With an update from Lisbon below:
A Jewish candidate trying to oust State Rep. Joe Gibbons, a black Democrat from Hallandale Beach plays up the Jewish card heavily in a recent email about his campaign in the Broward/Miami-Dade district.
Here's the June 21 email from Democrat and Surfside City Commissioner Sheldon Lisbon:
"I am writing to formally notify my friends and co-congregants that I am running for Florida State House Representative, District 100. The election is August 14th and any registered voter in the district may vote.
This district is primarily a Jewish district composed of residents like us.
Although you will be hearing more about my campaign and what I stand for, I wanted to explain to my close friends and shul members why I choose to do this. Our community has special and unique needs that have not been never even been addressed by previous State Representatives. These include substantial issues regarding health care, elder care, hurricane insurance, condo issues, Jewish communal needs and educational programs.
My opponent, Joe Gibbons, has never shown sensitivity to this set of needs and is supported by gambling interests and professional lobbyists.
I believe that my work on both the Surfside Zoning and Planning Board and the Surfside Commission has been very beneficial to our community. As a State Representative I can do even more.
Gibbons, the first black house member to represent his current district, was ticked off about the email.
"The last six years in the Florida House I have represented a predominantly Jewish District," Gibbons said. Gibbons said he helped secure about $600,000 for the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center in Hollywood.
"The fact that somebody would drag race into a house race doesn't make sense," Gibbons said. "Just because you think the majority of the population is like you that's the reason people should vote for you? How about qualifications? How about experience? How about proven track record?"
It looked like Broward voters did play the Jewish card in 2008 when they tossed three judges with Hispanic-sounding names and replaced them with two with Jewish sounding last names (one winner was black and one of those Jewish winners was also Cuban.) But Broward pollster Jim Kane says judicial contests can't be compared to a state house race: judicial races are low-profile and voters learn little about the candidates so in the absence of other information, some voters will vote based on ethnic background.
"I'm Jewish and he's not' or 'I'm Jewish and he is black' isn't going to sell in 2012," Kane said.
Based on experience, Gibbons should have the edge: he is a former Hallandale Beach city commissioner first elected to the House in 2006 and has raised $24,800. Lisbon entered the race late and has scant political experience: he won his Surfside seat with no opposition in March with 325 votes.
But here's why Gibbons' supporters have reason for concern: due to redistricting he landed in a district that is 57-43 Dade-Broward. That raises this question: can a Jewish candidate from Dade beat a black candidate in Broward in a white district with some heavily Jewish areas?
Expect Jewish politicos to jump to Gibbons' defense. "It's vile and reprehensible and betrays an unworthiness for public office," said Dan Gelber, a Jew and former state legislator who represented part of the district where Gibbons is running. "It's ethnic divisiveness at its basest level. ... Somebody who is Jewish should know better. We've been on the wrong end of that before."
We reached Lisbon and told him that Gibbons and some of his supporters found the email offensive. Lisbon says he doesn't know what all the fuss is about.
"I don't understand what he means 'offensive,'" said Lisbon. "Because I'm trying to get the Jewish vote just like he got the African-American vote? I'm trying to get everyone's vote -- the African-American and Jewish vote. .... I'm not thinking about race or whatever he is thinking about. ... I don't understand what he is getting at. He is making an issue. He has nothing to run on. ... I want the African-American vote also. Color doesn't matter to me."
We asked Lisbon if he could elaborate with examples to support his claim that Gibbons hadn't been sensitive to a long list of needs including "Jewish communal needs." Lisbon didn't cite any bills or specific examples.
"I'm just wondering why he is not putting out to the community things he has done," he said. Lisbon mentionned Gibbons' role on a Holocaust committee (probably a reference to the Holocaust Documentation Center in Hollywood) and said: "if that is the most he can boast about for helping people who are of a common culture, history, and Jewish -- being a member of some kind of committee about the Holocaust doesn't really advance the Jewish people."
Lisbon is correct that Gibbons has taken money from lobbyists and those with gambling interests -- as have some other incumbents.