Queen of the Recount

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

For candidate Roberts, this is prime campaign country. Most of the people here are enjoying a day off from work. They're dressed in clothing that a smear of barbecue sauce or a helping of baked beans won't ruin. By contrast, Roberts is dressed for business -- gray pinstriped slacks, toenails painted bright red, face shielded by a straw hat decorated with a black-and-white braid. This is the third of five stops for the candidate on a Labor Day blitz that began at 10:30 a.m. with skycaps at the Palm Beach International Airport to discuss the living-wage ordinance she recently proposed. The day will end with a 6:30 p.m. appearance at a Labor Day concert at Mizner Park in Boca Raton.

Despite the ladies-who-brunch attire, Roberts is in her element at this union gathering. Although Shaw has the endorsement of politicos from both counties, Roberts has been backed by the Democratic stalwarts: labor unions, women's groups, and gay and lesbian and human rights organizations. Emily's List, which donates money to pro-choice candidates, gave Roberts $35,000.

Roberts is greeted warmly. People like to see a candidate come to them, says communications director Gaskill. To some people, Roberts talks her campaign planks. To others, she offers bits of her personal life. "I have six grandchildren myself," Roberts says to several grandmothers watching over their respective grandchildren. To Phillip Paniccia, a disaster team captain standing in front of a Red Cross truck, Roberts describes her father. "What I'm proud of is that my dad had a 50-year pin with the Red Cross," she says. "He taught first aid."

Colby Katz
Congressional candidate Carol Roberts shops for art and stumps for votes at the Las Olas Labor Day Art Fair in Fort Lauderdale
Colby Katz
Congressional candidate Carol Roberts shops for art and stumps for votes at the Las Olas Labor Day Art Fair in Fort Lauderdale

It is perhaps telling that, in a majority Republican district, Roberts spent Labor Day fortifying her Democratic base. "A lot of Democrats have supported Clay Shaw," North Broward County Democratic Club President Sarah Brown explained when Roberts stopped by the club's picnic later that day. "Carol has to go out and recapture Democratic votes."

As did Elaine Bloom before her, one group Roberts is banking on for votes is Broward County's burgeoning gay community. And, like Bloom, who received help from her gay son, David, Roberts has employed her offspring at campaign appearances. Stephen became a rabbi after a career in finance. He lives in New York City and worked with the Red Cross after 9/11 counseling the families of victims of the World Trade Center attacks.

"I'm here campaigning for my mother where I think I can make a difference," Stephen says after several campaign stops at gay-dominated events. "The gay and lesbian community is part of who I am."

Rabbi Stephen is a big fan of his mother's political career. He was in high school in 1975, when his mother made her first run for office. Her ambition doesn't surprise him. He describes it with the Hebrew phrase "tikkun olan," which he translates as "repair of the world."

"My mother doesn't need to be involved in politics," he says. "She could be in a salon getting a manicure and a pedicure, but my mother believes in trying to make the world a better place."

Carol Roberts says that, for her, gay rights is a personal issue, a natural outgrowth of her close relationship with her son. Stephen kept his homosexuality secret through high school and college because he feared he would be banished from his faith. When he finally came out to his parents after college, they immediately told him they would stand by him. "We are a very strong family that loves each other and supports each other," Carol Roberts says. "And we think that Stephen is just an incredible human being."

Last year, Roberts says, her whole family, including Stephen's brothers, sister, and cousins, attended a marriage ceremony in which Stephen exchanged vows with his partner. Carol and Hyman walked with their son down the aisle, she says. Her support of federal antidiscrimination laws and domestic-partner benefits is a logical outgrowth of her relationship with Stephen, she says. She also believes that Florida's ban on gay adoption is ridiculous.

Terry DeCarlo, director of development for the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of South Florida, praises Roberts's support of Stephen. "I'll give her votes for being a great mother," he says, expressing his own views rather than those of the center. "In that arena, she is strides ahead of a lot of other parents. But it doesn't mean people will vote for her on that alone."

Roberts, DeCarlo says, is popping up everywhere at events in Broward. She attended the Stonewall Street Festival in Wilton Manors and marched in the Pridefest Parade in Fort Lauderdale. In August, she spoke at the monthly luncheon of the gay business group GayLauderdale. "She has courted the gay community very heavily, very heavily," DeCarlo says. Indeed, appealing to the gay and lesbian vote is a smart move, even if some gay areas were gerrymandered out of the district. The 2000 census, which noted same-sex households for the first time, counted 5790 in Broward County and 3069 in Palm Beach County. The population of gays and lesbians in both areas is, of course, much higher.

Roberts has the same problem among gays and lesbians in Broward that she faces with the general electorate. "When her name comes up, a lot of people say, 'Who?'" DeCarlo says. "She has to be out there basically 24-7... letting people know what Clay hasn't already done, or... what she will do that Clay hasn't."

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