Interview with Senator Dan Gelber–(District 35) and Candidate for Florida Attorney General
Conducted by: West Orlando News
Date: September 22, 2010
WONO: Florida leads the nation in public corruption. Quite recently you announced the creation of a public corruption unit, should you become Florida’s next AG. As I understand it, this requires the expansion of the AG’s office, which will entail Legislative approval. Do you anticipate you will receive the support of the GOP-led legislature to make this happen? And if not, how do you plan to proceed?
Dan Gelber: First of all, I don’t necessarily need the Legislature. My lawyers can work with other units like those in the U.S. Attorney’s Office or local States Attorneys who already have that mandate. We can assist them as cross-designated lawyers, which regularly happens in task forces, like the Public Corruption Task Force. However, I hope and believe that the Legislature will figure out that this is a good thing for them to do. But if they don’t, I’m still intent on promoting this. I’d ask the Justice Department to create a free standing Public Integrity Unit, which they have in other U.S. Attorneys’ offices, in South Florida for instance. I know the State Attorney has had an interest in this, but just not the manpower. So, I believe there is an interest in it, but we just don’t have boots on the ground doing their job.
WONO: In 2007, the current Attorney General established a Mortgage Fraud Task Force to address the issues of mortgage and foreclosure rescue fraud. How is this working?
Dan Gelber: The problem is so immense that it’s not just a Task Force we need. We also need prosecutors, we need agents, and we need investigators. The problem is, you can change a lot of laws and add more weapons, but if you don’t have people able to use them it doesn’t really matter. It’s not only mortgage fraud, but there’s public corruption and investor fraud—capacity in those areas need to be beefed up so that the Attorney General can really protect Floridians from people trying to line their pockets, essentially.
WONO: Illegal foreclosures are rampant in the State and I am aware that three foreclosure mills are currently under investigation by the AG. Congressman Alan Grayson recently sent a letter to the Chief Justice asking that these companies be stopped until these investigations are complete. Is he on the right track? What would you do about these illegal foreclosures taking place?
Dan Gelber: Well, I think he is on the right track, but I would never try to judge a pending case or comment on an ongoing investigation. I don’t think that’s appropriate, but I think he’s got the right intention. I think the AG needs to not simply move some of his resources, but needs to be a voice to get more resources for Florida to fight the cottage industry, fraud, that is developing here. Mortgage fraud is one of them, healthcare fraud is another–these are things that are attractive to Florida because of the nature of our economy and because we have so many senior citizens and other folks who are easier prey for some of these bad guys. The Attorney General doesn’t have enough lawyers to throw at the problem. We need to do more, but we really need more prosecutors and investigators from the Federal Government and from the legislature, to adequately address this problem because, we clearly are not adequately addressing it right now.
WONO: Gangs and gang violence are on the rise and pose a threat to the state and its citizens. A Gang Reduction Strategy (2007-2009) has been articulated. What are some of the issues that must be tackled in helping to reduce this scourge? Realistically, as AG what can be done to help reduce gangs and gang violence in Florida?
Dan Gelber: Well gangs don’t respect city or county boundaries and I think the coordination that needs to occur is something that the AG can be immensely helpful with, in terms of providing leadership. I think AG McCollum has helped in this area by promoting increased coordination among law enforcement agencies and units across the state, to help fight gangs and gang violence. It’s a regional problem in Florida that is growing alarmingly fast, and the only way to address it will be to help those law enforcement entities that are on the front lines, to get adequate information and resources to fight back on behalf of Floridians.
WONO: Florida received $700 million under the Race to the Top initiative. When we last spoke, I believe that you indicated your top priority would be protecting the consumers of Florida, but, you also said you would want to weigh in on issues such as public education and healthcare. How do you see the Attorney General weighing in particularly on public education, to ensure that the millions of dollars received are not squandered and they achieve the desired results–improving educational standards in the state?
Dan Gelber: I think the Attorney General can get involved in education issues in a few different ways. One major way is in the funding of public education, that is, be a part of the debate and discussion as to whether or not the State is funding public education at a level that complies with Florida’s Constitution. Florida’s Constitution requires a high quality school system be paramount, and if we fail to have that right now, then the citizens of our state, and more precisely the children, are having their constitutional rights violated. That is something the Attorney General should care deeply about.
WONO: But, there is Amendment 8 on the November ballot?
Dan Gelber: The November amendment has to do with the class size. Florida’s Constitution already requires that education be high quality and that funding be a paramount duty of the Legislature. We already have very clear guidelines and directions from the Florida Legislature—they are to fund a high quality public education system and if they haven’t, then Florida is in violation under its constitution.
WONO: The Republican candidate Rick Scott has just released a package of lawsuit restrictions, making it harder for car manufacturers, insurance companies and doctors to be sued–and — if elected Governor, he plans to bring these forth to the Florida Legislature. What’s your view on pro business lawsuit limits? Do you believe that there should be liability limits for doctors who treat Medicaid patients?
