No one will get her to officially admit that she's enjoying the controversy that has blanketed Broward Judge Peter Skolnik's reelection campaign; but make no mistake about it, Debra Steinsaltz is more than a casual observer.
"I have no comment about that," Steinsaltz said when I asked her about Skolnik's campaign troubles. On Monday Steinsaltz landed the endorsement of the Sun-Sentinel, which opined that the Broward courts need a "fresh perspective."
But there's nothing "fresh" about Steinsaltz's campaign tactics.
Since February Steinsaltz's campaign has been making payments to one of the county's most shadowy operatives, Barry Harris, of the ironically named Sunshine Political Connection in Tamarac.
Loyal readers of New Times may remember Harris from this Bob Norman column last September. In it, State House candidate Freda Stevens tells of how Harris asked her to abandon her bid to knock off State Rep. Evan Jenne, guaranteeing that if Stevens ran in an open seat, Harris would line up big donors for her. Stevens described Harris' place in Broward politics thus:
"Barry is sort of like a wad of gum on the wall: You see it, but you don't want to look at it."
Based on finance reports, which don't include any payments Harris may have received in August, Steinsaltz's campaign has paid Sunshine Political Connection a total of $3,000 -- a large sum considering how scarce are funds for Broward judicial candidates. I asked Steinsaltz what services she got in exchange for those payments.
"He's helped me out by putting up signs," she said.
That seems awfully expensive for a job that usually can be handled by a few campaign volunteers, gratis. Surely, Harris has done more than that?
"He's introduced me to people," said Steinsaltz, a 40-year-old assistant public defender making her first foray into politics. "I'm the new person, and he helps me; it's political consulting."
Introductions to what kind of people?
"People that know politics," said Steinsaltz. "People who can advise me on what events to go to and who's working the poll -- that sort of thing."
It's all very vague, very G-rated. Steinsaltz sensed my skepticism. "I have nothing to hide about it," she said. "You know that I paid him and that he's a political consultant."
(Harris did not respond to emails requesting information about his role on Steinsaltz's campaign.)
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Still, it seems far-fetched that Harris is Machiavellian enough to have engineered the dispute between Judge Skolnik and webmaster Stephen Smith. (Smith told me he's never heard of Harris and that he has no motives other than to get paid for his work.)
Maybe Steinsaltz doesn't know exactly what Harris is doing to help her campaign. Because maybe she doesn't want to know.
But as Skolnik's only opponent in the Group 3 judicial race, Steinsaltz is the candidate who stands to benefit from the recent circulation of an email that contains links to Juice posts, as well as to Sun-Sentinel articles about a 2003 domestic violence report that involved Skolnik.
That email came from a group called OurBrowardCourts, which can be traced back to another operative, Dan Lewis, who runs TipLead.com. Lewis describes it as "a safe internet platform for individuals and businesses to both buy and sell information anonymously." Like Harris, Lewis has not immediately responded to questions.