- George Bennett Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Palm Beach County Democratic Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo was chosen Saturday to be chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party in a vote by party activists in Orlando.
Rizzo, who lives west of Boynton Beach, takes over a party rocked by the abrupt resignation of former Chairman Stephen Bittel last month after Politico reported on complaints he created a hostile work environment for women with demeaning comments, leering and a breast-shaped stress ball in his desk.
Rizzo, a Hillary Clinton delegate at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, got 830 votes to 291 for former Bernie Sanders delegate Stacey Patel, the Democratic chairwoman of Brevard County.
Rizzo had the backing of Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and many party establishment figures while Patel garnered endorsements from labor leaders and the heads of groups such as the Democratic Progressive Caucus and the People’s Progressive Caucus of Miami-Dade.
It’s not the first time Rizzo has stepped in to lead a party reeling from a chairman’s downfall. Rizzo took over the Palm Beach County Democratic Party in 2012 after former Chairman Mark Alan Siegel was pressed to resign for making disparaging remarks about evangelical Christians who support Israel.
After Bittel’s resignation as state chairman, the only candidates who emerged to replace him were women — a fact that was emphasized at a candidate forum in Miami on Nov. 30.
“This is a watershed moment in our culture, in society…Finally women are coming forward and we are being believed and it’s about time,” Rizzo said at the Miami forum. She pledged to implement policies and procedures to combat harassment and require party employees and members of county Democratic executive committees to undergo sexual harassment training.
Rizzo, who turns 71 next week, is a fitness instructor who teaches weight training, pilates and other fitness classes for corporate clients. She and her husband, an information technology executive, moved to Palm Beach County in 2001. Rizzo said she first became involved in politics as a volunteer for Democrat John Kerry’s 2004 presidential bid. She got involved in the county Democratic Party as a precinct organizer, then vice chairwoman before Siegel’s resignation.