Dan Gelber: I really haven’t supported lawsuit limits and I am not sure that you can do it constitutionally. I am not convinced you can create a different standard, depending upon how the patient is being paid for. It’s a more complex issue and I am not prepared to comment on it until I have seen the proposal and then able to digest it.
WONO: Senator Gelber, as the 2010 political season comes to a boil and the days wind down toward November 2, can you speak to the bi-annual angst that takes place between the Florida Democratic Party and minority-owned media? There is a strong perception amongst African-American media that the FDP has a major disconnect with the black press that includes non-existent to minimal media buys, while showering millions upon mainstream media, and while also being completely dependent upon Florida’s black voters. Can you speak to this perception and tell us how you have in fact addressed this issue in your past campaigns and how you are currently addressing it in your bid for statewide office?
Dan Gelber: It is my first statewide office so I really don’t know what has happened previously. It’s important, especially in the job for Attorney General Office that you don’t simply focus on a single group of people. You need to reflect all of Florida, with all its diversity and I think all the campaigns should be run that way. If you look at the people in my campaign, they reflect all types of people we have in the State. I intend to communicate to all the people in the State through the various mediums they listen to. I addressed a group of publishers in the Black Media in Tampa recently and traveled there to meet with them and talked about my campaign and what they can offer. So, I intend to make my campaign part of that effort, as we figure out what our budget is.
WONO: There is a rumor that the quickest way to the Florida Governor’s mansion is through the Attorney General’s office. Are you aware of this rumor and is there a Governor Gelber in our future?
Dan Gelber: If I wake up as Attorney General of Florida, I am going to feel pretty privileged to have that responsibility and that’s all I will think about. It’s a big job in a State with a lot of challenges and it would be horribly premature for me to start talking about some other job, when the truth is, the one I am running for will be a real dream come true in terms of the trust and the demand. And I am ready for the job of Attorney General, that’s all I am ready for.
WONO: Senator, you are probably conducting a number of internal polls as November nears. Are you prepared to share the results of those polls? How is your campaign going?
Dan Gelber: The campaign has been going pretty well. I suspect as we start polling, it’s going to show that my opponent and I are not well known, but that will change as soon as we begin to introduce ourselves to people. Until that happens, it is a bit premature to start handicapping the race. I think we are both overwhelmingly unknown, at least strongly unknown by voters.
WONO: Finally, why should Florida voters vote for Dan Gelber as their next Attorney General?
Dan Gelber: I will tell you why they should. Floridians have not had a true champion in Tallahassee who is going to wake up every day and look out for them and only them. The place has been overrun by special interests and people who basically speak for and advocate for the wealthiest and not the everyman and every woman. I am running for this office because I want to give everyday Floridians the champion that they deserve in a State that has deep challenges. I hope they hear me and see me and they will find that my words are authentic, because they are.
WONO: Thank you, Senator.
Dan Gelber: Thank you, too.
More About Senator Dan Gelber
Dan Gelber has led a life of exemplary public and community service. The son of a prosecutor and a schoolteacher, he grew up in Florida – in Miami and in Tallahassee.
Chosen as Florida’s Truman Scholar when he was in college, Dan was appointed one of the nation’s youngest federal prosecutors when he joined the South Florida U.S. Attorney’s Office.
For nearly a decade, Dan handled some of Florida’s most significant public corruption, civil rights and narcotics prosecutions. He rose to be head of the civil rights division ultimately becoming a top deputy where he managed hundreds of prosecutors and thousands of investigations.
Dan was noticed by then U.S. Senator Sam Nunn who asked him to take the helm of the United State Senate’s investigations committee as its Chief Counsel and Staff Director. Dan led delegations around the world and throughout the former Soviet Union where he investigated terrorism and worked on ways to stop dangerous weapons and weapons technology from being smuggled to terrorist groups and rogue nations in the Middle East. He also led investigations and hearings, published reports and testified before the congress on a wide array of domestic security issues.
In 2000, Dan was elected to the Florida House and in 2006, he was unanimously selected by his Democratic colleagues as their Democratic Leader. In 2008, he was elected to represent the residents of district 35 in the state Senate, where he serves today. In his decade in the legislature he has been one of the most prominent advocates for public education, health care and children’s issues.
Dan is an accomplished attorney who has the highest rating (AV) from the Martindale Hubbell rating service and has been recognized in various peer–review publications including Best lawyers in America and Florida’s Legal Elite.
Dan has been a Big Brother volunteer with the Big Brothers, Big Sister program for 25 years, including 20 with his current little brother Travis. He has also spent nearly every summer at a camp he helped create 25 years ago for children afflicted with cancer. Dan lives with his wife, Joan, a career federal prosecutor, and their three children, Sophie, Hannah and Max in Miami Beach.
Contact Senator Dan Gelber
801 Arthur Godfrey Road
Miami Beach, Fl 33140
226 Senate Office Building
404 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1100
Senate VOIP: 5121
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