Florida Is Cleaner

No sale!

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who represents much of west Broward, is an increasingly high-profile operative in the national Democratic Party. During crunch time in the presidential election this year, Wasserman Schultz was a much-sought-after talking head, particularly with regard to the meandering assertions of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. The party recently made Wasserman Schultz a chief strategist in its 2010 congressional reelection campaign.

Last week, New Times' Thomas Francis sat down with her for lunch at Jaxson's Ice Cream Parlor in Dania Beach. Foremost burning question? What about the soon-to-be-vacant U.S. Senate seat of Republican Mel Martinez, who has announced he will not seek reelection in 2010? Wasserman Schultz has been on the short list of possible Democratic contenders in the senatorial sweepstakes, which has been given a certain perverse spin because of revelations of the way a certain Midwestern governor allegedly put another U.S. Senate seat on the auction block.

NT: Has anyone offered to sell you Mel Martinez's Senate seat?

Wasserman Schultz: (laughs) Well, the answer is no.

That's a relief.

But keep in mind that Mel Martinez's Senate seat in not currently open. He's occupying it until the next election, at which time it will be filled — by an election. I really don't think we'll have to deal with that kind of problem here. But no, it's not for sale, and I haven't been trying to buy it.

Jeb Bush is considering a campaign.

I don't think Jeb Bush is a good fit for the U.S. Senate. I don't think he's a good fit for public office in general. His style is quite dictatorial. It's his way or the highway. Jeb Bush doesn't understand give and take. He did more to destroy the quality of life in Florida then perhaps anyone in history.

During any political function, have you been tempted to throw a shoe?

(laughs) Particularly because my shoes are high-heeled, I most definitely have been tempted to throw shoes at various politicians during the course of my career, but I have shown restraint.

Being a mother of three, it seems you'd have a good perspective on the challenges that the Obamas face. They've said they want their children to have as normal a life as possible. Is that possible?

It's really the responsibility of the Obamas to make sure they teach their kids they're just like everybody else; they're not better than anybody else. And I think the Obamas have those kinds of values. I'm not worried about their kids becoming bratty, which is what you worry about when your kids are exposed to a lot of the privileges that come with being in the First Family.

Obama Campaign Manager David Plouffe said recently that had Florida's votes counted in its January primary, Hillary Rodham Clinton would have won and would likely have gone on to win the nomination. You were a cochair of Clinton's campaign in Florida. Is Plouffe right?

I think that's probably accurate. On January 29, when Hillary Clinton won the Florida primary, that was a pivotal moment. [Had those Florida delegates counted,] she would have roared into Super Tuesday, having won the fourth-largest state. I believe she would have won the primary and the general election and that right now we would be preparing for her inauguration as president.

I imagine everybody in Washington is talking about the inauguration. Are you going, or have you sold your tickets on eBay for a million dollars?

(Again, laughs) That's illegal. So I didn't do that. My husband and I are going up to the inauguration. We're going to the Florida State Society Ball that Monday night. I'm hosting a reception for all of my constituents — an open house — at the Library of Congress, in the members room, which is a beautiful, beautiful room.

Outta the Way, Fatso

A researcher at Florida Atlantic University says that motoring slowly through designated manatee protection habitats — as required by state Fish and Wildlife law — may put the meandering sea cows at greater risk of getting hacked up by your boat's motor. Says Dr. Edmund Gerstein, the university's director of marine mammal behavioral research: "In turbid waters, where there is no visibility, slow speeds actually exacerbate the risks of collisions by making these boats inaudible to manatees and increasing the time it takes for a boat to now travel through manatee habitats." 

Unlike dolphins — which use sonar to navigate — manatees rely on their passive listening skills to get around, Gerstein says. But boats mostly emit low-frequency sounds that manatees have trouble hearing. That explains why, despite being hit once (and in some cases 50 times), the animal doesn't have the sense to get out of the way the next time. They can't see or hear our boats. Last year, boats killed 73 manatees in Florida bays and inland waterways.  

Gerstein has a solution for this. He has been testing an alarm that emits a high-frequency signal at a NASA wildlife refuge. And he's happy to report that, every time a boat approaches a manatee with the alarm sounding, the manatee scoots away. Without the alarm, the manatees tried to avoid the boat only 3 percent of the time. Ouch!

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