Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson’s campaign for Congress forces his diversity committee to rebrand
The Mayor’s Diversity Advisory Committee is distancing itself from the man who created it: Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson.
Committee chair Peter Ndiang’ui said in a letter obtained by The News-Press that it wanted to maintain its non-partisan focus. But with Henderson now running for Congress, that complicates it.
Henderson is one of eight Republican candidates vying for the 19th Congressional District seat being vacated by Francis Rooney, R-Naples. He launched his first campaign ad earlier this month voicing his full support for President Trump and calling a Minnesota congresswoman an “anti-Semitic socialist.”
In the ad, he said he would take back the key to the city he had given to Ilhan Omar in 2017, on a visit to Fort Myers before she was elected to Minnesota’s 5th congressional district.
“If you make statements that are divisive, we are going to try to steer away from politics,” Ndiang’ui said. “Politics by its very nature is divisive … we cannot remain in a political environment like that.”
More on this topic: Democratic Party chair seeks Mayor Randy Henderson’s resignation amid political ad controversy
And: Henderson’s ad for Congress leads to dissension among Fort Myers city council
Omar was invited to Fort Myers by the African Network of SW Florida in 2017. Ndiang’ui, an FGCU professor, is also president of the network.
“For us, we want to be inclusive,” Ndiang’ui said in a telephone interview with The News-Press. “In a way, it is very clear that he is going to be divisive.”
The committee was created after Henderson attended one of Ndiang’ui’s classes as a speaker. Ndiang’ui teaches University Colloquium, a required class for every undergraduate student at Florida Gulf Coast University where they learn about sustainability and how they affect their environment.
The diversity committee has 18 members that represent different races, ethnicities, genders and sexual identities. Since its inception in June, members have discussed gentrification in Fort Myers. They’ve also advised the mayor on budget talks and voiced their concerns over his and the city council’s decision to vote against funding local community organizations.
When Henderson introduced the group during a meeting in July, he said he wanted to understand the hard questions and issues faced by minorities in the city.
“I do not expect this is going to be a perfect process,” Henderson said. “We’re going to be better for it and better for having made the effort.”
On Wednesday, Henderson said he told the committee not to let his hyper-partisan campaign splinter the group.
“It’s on them to work it out,” Henderson said. “My wish is that they get out of politics. They never should have engaged in this and I warned them upfront.”
Henderson said the committee’s responsibility is to “aid the city in areas of diversity and inclusion and they have been great on that.”
Ndiang’ui, who considers Henderson a friend, said the mayor is free to say what he wants, but “we are going to keep away and we wish him well.”
Where the committee will land is unknown.
The committee was set up by Henderson in his capacity as mayor, a non-partisan office. Its members were recruited by Ndiang’ui and a steering committee. So far, the city has no plans at this time to take on the committee, according to Fort Myers spokeswoman Stephanie Schaffer.
Ndiang’ui said they will meet in March to discuss the group’s future.
“We don’t want to be the group assumed to be messing up with his campaign,” Ndiang’ui said. “Let him run — agree or disagree that’s his choice.
“It’s politics. He is doing what he thinks is best for himself. We are going to steer away. We can support the mayor, we cannot support a partisan candidate.”
The all-volunteer committee is not the first to disagree with the mayor’s campaign message. Shortly after the release of the ad, the chairwoman of Lee County’s Democratic Party asked that Henderson resign as mayor to run his campaign for Congress.
Some Fort Myers council members, who serve with Henderson, also were not pleased with the ad. Johnny Streets called for him to resign as well.
In other news: Fort Myers, FGCU collaborate on city’s new diversity board
More: Mayor’s diversity council to tackle redevelopment and gentrification during community outreach
This content was originally published here.