Welcome to Tallahassee: I Questioned Special Interests $$$ in Local Elections and a Developer Threatened My Cat

Bugra Demirel is the treasurer of Grow Tallahassee and chairman of their PAC. While PACs must disclose donors, Grow Tallahassee does not have to disclose donors. GT makes a big deal of how their PAC must be transparent while operating out of the spotlight with how they spend GT money.

Jeff VanderMeer

Despite a series of rants by Grow Tallahassee Chairman Bugra Demirel last weekend, Grow Tallahassee has yet to censure Demirel or apologize on his behalf. Nor has Demirel himself apologized–to me or anyone.

Nor have any of Grow Tallahassee’s slate of sponsored candidates spoken up. Nor have the FSU Boosters, who are now heavily supporting the Grow Tallahassee PAC. What exactly happened? Let me break it down for you…

This past Sunday night, the chairman of the developer-backed PAC Grow Tallahassee, Bugra Demirel, took issue with the parts of my “The War on Reform”article about his organization. What followed was a series of tirades from Demirel that veered from attempted bullying and projection to outright lies and genocide denial.

Like somebody who’s watched too many mafia movies, Demirel also suggested he’d sic his German Shepherd on our cat Neo, but at least by then he was running out of steam. Soon enough, he started deleting tweets, then just deleted his whole account, only to pop up in the morning on the Grow Tallahassee account with more aggression, threatening a lawsuit.

Demirel’s bio note on the Grow Tallahassee site includes this gem: “He strives for productive dialogue surrounding microeconomic policies of our local governments.”

Really? Is that what he was doing Sunday night?

After Demirel’s attack on me and my article, which didn’t include refutation of facts, I brought up his lack of answers to my questions via facebook and asked him to explain why he’d written a post denying the Armenian genocide. This is the same issue that has dogged Dr. Oz in his run for senator in Pennsylvania.

To my surprise, Demirel leaned in to genocide denial, when I had thought he would disavow it. He even added a distasteful comment about Jews–“Jews are the first ones to disagree with Armenian allocations”–which he would later try to delete. This was mixed in with personal insults about me.

And, in fact, Demirel wrote more than one genocide-denying article on the same website. The most substantial of these articles is no longer available for download, but even a glance at the table of contents is enough to make you question why, again, Grow Tallahassee and its supporters, its slate of City and County candidates, have had no statement to date on Demirel’s genocide denial—or his complete lack of professionalism during the entire exchange. (More information on the articles and this aspect of the night’s exchanges can be found here.)

Regarding the unprofessional behavior–verging into bullying and insults, after the Sunday night melt-down, several people in the Tallahassee community reached out to me to say that Demirel had behaved in a similar way toward them. One person told me, “He attacked me personally on Facebook when I lived [near one of his proposed developments] and dared to question something…Very creepy, researched my background and tried to use it against me. Then deleted his comment.”

On Sunday, this impulse manifested in a few different ways. One of them was threats of lawsuits for imaginary offenses. Sometimes, as below, these were mixed with smarmy attempts at disrespect. As I replied to Demirel, I have no dark money LLC and no LLC at all. Strangely, the State Attorney’s office has yet to contact me.

Clearly, Demirel was referring to the new media outlet Our Tallahassee, which I did help found, but which I left in December of 2021. I am not privy to any of their editorial decisions or inner workings and as far as I know the publisher continues to be the main source of financing. But throughout the night, he continued to make accusations about OT that reflected a shocking ignorance of the law regarding such entities.

Other times, however, the insults were just about propping up Demirel’s ego at my expense—once by seeming to mock genocide.

When I brought up Grow Tallahassee and Demirel’s interesting relationship to incumbent City Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox’s campaign, Demirel called this article—which is literally a video of and almost 100 percent quotes from Williams-Cox—“racist.” This is a common ploy of Grow Tallahassee—part of their playbook, no matter what the context.

Let’s be clear: The area in which Demirel is operating with regard to the Williams-Cox campaign is the sort of thing, in general, that the FBI gets interested in really fast. It’s not a frivolous subject.

Oh, yes, and as I mentioned Demirel kinda threatened our cat Neo. That was fun.

Can I just note that, honestly, it’s pretty bad that because of Demirel’s tweets making no distinction between the seriousness of genocide denial as opposed to, say, casually suggesting he’d let his dog loose on our cat…. I have to address things that occur at such different levels of importance and seriousness in the same article.

Perhaps the saddest part of the evening’s tweets from Demirel was his last tweet, just a couple of hours before he deleted his account, in which he asked me to stop talking about him because he’s not a political figure. Um, except, of course, he’s the chairman of a political organization—one pouring tons of money into local campaigns, including the Williams-Cox campaign, in which he’s taken special interest. His SoMo Walls project has also received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the city and county through the CRA.

Whereas I am just a writer with a passion for politics who wants good local government…with a now-aggrieved cat, whose response to the whole evening was as follows.

Neo, not amused…

In a prior Facebook message conversation–referred to in my Welcome to Tallahassee article “The War on Reform”–Demirel had told me that Grow Tallahassee had turned over a new leaf and was now committed only to smart development and that the Ghazvini developer family was no longer really involved. However, in fact, recent records show that the Ghazvinis are once again contributing significant money to the Grow Tallahassee PAC. Nor would Demirel actually answer any of my other questions with what you might call specificity or, in the end, honesty.

Worse, as noted, after the Sunday debacle, I received emails and texts from several people in the community who had been bullied by Demirel. Is it possible that it’s only now, with his position more visible due to the political involvement… that this behavior is also more visible?

All I know is that genocide denial is not okay—and also in a context where local members of the Armenian community have written about this terrible part of history in both fiction and nonfiction. All I know is that a professional organization would not tolerate this behavior from its chairman. Nor would a political campaign. Just contrast the civil face of Grow Tallahassee with their gutter journalism aspect just a couple tabs over. It’s about as jarring as my twitter exchange Sunday night.

Anyway, welcome to Tallahassee, where it may all be a-okay and nobody will mind in the least. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Michael Alford is Vice-President and Director of Athletics at FSU

2 comments on “Welcome to Tallahassee: I Questioned Special Interests $$$ in Local Elections and a Developer Threatened My Cat

  1. Maria Angel says:

    Normally, I would be completely aligned with your liberal views but this time I have skin in the game. That skin is Bugra’s. I will not elaborate on my relationship with him except to say he is like a son to me. He is a man of great character and honesty whose words have been taken out of context.
    You of all people should hold the written word sacred and not indulge spinning of another person’s writing.
    I am also disappointed that you block people on social media who don’t agree with you. That promotes confirmation bias and suppresses debate.
    Since you are apparently an educated intellectual, you should agree with the idea that to whom more is given more is expected.
    Have a great day and may your garden thrive.

  2. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    He’s bullied people in the community for a long time and had every opportunity to disavow his several articles on the subject of genocide denial but instead did not and behaved evasively and dishonestly. He showed zero integrity in not apologizing for lying and for insults. I blocked you because I was uninterested in entertaining repeated, troll-like attempts at genocide denial. If Bugra wants to do the right thing, he knows where to find me.

Comments are closed.