Longshot

Florida House minority leader Lois Frankel is waging an impossible campaign for governor

"You can't win an election today talking solely about yourself," Frankel says, defending the tactics that returned her to the House. "She started it, and I had to defend myself."

Back in her old seat, Frankel picked up where she left off, sponsoring groundbreaking legislation such as a bill that increased staffing and health standards at nursing homes. Last year, Frankel was instrumental in passing election reforms such as replacing punch-card ballots with uniform statewide ballots. And this year, she helped draft the Teacher 911 Plan, which promotes the hiring of 162,000 teachers over the next ten years.

But Frankel doesn't focus on her lengthy record in speeches. In Lakeland, she doesn't mention it at all. Adjusting her pearl necklace and buttoning her cream jacket, Frankel wrestles comically with a lapel mic. Minutes are all it takes for her to work these ladies into giggles. She tells self-deprecating stories that have nothing to do with politics. She praises her red-haired, 75-year-old mom, Dorothy. "I talk to my mother at least three times a day," Frankel tells the ladies. "She is consulted on every political move I make."

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Mom-think tank Dorothy Frankel says she found politics boring before her daughter became a public official. "I just tell her some simple mom advice like the difference between right and wrong," she says. "Don't you talk to your mother about such things?"

Actually, Frankel's mother does more than that. Dorothy travels with Lois as often as possible, sometimes making the long drive to Tallahassee to watch her child deliver fiery speeches on the House floor. For Frankel's campaign, Mom will host several phone-bank fundraisers in West Palm with the help of her bridge buddies.

"I said to her, "You know, honey, you run; you go on and do it,'" Dorothy remembers. "Because you just never know. I mean, what else is she gonna do, just sit on her ass? "C'mon,' I said, "get in there.'"

Dorothy likes to show photographs of her grandson Ben, Frankel's 23-year-old son. The recent Florida State University graduate is the product of Frankel's marriage to prominent West Palm criminal attorney Richard Lubin, whom she met at Georgetown in the early 1970s. The news that Frankel wanted to get hitched shocked Dorothy, who had assumed her daughter's career ambitions might eclipse the desire for a family. But Frankel is not so simple; mindsets that say a woman can't have both a relationship and a career are laughably old school to her.

Frankel's divorce in 1984 had nothing to do with her job, she says. "People just drift apart," she says of herself and Lubin. "Look, I was a divorce lawyer for many years, and I saw the worst kind of heartbreak. So I know how bad it can get. We're still friends, and I have a lot of respect for him. He's a great attorney."

Ben, now a second lieutenant in the Marines, split time between his parents. But he was most often in his mom's care, spending his prepubescent years as a House page. "My mom and dad gave me all the attention I could have wanted," says Ben, barefoot in shorts and a T-shirt, stretched lazily across his mother's leather couch at her West Palm home. He's on vacation before heading to Oklahoma's Fort Sill to have his rookie butt kicked.

"Whenever I came home from college, my mom cleared her schedule. My only complaint is that she can't cook."

A cozy relationship with mom, a son in the Marines... the Frankel for Governor campaign is smelling more and more like apple pie.

She tells the Lakeland ladies, "My son Ben," she sighs. "God, I love 'im.... It's hard to think about.... Times are different today, aren't they?

"I know our thoughts are with the people who have suffered in New York and Washington. What did the people in those towers do when they figured out that there was a fire?"

They prayed, answered a couple of women.

"Yes, they prayed, but they also called their families. And what did they say to their families? "I love you.' They said, "I love you.' They called their husbands, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers and told them how much they meant to them. Wouldn't it be nice if we in Tallahassee could create legislation that said the same thing: I love you? How do you say "I love you' to the elderly? You pass bills that ensure nursing homes are up to standards. How do you say "I love you' to children? You don't cut funding for programs that help disadvantaged kids. You create legislation to protect our environment so they have a beautiful place to grow up. We could call it the "I love you' bill."

Frankel has them. Two women tear up. One whispers, "Amen, amen."

Telling these ladies, flush to their gills with emotion, that she is a kinder, gentler politician, Frankel prepares to Bushwhack. He should repeal the $150 million intangibles tax cut he pushed through the legislature earlier this year, she booms. "That cut was for the rich. How many of you are rich?

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