Queen of the Recount

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

Though she lags behind Shaw in fundraising -- he has reported $1.4 million in contributions to her $800,000 -- she has done well compared to other candidates around the country in contributions from individuals. Hillary Clinton's political-action committee donated $5000. Other politicians' PACs have contributed another $20,000. Al Gore appeared at a breakfast fundraiser September 18, raising $50,000 for the party and $50,000 for Roberts. She was tenth in the nation in contributions from individuals in the January-to-June 2002 cycle. She points out that most of her contributions are from individuals in Palm Beach County rather than from political action committees like Shaw's. "I have a wider base of support from people all over the region than I think Shaw realizes," she says.

In her 16 years on the County Commission, Roberts has gained a reputation as a persuasive and passionate fighter who wears down fellow commissioners with discussions that drag on for hours. "When Roberts thinks she's right, she's like a pit bull with a bone. She doesn't give up. Or give in," according to a Sun-Sentinel article dated November 21, 2000.

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

County Commissioner Mary McCarty, who is also chair of the local Republican Party, has a different take. "The consistency [in Roberts's record] is the lobbyist representing the issue," McCarty rants.

Roberts has been dogged by criticism of her relationships with certain county lobbyists and her penchant for raising money from companies that do business or want to do business with the county. In 1996, Palm Beach Post columnist Frank Cerabino labeled Roberts "a woman who's touched up more people than the staff at Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum" after she raised $55,000 from Palm Beach County firms vying to work on a party in Orlando celebrating her installation as the president of the Florida Association of Counties.

The most virulent criticism, though, has been leveled at Roberts over her championing of clients represented by longtime friend Anita Mitchell.

Consider, for example:

In 1992, Mitchell's company, the Mitchell Group, was picked to participate in four of five county bond issues. In 1994, Roberts was accused of asking the commission to bend the rules so a friend of Mitchell's could get a $150,000 business grant.

In 1996, Roberts was one of three commissioners who tried to help a company ranked near the bottom of the pack to run the county's criminal justice computer system. Dallas-based Business Records Corp. was represented by Mitchell. When Roberts was installed as president of the Florida Association of Counties in 1996, BCC paid $7500 for a keynote speaker at the event. (In the end, BCC didn't get the contract.)

This past July, Roberts raised eyebrows when she proposed relaxing the rules in the county's 21,000-acre agricultural preserve so developer GL Homes would have an easier time building a development there. GL Homes contributed $7000 to her congressional campaign.

Considering the GL Homes deal, Shaw campaign manager Casey says Roberts has no place slamming Shaw's record on the Everglades. "She lives in a glass house," Casey says.

He also criticizes Roberts for "strong-arming" county lobbyists and firms for campaign contributions. This past spring, the Palm Beach Post reported that 11 items on the April 4 commission agenda were tied to Roberts's campaign contributors. "She has stepped on the neck of every lobbyist that has ever come before the County Commission," agreed attorney J. Reeve Bright, who is counsel to the local Republican Party.

Even without that rap, McCarty predicts Roberts's recount fame will kill any chance she has of persuading Palm Beach Republicans to vote for their hometown girl. If Roberts was respected among Palm Beach Republicans before the 2000 elections, a claim McCarty questions, that support has evaporated, she says. "I think there may have been some shred of credibility to that argument pre-2000 election, when she became Queen of the Recount," McCarty says. "But when she says she would rather go to jail than see George Bush as president..."

When New Times points out that what Roberts actually said was that she would go to jail if necessary to continue the manual recount, McCarty is unfazed. "Same difference," she cracks.

McCarty says Roberts's 866-RX-CAROL hotline is part of a pattern stretching back to the 2000 recount. "Seniors that are looking for affordable prescriptions will try to do anything they can," McCarty says. "But if you are trying to run for office as a lawmaker and you advocate breaking the law, that is a bit of a problem. But again, she says she would rather go to jail than see Bush elected president. So there is a little bit in her history to go against the law."

The bad-girl rep hasn't hurt Roberts yet.

In August, her campaign was again splashed across the headlines.

After a brainstorming session at her campaign headquarters, Roberts set up the hotline 866-RX-CAROL in July to provide information on how to order drugs from Canadian pharmacies on-line. She had learned about Internet pharmacies, which offer cheaper drugs than most American outlets, from a 92-year-old man during a campaign stop at an assisted-living facility.

Problem: Filling prescriptions outside the U.S. is illegal. When questioned by the press in August, Roberts said she didn't realize that such purchases are against the law. "You may have seen some press coverage over the past few days about my toll-free hotline to provide information on how to purchase prescription drugs from Canada over the Internet," Roberts told a gathering for Woman's Equality Day in Boca Raton on August 25. "Well, let me just say this: RX-CAROL is here to stay!

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