Dan Gelber jumped all over attorney general primary challenger, and fellow state Senator Dave Aronberg, saying his call for Gelber to resign from a law firm hired by BP was a “cheap shot,” “sophomoric,” and a political stunt. Gelber says he had already resigned from Akerman Senterfitt at the time Aronberg made the public call for him to step down, though his spokesman only announced it the evening Aronberg spoke up. And Gelber said Aronberg knew it, but made the call anyway in order to milk the oil spill for his own political advantage.
This morning, Team Aronberg hit back.
Aronberg campaign spokeswoman Allison North Jones called Gelber’s explanation “a convenient excuse,” and said Aronberg and his campaign team had “no awareness” that Gelber had resigned from Akerman last Thursday when they issued their demand for him to step down Monday.
“We had been getting calls from folks asking if we thought this was a concern, that (Gelber) was continuing his association with the firm. And knowing Dan and being his colleague in the Senate, Dave (had) expected Senator Gelber to do the right thing.” Instead, North Jones said, “two months had gone by, and there was a growing concern that Dan had no intention of stepping down. In fact, as recently as June 15 he called his association with the firm a non-issue.”
North Jones said Aronberg has been “out in the field; he has visited Escambia County and visited Pensacola Beach and met with fishermen, and he felt it was an increasing concern that (Gelber) was showing no intention of stepping down” since the contract between his then firm and BP was revealed in May by Daily Business Review reporter Julie Kay. (Read the DBR’s latest coverage of the Gelber-BP issue here.)
A May 24 letter sent by State Sen. Alex Villalobos, copying Gelber, requested that Akerman “wall off” the four Florida legislators associated with it, either as consultants or as “of counsel,” as Gelber was, from any issues related to BP. Gelber reportedly told DBR a week ago that he planned to resign and make the announcement soon. Gelber told The Reid Report on Tuesday that he had planned to resign effective July 1st, and had been “open” about it with colleagues, but that was preempted by Aronberg’s announcement. In a DBR story published on June 15, Gelber called his association with the firm a “non-issue” in a statement sent to the paper. North Jones said the timeline speaks to Gelber’s hypocrisy.
“Here you have someone being a very vocal critic of BP and the oil spill, and being very public about everything he has to say aobut it. So we question why he wouldn’t be just as public about his supposed resignation from a firm that’s defending that polluter,” North Jones said. “It’s convenient for Senator Gelber to say that he had already resigned when (Senator Aronberg) called on him to resign. Sen. Aronberg did the right thing. He called on him to resign from a firm that represents a company that has spilled more than 80 million gallons of oil into the Gulf (of Mexico.) It’s unacceptable that it took 80-some million gallons of oil to gush into the Gulf and nearly two months for Gelber to make the decision to resign from the firm that’s going to be defending this company.”
North Jones said Aronberg “came to a breaking point where he couldn’t stand by and see someone saying he was going to be able to fairly represent the state of Florida in legal action that could be going on against the polluter for years to come, but collecting money from a company that’s defending them. There’s a possibility that this disqulifies (Gelber) from representing the state of Florida in any litigation against BP.”
As for Gelber’s claim that his name had already been removed from the Akerman Senterfitt website, North Jones added, “what else is he gonna say at this point?” She added that the last time she checked the firm’s website was “last week,” and that at that time, Gelber was still listed. He also was listed as “of counsel” to the firm in a Google search a week before Aronberg called on him to resign, North Jones said. And she added, “it takes two seconds to take someone’s name off a website. … Removal of him from a website does not equal a resignation. He still had an office there, his email address was there. His existence or non-existence on a website was not the imptius for Dave to call on him to resign.”
North Jones added that when she and Aronberg, who is also an attorney, learned of Gelber’s resignation, she asked him how long it would have taken him to resign from his law firm had he been in Gelber’s shoes. “He said two seconds. The moment he heard that there were remotely conversations with BP would have been his last moment with that firm.” Gelber has said he needed time to unwind his association with the firm, including informing both the firm and his clients. The Senator has been an outspoken critic of BP.
“You can’t have it both ways,” North Jones said. “You can’t grandstand and grab onto a highly devisive poltiical issue and play politics with it yourself while still having an affiliation with a company that is collecting money from them, and then say other people are playing politics for calling you out.”
In a letter to his supporters, Gelber defended his record and said he resisted colleague’s pleas that he “call a press conference and pat [him]self on the back for taking a principled stand” by resigning from the firm. He said he did so because “doing the right thing is never a cause for celebration.” In the letter, Gelber said he would continue to take “the high road,” and again accused Aronberg of politicizing the Gulf tragedy. Read the letter here.