Longshot

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

"It's easy to think that education, health care, elderly care, the environment are things we can pick away at," she says. "But we cannot allow that.

"We have a budget problem; we have had a budget problem because the fiscal policies of the current governor favor only the rich few.

"There are a lot of things that go on in Tallahassee that would shock you, shock you," Frankel continues. "Jeb Bush asked for a 5 percent cut to education." A gasp from the audience. "And he gets away with it; the Republicans get away with it because nobody knows what's going on in their own capital."

Bold lines and loud colors: Frankel paints like she politics
Sherri Cohen
Bold lines and loud colors: Frankel paints like she politics
Frankel checks politics at the door of her home art studio
Sherri Cohen
Frankel checks politics at the door of her home art studio

Keeping it light with a little Oprah Winfrey humor, she chirps, "If men were teachers, I don't think we'd see big cuts. I think salaries would be higher!"

When the applause dies down, Frankel finishes off the Lakeland Women Business Owners.

"People ask me, "How can you be so bold as to run for governor?'" Frankel says. "Well, look, it's this simple, folks: I want to take our state back from the special interests, the good ol' boys club, the power lobbyists, the fat cats and their money that Bush has allowed to rule the roost for too long."

Bold, yes. That is Lois Frankel. And sometimes, it works. As Frankel hustles out of the country club to make her next appointment, two women offer to volunteer for her campaign. Another gives an American-flag pin to the politician. "Here," she says to Frankel, "you deserve this."

But Lisa Hickey, the group's president, is less than thrilled with Frankel. "She went across the line. Lois knew we are nonpartisan. I had asked her to talk about women's and children's issues, but she blatantly did not. I would have liked for her to inform us about what we need to know about legislation that affects us as business owners, mothers, elder caregivers. This was another discourse of what Lois Frankel doesn't like about Republicans in Tallahassee."


Inside Frankel's steel-gray home, up a short flight of stairs, are canvasses that look like shrapnel from a bombed Crayola factory.

Frankel discovered a few years ago that she could paint well enough that people asked to buy her paintings and wanted to know why she wasn't a full-time artist. "There's so much stress in my life," she says, staring at the stacks of paintings crowding the hallway. "I was just letting off some steam, and the next thing I knew, I had, like, 30 paintings. Selling them would be like turning it into a job."

As a young girl, when someone asked Frankel what she wanted to be when she grew up, she replied, "A politician." She's unsure how that seed was planted. "To me, it was, if someone was weak and they looked like they were about to go down, there was I!" she explains. "If there was some black kid getting picked on or something, there was I! I, like, identified with the people who weren't strong enough to fight their own fights, I guess. I knew by the time I could talk!"

Her father, Edward Frankel, a New York City lingerie salesman, began testing his daughter's political might during lengthy dinner-table debates. He helped her when, at 14 years old, she wanted to campaign door-to-door for John F. Kennedy. Yet, while Edward encouraged his daughter to broaden her understanding of the world, he yearned to keep her from it. "My father was a very protective person," she recalls. "He encouraged me to go to college and have a career, but I know he would have rather I lived a more sheltered life... preferred that I take fewer risks."

His daughter's left-wing politics confounded Edward. Was she spending too much time in the City wandering around Greenwich Village, where young minds would be easily corrupted? Eventually, her family gave up trying to sway her. Lois was just born that way, they would say. She can't help it.

After her 1970 magna cum laude graduation from Boston University with degrees in psychology and organized protest, she went to Georgetown University Law School, then, in 1978, moved to West Palm Beach to work as a public defender. Frankel eventually became one of the toughest civil and divorce lawyers in the area. After her first jury victory in 1982, the year she went into private practice, she surprised her parents with a new yellow Cadillac.


Since Frankel announced this past July that she wanted Jeb Bush's job, she's become a one-woman road-tripping force, zipping across the state to woo a crowd of voters or throw a fundraiser. Give her 20 minutes and she will find a way to sway almost any voter.

But these days, she better show up driving a bulldozer.

Strikes against a Lois Frankel victory can be summed up in two words: September 11.

Frankel called off fundraising for the rest of the month, an effort she'd begun only on September 1. She started making phone calls again on October 1 but admits, "It was like starting over. For September alone, our goal was to raise $180,000." By October 10, she reported little more than $112,000.

The Democratic Party has been Frankel's biggest contributor so far, giving her $43,000 -- the most it has afforded any of the Democratic candidates. (The Dems contributed $40,300 to McBride's $512,010 coffer and none to Reno -- because she entered the race late.) Frankel also expects to collect sizable checks from the Florida Trial Lawyers, a faithful big-money contributor to her House campaigns.

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