'She delivers': How Debbie Wasserman Schultz became a fixture in South Florida politics

She's been in elected office since she was 26. One expert calls her 'the right politician for the right district ... liberal, but not too liberal.'

Debbie Wasserman Schultz greets voters as she attends a campaign event at the Pembroke Pines Jewish Center on Aug. 17.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz greets voters as she attends a campaign event at the Pembroke Pines Jewish Center on Aug. 17. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

South Florida’s Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who has basically earned nobility status among the state’s Democrats, seems certain to snag a 10th term in Congress this election. Her secret? A mastery of retail politics, honed over decades, that helped secure her political longevity, according to those who support her. 

“She delivers and really works hard,” says Broward County Commissioner Beam Furr, a longtime supporter. “She is able to get people around the table to talk things over. She listens; she goes to a lot of community events. She has taken some hits over the years, but she has learned from her experiences. She relates well to people. She works well with other levels of government, like city commissions and state legislators. She is not one to rest on her laurels.”

The U.S. representative, a former chair of the Democratic National Committee, is running for what is now Florida’s 25th Congressional District after this year’s political redistricting. She faces a Democratic primary challenge from accountant Robert Millwee and Republicans Carla Spalding and Rubin Young in the November general election. She has been in elected office since she was 26, winning a seat in the Florida House. That made her the youngest female lawmaker in the state's history at that time. She later moved to the state Senate, then Congress. 

And what’s clear is that the Democratic base and power structure in her Broward district is in lock step behind her. 

Ken Evans, state committeeman for the Broward County Democratic Party, says Wasserman Schultz “wins because she does things for the people and is a true Democrat. She is there to support women’s rights and gay rights and stands up for people. She is one of the few elected officials who walks her district and talks with the people. She goes to Democratic clubs. She is dedicated to her job.”

Bona fides: Bringing money back to her district and being a textbook Democrat

The 55-year-old Wasserman Schultz, a Long Island native, also is on the powerful Appropriations Committee under the current Democratic majority. She’s the No. 2 Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees water projects, the South Florida Sun Sentinel editorial board notes, helping get $265 million for the reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee that replenishes Broward’s drinking water. 

For that alone, “it would be self-defeating for Democrats to choose” Millwee, the newspaper’s editorial board said in its July endorsement. Policywise, she is a textbook Democrat, supporting more access to health care, protecting abortion rights, urging a reduction in gun violence and a lessening of racial and income inequality. 

In 2016, Wasserman Schultz was endorsed by more than 50 South Florida and national labor unions, human rights, equality, environmental and women’s organizations. When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, she issued a statement, “An extremist majority just turned women’s bodies into government property, forcing pregnancy onto millions of women who now face horrific medical, financial and emotional harm. It’s a repulsive, immoral decision that erodes women’s constitutional and human rights and shows just how dangerously out of step extremist Republicans and their judicial picks are with most Americans.” 

She also led 36 Democrats from 12 states that haven’t expanded Medicaid in urging congressional leaders to close the Medicaid coverage gap in the forthcoming reconciliation package. “Closing the coverage gap could help lower health care costs by reducing uncompensated care, improving efficiency in our health systems, and reducing medical debt,” she said. “In states like Florida, (it) will save lives. It is unconscionable that people would rather forgo care than go to a doctor because they don’t want to live with overwhelming debt.”

That’s one reason Catherine Minnis, Area 11 leader for the Broward Democratic Party says to know Wasserman Schultz is to respect her. “I believe she understands what it means to connect to the community,” Minnis says. “She has not stayed in a bubble. She is very active in the local community. She is able to connect with the people and responds to the requests of the people. She holds herself and the community accountable.”

Her primary challenger believes in term limits

Broward Democratic State Committee Chairwoman Grace Carrington says she is “100% behind Debbie Wasserman Schultz,” explaining she “has always delivered for us and she is doing an amazing job.” On the other hand, she adds, “We don’t know Robert Millwee. We don’t know who he is. He has never come to our meetings or been involved in the local Democratic Party.”

Indeed, the 37-year-old Millwee is a newcomer to local politics. He says she needs to be replaced because she no longer represents younger or “regular” people. He also supports term limits for members of Congress.

“I want to be the face of the younger generation,” Millwee says. “Once people like Wasserman Schultz get into office they work to hold onto their power. People are sick and tired of her. We need new people in office. She has been able to raise a lot of money because her target voters are people who have money.”

Millwee said he’s concerned about how corporations are buying up neighborhoods and charging exorbitant rents. “Young people will be renters all their lives and they will be paying rent all their lives,” he adds. “Cities should not allow businesses to buy up large amounts of land so they can rent properties to people.”

Still, he has the highest of hills to climb to knock off Wasserman Schultz in Tuesday’s primary. Charles Zelden, a professor of history and political science at Nova Southeastern University in Broward County, calls Wasserman Schultz “the right politician for the right district,” an area where people go with what they know.  

“She's personable, more or less. She brings home the bacon. She hasn't had really the strongest of opposition. In terms of her politics, she's liberal, but not too liberal, and you've got a lot of old school Democrats in her district. And she has the advantage of incumbency,” he says. "She's what the voters of the 25th are looking for."

David Volz has been a reporter for numerous community news publications throughout South Florida over the past two decades, as well as the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and South Florida Business Journal. He covers city government, schools, sports, culture, faith groups and workplaces.

NEXT STORY: Florida Gov. DeSantis says voters can ‘make Pennsylvania free’ by electing GOP candidate for governor

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.