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee gushed over Sink as if she already had the nomination.

The main question Ehrlich receives these days is whether she will drop out. The answer, for now at least, is that Ehrlich is staying in the race.

But it's not easy to get that answer, let alone speak directly to the candidate.

"Jessica is in back-to-back meetings preparing for the special election," Ehrlich's campaign adviser, Shannon Marietta, said explaining why she could not take a few minutes to speak with a reporter.

"We do schedule Jessica's days weeks in advance and she wants to talk to you but we can't cancel our other meetings and plans because we are going to have an election very soon and we are full campaign mode," Marietta said another time.

And another time: "She is not available right now to speak on the phone."

When we suggested that Ehrlich could squeeze in 30 seconds to speak with a reporter, Marietta finally relented: "I'm sorry for the inconvenience, we are working under tight deadlines as I understand you are as well. If you are under a deadline, please feel free to send me your questions and we can email you a statement from Jessica; otherwise, Jessica will have five minutes at 3 p.m."

But Marietta said we needed to read an article before speaking with Ehrlich. She emailed a piece from Slate headlined, "More Than a Woman: The unwritten and silly rule that only allows one woman to seek office at a time."

The implication was that it was sexist to even ask Ehrlich if she would challenge Sink for the Democratic nomination.

Believe me, had County Commissioners Ken Welch or Charlie Justice been in the race when Sink announced, we would have asked them the same questions.

Governors in headlines

Who was the best news-generator among the last five Florida governors? Check out Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee bureau chief Steve Bousquet today on Political Connections on Bay News 9 at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. Bousquet has covered Govs. Bob Martinez, Lawton Chiles, Jeb Bush, Charlie Crist and Rick Scott, and said the answer isn't even a close call.

Envoys from Florida

President Barack Obama is rewarding some of his top Florida fundraisers with ambassadorships.

Last week, Obama nominated Mark D. Gilbert to be ambassador to New Zealand. Gilbert is director of Barclays Wealth in Palm Beach and is a former senior vice president of Goldman Sachs. He was DNC deputy national finance chairman from 2009 to 2013. Since 2007, Gilbert has raised more than $3.3 million for Obama, records show.

In June, Obama nominated his 2008 and 2012 Florida finance chairman Kirk Wagar to be ambassador to the Republic of Singapore. He was sworn in in September.

Jobless not connected

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is calling for a federal investigation into problems plaguing Florida's new unemployment website.

The Florida Democrat has asked the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate what is going wrong with the $63 million overhaul, which has erroneously blocked some jobless people from applying for their benefits.

The new system, called CONNECT, launched three weeks ago and is intended to make accessing Florida's unemployment benefits easier. Florida is working with Deloitte, the contractor that built the site, to iron out glitches, according to Jessica Sims, a state spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, frustrated claimants continue to post on the Department of Economic Opportunity Facebook page and email Gov. Scott. Dozens more have contacted the Buzz.

Brittany Alana Davis contributed to this week's Buzz.