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In the meantime, local Democrats aren't faring as well with minorities. After her appointment, Loehndorf appointed only one black to a leadership position in the party -- and not to one of the more influential committees, like fundraising or voter registration, but to the committee on affirmative action. "Was this an oversight or deliberate?" asks Fladell, the political consultant. "It was a terrible, horrible oversight for a party that's supposed to represent minorities."
The Republicans' campaign for Jewish voters has received inadvertent help from Loehndorf herself, critics say. She has insisted on holding party meetings in downtown West Palm Beach, something that irks south-county retirees, says Jay Weitz, chairman of the Peoples Choice Political Action Committee, which represents mainly conddo-dwelling Democrats. "Much of our south-county people are retirees who can't make that kind of trip at night," says Weitz, a 72-year-old retired salesman in Boynton Beach. The reluctance of the party to appreciate that fact could lead some Jewish Democrats to go instead to Republican functions, he says. "We're trying to work with the party leadership up there," Weitz says. "At this point, we are no longer talking as seriously about splitting the party, but I hope they know they need to bend over backwards to recognize these south-county voters."
For the Republicans, nobody could be better suited for the job of recruiting Jews and minorities than Dinerstein, an ex-Jewish Democrat himself. Dinerstein says he was raised in a blue-collar family, with his father, a bookkeeper, never able to buy his own home. Dinerstein says making his own way into the business world got him interested in the Republican way. Dinerstein founded a check cashing company that grew to 600 employees before he sold it 11 years ago, allowing him to retire to Palm Beach Gardens, where he bought a 5,800-square-foot home appraised at $826,000. So Dinerstein says that, as a Jew and a self-made man, he's the perfect spokesman for the GOP's minority crusade. "At the local level, the party's not going to change the minds of a large number of people," Dinerstein admits. "But there are margins that it can affect. You're talking 4 or 5 percent, but that can often make the difference in many races."
However, Dinerstein is realistic about President Bush's chances here, even if his party can win support from minority voters. In 2000, the president managed to get only 35 percent of the votes in Palm Beach County, compared to 62 percent for Al Gore. And that was even with the thousands of votes thrown out and others who claimed they accidentally voted for Pat Buchanan. "It would be a miracle for Bush to win this county," he says, "but it can be done."
The black folks in the back of the room at the recent GOP meeting are more optimistic about Bush's chances here. "He's going to win, hands down," says Cadogan, a 35-year-old engineer in a sharp black suit with a tie-less blue dress shirt below it. "Hands down, he's going to win Palm Beach County."
"Oh yeah," says Royster, wearing blue khakis and her shoulder-length hair so straight, it looks ironed. "The president is going to win."
Not so convinced is Sean Williams, a 37-year-old from Boynton Beach with small-lens eyeglasses perched on his nose and pens lining the pocket of his dress shirt. "Let's be realistic, guys," he says. "He's not going to go from -- what did he win, like a third? -- to 51 percent. I'd like to believe it, but I don't know.... "
Cadogan politely cuts in. This is not something black Republicans can waver on, not when they're trying to convince their brethren of a rebellion. "No," he says sternly. "I'm sure he can win."
"OK," Williams relents.
Looking entirely Wall Street in his suspenders, dress pants, and polka-dotted tie, Mike Aves heads down Clematis Street looking to recruit voters. He's been put in charge of the March 9 election-night party for the Democrats, and so far, things haven't gone well. As of 7:34 p.m., only a dozen people have shown up, the food is limited to cheese cubes and chicken wings, and none of the TVs work. The small crowd is starting to rumble about the lack of election returns -- with, among others, two West Palm Beach city commission seats up for grabs -- and Aves knows that such a small crowd won't hold the few politicians present for long. He heads off from the bar he booked for the occasion -- a dance club called Liquid -- in the rather foolish hope of persuading young people to change their evenings for a lame political party. "I just hope I don't run into Mayor Frankel," he says, crossing Olive Avenue. "She's going to rip me a new asshole."
A self-employed financial planner, Aves explains that he's on a mission to help the dance clubs and bars make it in a downtown that's otherwise struggling. "That's something Frankel's not too happy about," he says. A block later, he spots Frankel outside an Irish pub. "Oh, shit," he says. "I'm screwed." Aves turns quickly to a homeless guy and a spacey woman, both of whom are completely wasted. He tries to talk them into coming before the guy cuts him off, saying he couldn't afford the $5 cover charge donation. Aves tries to remain positive: "Well, I still hope to see you there."