Queen of the Recount

Carol Roberts may not beat Clay Shaw, but don't count her out


Wresting the District 22 seat from Shaw will be almost impossible. Voters have returned the Republican to Congress 11 times. He serves on the powerful U.S. House Ways and Means Committee. He wrote the welfare-to-work legislation. Before he went to Congress, Shaw was mayor and vice mayor of Fort Lauderdale. Democrats in Broward County vote for him even though he has supported a ban on gay adoption in the District of Columbia, has opposed a measure that would have diverted military money for AIDS treatment, and is rated poorly by most liberal organizations.

For the past decade, Shaw's weakness has been outside his home county. Two years ago, he beat back challenger Elaine Bloom by only 599 votes, though he handily dominated the Broward part of his district by 19,000 ballots. A former Democratic state representative from Miami Beach, Bloom was able to draw votes from the part of the district that snaked south into Miami-Dade County, as well as from gay and liberal voters throughout the coastal areas that stretched into Palm Beach County.

Clockwise from above: Carol Roberts's gay son, Rabbi Stephen Roberts, in town to campaign for his mother; Carol Roberts's opponent, 11-term incumbent U.S. Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr.; and GayLauderdale's spokesman,  Milton Lamonte
Colby Katz
Clockwise from above: Carol Roberts's gay son, Rabbi Stephen Roberts, in town to campaign for his mother; Carol Roberts's opponent, 11-term incumbent U.S. Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr.; and GayLauderdale's spokesman, Milton Lamonte
Former Vice President Al Gore raised $50,000 for Roberts at a breakfast fundraiser last Wednesday and then walked into the spotlight with her at his side
Colby Katz
Former Vice President Al Gore raised $50,000 for Roberts at a breakfast fundraiser last Wednesday and then walked into the spotlight with her at his side

To shore up Shaw's Republican base in District 22 against further Democratic incursions, the Florida Legislature did a cynical, Ronco slice-and-dice during this year's redistricting. Shaw got a chunk of South Florida that excludes the swinging beaches of Miami-Dade. In Broward, most of Wilton Manors, a gay-gentrifying city just north of Fort Lauderdale was cut out too. Wealthy Republican areas, including ritzy Parkland and Southwest Ranches, were included.

Shaw has said that voting patterns, not race or sexual preference, were the criteria used to shape the new district. The result is that the balance of registered voters has shifted from 42 percent Democratic and 38 percent Republican to 45 percent Republican and 35 percent Democratic.

Nationally, the Shaw/Roberts race is one of more than 40 in which Democrats and Republicans are scrapping for control of the House and Senate. Republicans currently hold the House by a 222-211 margin, with two Independents. Democrats have a one-vote advantage in the Senate. Tipping the balance in favor of Republicans would allow President George W. Bush to push through more of his agenda. Donkeys win, and Bush has problems.

Democrats contend that the Roberts/Shaw race is very competitive. Roberts has spent 26 years in elected office in Palm Beach County, which now comprises 57 percent of District 22. "She has strong grassroots support, and she started off the race with strong name recognition," says Kim Rubey, press secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "She began the race in an enviable position, and she is doing very well."

But winning won't be easy, says University of South Florida political science Prof. Susan MacManus. "You have got to do something that separates you from your opponent," MacManus opines. "She has got to really run an attention-getting campaign."

Roberts has chosen to get attention by attacking.

At a media event July 3 at Palm Beach International Airport, placard-toting members of the AFL-CIO tried to pressure Shaw to sign a pledge against privatizing Social Security. In articles in the daily newspapers the next day, it was noted that Roberts had signed July 2 and challenged her opponent to do the same.

In early August, Roberts blasted Shaw for a television ad he aired boasting about his role in securing money for the multibillion-dollar Everglades cleanup. Roberts said Shaw neglected to protect a key portion of the funding and pointed out that he had received poor grades from environmental groups, including the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club. "If you look at the press coverage, we are totally controlling the agenda in this campaign," boasts Roberts communications director Stephen Gaskill.

Several times a week, Roberts's camp lobs missiles at Shaw by e-mail and fax. On June 17, Roberts criticized Shaw for taking campaign contributions from Enron and Arthur Andersen in past campaigns.

On July 1, she criticized Shaw for taking $200,000 from a political-action committee funded by the pharmaceutical industry.

On July 23, Roberts chided Shaw for sponsoring a Social Security "privatization plan." Shaw has drafted a bill that would allow for private investment accounts funded with personal tax credits, though he says his plan would not touch the revenue that goes to the Social Security Trust Fund.

"Clay Shaw won't call his bill a privatization plan because he's into smoke and mirrors," Roberts said in the release. "The Shaw plan should go in the trash heap with the President's plan. Our seniors need a solvent Social Security system, not more empty promises from Republicans."

Her most notorious stunt, though, has been to create a controversial, toll-free line, 866-RX-CAROL, that tells consumers how to obtain cheaper drugs from Canadian pharmacies over the Internet. Such purchases are illegal. "I think what she is doing is reckless," says Shaw's campaign manager, Larry Casey.


It's a little after 1 p.m., and storm clouds are turning a dirty-gray sky into a nasty, bluish-purple bruise. But so far, the deluge that threatens to ruin Labor Day hasn't yet afflicted Davie's Tree Top Park, where the AFL-CIO-affiliated Federation of Public Employees is sponsoring an old-fashioned family picnic. Under a canopy of massive oaks, there must be 500 people here -- mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and kids... lots of kids -- clustered around card tables or lolling in lawn chairs. Plates are passed laden with down-home American picnic fare: barbecued chicken, baked beans, cole slaw, hot dogs, sauerkraut. The crack of ice-cold beer-can tabs being jacked open punctuates the air. A line of eager children stands in front of a vendor swirling luscious, giant, pink beehives of cotton candy on paper cones.

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