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Local Florida officials passed a resolution mocking a newspaper columnist’s work and immigrant background

The Brevard County Commission, all Republicans, passed a resolution on Feb. 9 sarcastically “honoring” columnist Isadora Rangel after she left Florida Today. (Video: Space Coast Government Television)
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As an opinion writer for Florida Today’s editorial board, Isadora Rangel often took officials to task in deep-red Brevard County, where every county commissioner is a Republican.

So when Rangel left for her new job at the Miami Herald this week, Brevard County commissioners used their political authority to bid her good riddance. They debated a resolution “honoring” her with sarcastic praise for her writing — and thinly veiled swipes at her background as an immigrant.

“Whereas because of her eloquent prose the circulation of Florida Today dropped only 16 percent during her tenure,” commissioner John Tobia said at Tuesday’s commission meeting, reading his resolution from the dais.

“Whereas her dedication to Brevard is exemplified by her accepting a position with the Miami Herald a mere three years after coming here,” he continued. “And whereas her liberal views will be sorely missed by the Brevard Democrats alike …”

Commissioner Bryan Lober interjected at one point to propose an amendment: “Whereas throughout her employment with Florida Today, Ms. Rangel never once let the fact that she’s forbidden from voting in this county deter her from commenting on … politics and criticizing numerous elected officials.” He turned to his colleagues. “I don’t know if you’d be okay with that.”

They were okay with that, and added the language to the resolution.

Lober then took off his mask to propose a second, less “palatable” addition to the resolution. Whereas … Ms. Rangel deserves recognition for selflessly remaining in this country, not withstanding our nearly tenfold higher per capita GDP and approximately one-sixth the murder rate of the country from which she hails,” he said, then leaned back and smirked. His colleagues rejected this final amendment, but it still got laughs from the dais.

“I thought this was a commission meeting,” one commissioner quipped. “This sounds more like a comedy club to me.”

The “Resolution honoring Florida Today Reporter Isadora Rangel” passed 5 to 0.

Before they moved on to other agenda items — drainage easements and warranty deeds — Tobia and Lober offered to pay for framed copies of the Rangel resolution.

As the lone opinion writer at Florida Today, Rangel had often criticized the commission. She blasted a ceremonial resolution about upholding the U.S. Constitution as “political farce,” accused Tobia of “grandstanding” for introducing a resolution opposing Puerto Rican statehood, over which Brevard County has no authority, and went after the commission for its handling of federal funds.

Rangel had already started her new job on the Miami Herald editorial board last week when someone emailed her video of the meeting.

“They feel entitled to use that time devoted to county issues for personal issues,” Rangel told The Washington Post. “Is that really what government is about? Is it the job of an elected official to use his official position to go on personal tirades and issue attacks against people?”

This journalist was her paper’s only full-time reporter — until they fired her. Her small town wonders: Now what?

Unlike reporters who write news articles, columnists make arguments and express their opinions about the news. Rangel’s job wasn’t to befriend local officials, she said, but to hold their feet to the fire. “With opinion journalists, that’s what you’re supposed to do. And you’re also supposed to congratulate people when they do the right thing.”

Rangel, who said she moved from Brazil in 2006 and is now a permanent U.S. resident, wasn’t surprised the commissioners brought up her background. The resolution was more or less another way of “telling people to go back where you came from and you can’t say anything about America because you were born in a different country,” she said. “It says more about them than it says about me.”

In an editorial published Thursday, Florida Today executive editor Mara Bellaby called the resolution “petty and mean-spirited,” and an embarrassment. She wrote that the paper’s digital subscriptions jumped by one third in 2020, and praised Rangel for getting a job at a bigger outlet.

“What more proof is needed that Rangel’s pointed opinion pieces got under their skin?” she wrote.

Heath Freeman is the hedge fund guy who says he wants to save local news. Somehow, no one’s buying it.

In an email to The Post, Lober defended the resolution. “If she can dish it, she should be able to take it,” he said. Her “job should have been to report the news, not to contort it to fit a recurring, prejudiced agenda.”

He said he has nothing against “legal immigration,” and his amendments “dealt with the hypocrisy of having someone who is not entitled to vote routinely commenting on politics and bemoaning what she clearly feels is a reprehensible county, state, and country.”

By bringing up Brazil’s crime rate and GDP, Lober said, he wanted to “illustrate how well we have it here, not how undesirable the situation may be in Rangel’s home country.”

This isn’t the first time the commissioner has caused offense. In 2019, the state’s Anti-Defamation League chapter and some Republicans condemned Lober for Facebook comments suggesting a Democratic official get an abortion, in which he called her potential children a “litter” and “a scourge of humanity.” (Lober later said he was being “facetious.”)

In an interview, Tobia distanced himself from Lober’s amendment about Brazil’s murder rate. He said his differences with Rangel were strictly about political ideology, not “where she was born, her gender, none of that stuff.”

“The resolution pretty much speaks for itself,” he said. “We wish her well, but we certainly took a couple of jabs, as she often did in the newspaper.”

Rangel found her own way to laugh at the commissioner’s attacks.

“You’re trying to insult me, but I actually took it as a compliment in many ways, and I think any columnist would,” she said.

Like Tobia and Lober, she said she might even frame the resolution.

For her, it’s a badge of honor.

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They wanted to hear their readers’ opinions. Then the proslavery guy wrote a letter to the editor.

An old arrest can follow you forever online. Some newspapers want to fix that.