Filmmaker Billy Corben says he will run for Miami-Dade Democratic Party chair

Billy Corben, an award-winning filmmaker who moonlights as an acerbic political activist, is launching a bid to lead the Miami-Dade Democratic Party.

His announcement, which is expected Friday on his podcast “Because Miami,” will put him in direct contention with state Sen. Shevrin Jones, who this week became the first person to jump into the race for party chair. Jones already has the backing of some of Miami’s most prominent Democrats, including Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson.

In a profanity-laced interview with the Miami Herald, Corben described the election of Miami-Dade Democratic Party’s next chairman as an attempted “coronation” of Jones, and said that the race to lead the flagging county party should center on an “honest conversation” about what needs to change.

“The problem is that the Democratic brand is not damaged, it is dead in the state of Florida and particularly in Miami-Dade,” Corben said. “We are on track to lose Miami-Dade again — and spectacularly — come November. And instead of the essential soul searching that any functional, rational organization would do in light of the realities on the ground, they’re just doing the same stuff all over again and are doomed to make the same mistakes.”

Corben’s candidacy effectively presents Miami Democrats with a choice between Jones, an affable rising political star closely aligned with both state and national Democratic leadership, and a well-known provocateur who’s ticked off just about everyone in Miami’s political scene at one point or another.

With a national platform built off his films, including “Cocaine Cowboys” and an HBO documentary on Florida’s 2000 recount, he’s used his sizable social media following and podcast to mock local officials, and riled Cuban-American politicians by posting photoshopped images of them dressed as Fidel Castro. He can sometimes be found at Miami City Hall, where he’s taunted City Commissioner Joe Carollo by paying for a truck to drive by Dinner Key with a large video screen playing a TV news report on Carollo’s 2001 arrest, back when he was mayor and he was accused of throwing a cardboard tea box at his wife. (A misdemeanor battery charge was dropped.)

“He’s a truth teller,” said Thomas Kennedy, an activist who’s helping Corben with his campaign for chairman. “He’s someone that’s tackled corruption on both sides of the aisle for that matter. He holds people’s feet to the fire.”

Corben said he would push for a candidate forum ahead of the party’s April 26 meeting, where members will pick a successor to Robert Dempster, the former chairman who was removed from his post last month for violating state party rules and bylaws. Dempster told the Herald that he is not endorsing anyone ahead of the election, but still plans on voting next week.

Democrats, both in Miami-Dade County and statewide, are scrambling to revive the party after a punishing 2022 midterm election cycle that saw Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio win reelection by wide margins, including in Miami-Dade.

The picture has gotten even bleaker since then, with Republicans racking up a roughly 900,000-active voter advantage over Democrats. Political operatives on both sides of the aisle see a real possibility that former President Donald Trump could carry Miami-Dade County in the November presidential election.

Corben, who’s better known for alleging corruption than offering solutions, said that, if elected chairman, he would prioritize a three-point “master plan” for the party focused on fundraising, candidate recruitment and creating “a consultant class and support staff that can help those candidates.”

He said Democrats also need to be clear-eyed about the fact that a course correction for the party is likely a long-term — and painful — endeavor.

“That master plan will include short term losses, so we can actually have an honest conversation about what needs to happen,” Corben said. “We know we’ll take hits.”

Corben acknowledged that Jones is entering the race with a slew of powerful backers, and said that he doesn’t expect a warm welcome into the race, predicting that his candidacy would “go over like a fart in a submarine.” Still, he said he wants to “drag this process into the sunshine” and force a conversation about the political reality in Florida: that until Democrats prove otherwise, it is a red state.

“The real conversation is Florida matters,” he said. “Don’t forget about us. Don’t leave us behind. But we have to earn that. And right now we are not doing that.”