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Peter Deutsch has been giving it to Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas good. For the past few months, the Pembroke Pines congressman has been playing the Elliot Ness -- or Eliot Spitzer, if you prefer -- of the U.S. Senate race. Both Democrats, of course, are running for the Florida seat being vacated by presidential not-gonnabe Bob Graham. But the noble Deutsch doesn't just want to beat Penelas; he wants the SOB in prison, where the youngish almost-supple mayor would surely be raped on a daily basis.
After learning in July that Penelas accepted questionable campaign contributions from a health care company, Deutsch filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission. Since then, the congressman has been trotting around Florida calling Penelas everything from a criminal to a wimp (which, of course, is political slang for bee-yatch).
Them's strong words. But the ploy backfired on Deutsch during a Lake County Democratic fundraiser in August. The country club affair was supposed to be a polite gathering of fellow Democrats. Instead, Deutsch went off on Penelas like Katherine Harris on a bottle of glittery purple eyeliner.
"We tried to get him to shut up, but he went on and on," recalls 74-year-old Jerry Veldof, a Democratic club president who was in attendance. "I told him rather vociferously to sit down. He was way out of line. I would never support his candidacy after that."
Those poor shortsighted Lake Countians. They missed the beauty of Deutsch, whose name Veldof kept mistakenly pronouncing as Douche. Our representative is no douche -- he's just dogged. Blessed with a rather neanderthalic appearance, he's like the Frankenstein monster of campaigning, only without those annoying sympathetic qualities. And he has every right to ride his high horse. When it comes to campaign cash, he's above reproach.
Just browsing through his contributors on the FEC website confirms his saintly status. Deutsch raised more than $3.3 million, a lot of it from big New York financiers and businessmen. He has some serious contacts, like the three Nakash brothers who own Jordache (each gave $666, so let's get those satanic conspiracies flying, people). The aforementioned Spitzer, the crusading New York attorney general, is on the list too. Though Spitzer's accomplishments in corruption-busting have been slightly overblown, his endorsement -- and his $1,000 -- is just plain golden.
I was a bit taken aback, however, when I stumbled on contributions from the Winnicks of California. That would be the family of Gary Winnick, the former CEO of Global Crossing, which was involved in a huge corporate scandal last year that was second only to Enron's.
Winnick's wife, Karen, gave $4,000 to Deutsch in August, and her three sons contributed $2,000 each for a grand total of $10,000.
Deutsch, of course, knows all about the Winnicks. Hell, he's the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, which has investigated Global Crossing, Enron, WorldCom, and other great big cheating companies. During a September 2002 hearing about Global Crossing titled "Sham Transactions Designed to Boost Revenues," our congressman spoke Spitzeresquely about the Winnick mess: "These scandals have been devastating not only to employees, retirees, and shareholders but to our nation's economy. Congress must work to reverse this trend of corporate malfeasance."
So what did Winnick do that was so bad? Well, Global Crossing quickly became the leading fiber optics company in America, in part because it engaged in Enron-style accounting tricks to puff up revenues. Just before the balloon burst and it went bankrupt in January 2002, he and a few other insiders cashed out about $1.3 billion in Global Crossing stocks. While they made off rather nattily, thousands of employees and investors were financially devastated.
During one subcommittee hearing, Deutsch heard a woman named Lenette Crumpler, who lost her modest life savings when Global Crossing went bankrupt, tell it like it is: "Robber barons such as Gary Winnick of Global Crossing... have shown their ugly faces in corporate America. They have literally stolen the wealth of the working middle-class Americans, their own employees, right out from underneath their noses before they even knew what hit them."
So what in the world was Deutsch thinking when he accepted $10,000 from the robber baron's family? I'll tell you what he was thinking: About poor Mrs. Gary Winnick, that's what.
"When I received that money, which was arranged through a third party, I thought about whether I should accept it," Deutsch told me. "I had a judgment call to make, and I decided that not accepting the money wouldn't be fair to Karen Winnick. Guilt by association wouldn't be fair to her."
I agree. Just because Karen Winnick is living in an obscenely lavish $90 million house in Bel Air paid for by Global Crossing booty doesn't mean she should be singled out for her scant connection to her, um, husband. And just because the three sons are business partners of their dad's doesn't mean they have a darn thing to do with the corporate fiasco either.
And let's also not forget that Deutsch is a hero when it comes to corporate reform -- a hero to the corporations, at least. Back in 2001, he helped crush a bill that would have made it illegal for accounting firms to serve as consultants to the companies they audit. Had that bill passed, the Enron fraud might have never happened. But Deutsch had good reason for his vote: He'd been given good money from the accounting industry -- more than $130,000, in fact.