The Other Shaw

Despite this guy's penchant for weird ideas and nasty insults, he has a shot

In an area world-famous for botched balloting, New Timesendorses Republican Elliot S. Shaw in Palm Beach County's Florida House District 89. A destitute lawyer whose sanity the Florida Supreme Court once questioned, he's the perfect candidate for SoFla's easily misled voters.

We like his chances. Even the state's fantastically faulty touch-screen voting machines aren't likely to stop the senescent masses from picking Shaw, thinking they're casting their lot with the 21-year Republican U.S. representative also named Shaw. Clay, that is. Mary Brandenburg, the lesser Shaw's more experienced (not to mention more mentally stable) opponent, says she's "taking it seriously" that voters might be that dumb.

Heck, Shaw, who trounced former radio talk-show host Mann Killian to win the Republican primary, has more going for him than just his name. He's running in an essentially new legislative district with no incumbent. So, many voters in Palm Beach and West Palm Beach don't know much about either candidate, which is certainly to the lesser Shaw's benefit.

Sure, the 57-year-old Shaw -- as opposed to the 62-year-old congressman -- has a few odd ideas. He wants to abolish school boards and use the money to install a computer on every public school student's desk. He talks with a straight face about plopping a hydroelectric wheel in the Gulf Stream to solve the state's energy problems ("That's far out," says University of Miami environmental engineer David Chin, "and entirely not practical."). His campaign has even included attacks on Brandenburg, a former West Palm Beach city commissioner, for her failure to have children. That's perhaps the first-ever Florida election campaign taking a stand against infertility.

Oh, and then there's prostitution. The younger Shaw wants to legalize it, comparing a woman's right to have an abortion to her right to get it on for cash. The thought of it is enough to make Strom Thurmond fall from his wheelchair.

But at a time when most politicians promise blandly to "think outside the box," Shaw is a candidate who seems to have put the box in storage long ago. He says his law practice bombed after the Supremes two years ago ordered him to see a psychiatrist, fined him $25,000, and suspended him for 90 days, in part for calling U.S. District Judge Kenneth L. Ryskamp a Nazi. (Shaw admits he visited a psychiatrist for ten years for bipolar disorder. "That was baloney," he says of Ryskamp's order to see a shrink.)

Since then, Shaw has gotten a divorce, moved into a halfway house for the homeless, racked up tens of thousands in credit-card debt, and been evicted from his law office. While heading from the mainland to Palm Beach recently in the company of a New Timesreporter, Shaw said: "While I'm well-accepted among the white-bread, Anglo establishment of this island, I'm also for the little people because I've been living among them."

We should be thankful to have such public servants amongst us.

Later on during the drive, Shaw pointed to a group of fishermen. "One reason you see African-American people fishing is because, when they were slaves, it was their only form of protein," he says, taking a break from a diatribe about education. "They went fishing for their protein, and now it's part of their culture."

Then there's his legal career. He made headlines in 1994 when he tried unsuccessfully to sell royal titles through a questionable deal with the estate of a dead countess and then again a year later when he sued Florida on behalf of an anonymous call girl. A judge threw out the suit, but Shaw remains committed to a woman's birthright to charge for a little som' som'. The efforts aren't testosterone-driven. "No, me? No. I've never visited a prostitute," Shaw insists. "I've never had to, because I've always had women at my side."

Wearing a blue blazer two inches short in the arms to a recent speech, with his thinning hair slicked back, Shaw said he's "one of the great men of our time," comparing himself to Martin Luther King Jr. or maybe Abe Lincoln. On campaign literature, Shaw lists his hobbies as international traveling, scuba, and weight training; the fliers prove his commitment to the sports. There's a photo of Shaw standing in the surf on a picturesque beach, an open dress shirt revealing his rotund belly and voluptuous man-boobs.

Shaw isn't bogged down by a voting record that ties him to one party. In fact, he acknowledges that a special election in March was his first visit to the polls since 1992. And he says he switched to the Republican Party a few years ago because Democrats just weren't responsive to his ideas.

He doesn't copy other politicians who speak coherently. During a candidate debate before a civic group in a Palm Beach church recently, he segued rapidly from abolishing school boards to what he recently read in the New York Post to merit pay for teachers. He nearly won over the elderly crowd with the talk of merit pay, then lost them when he asked hypothetically why his opponent had failed to have children while he has adopted three. "I mean, she couldn't adopt like I have?"

Later, Brandenburg says her ability to have children is none of Shaw's business and added that Shaw was lucky her husband wasn't there to hear the remark. "God has closed that door for me," she says, "but he has opened others." Despite the crack about her fertility, Brandenburg says she hopes Shaw will continue showing up for debates so more voters can be informed of his ideas. "I've thought that as part of the campaign, I should hire a chauffeur to make sure he gets to events."

Apparently, Brandenburg subscribes to the ideals of old-fashioned politics. Why should voters feel they must vote for Shaw based on his opinions when his name is enough to confuse them? For the Florida legislature, New Timesendorses Shaw, umm, Elliot S. Shaw.

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