As media attention continues into the infamous handshake, attacks on School Board candidate Jaemi Levine are intensifying.
It's no secret where they're coming from. "Ivory Johnson" may be dead, but dirty anonymous attacks are alive and well in this race between Levine and Dave Thomas. They're personal, they're not true, and they are aimed at swaying voters.
Below I have more information on the handshake -- and it doesn't bode well for Thomas.
But a perfect example of the kind of attacks being unleashed on the internet came on this blog yesterday from someone calling himself or herself "Now Decided." Here's the comment in full:
Not knowing much about either candidate I attended the meeting to hear what they had to say about different issues. To start with Levine was late, (which did not impress me) Secondly, It seemed that Levine was more intent on slinging mud at her opponent than answering the questions, (which did not impress me) I do have to say that I stayed to the very end and was no more than 15 feet away and did not see a hand squeezing incident. I do know that desperate people will do desperate things to get a vote. All I know is it made my decision easy...PS. since everyone is commenting on pics, I have one to, Levine looks like a puffy alcoholic, maybe that's why she was late.
It follows the pattern of all campaign supporter-planted comments. First they claim not to have a dog in the fight; they're just your average citizen trying to find a good candidate. Then they launch into partisan attacks, often ending in an outright smear job, i.e. "puffy alcoholic."
I had heard before the debate ever occurred at All County Music on Tuesday night that rumors were swirling about Levine, who entered politics after her daughter was targeted by an online predator, being an alcoholic. Levine told me today that she had heard the rumor as well, along with implications that she was a bad mother.
It's utter garbage.
"I don't even drink," said Levine. "If i have a glass of wine once every three or four months, it's a lot. I just don't like the taste of alcohol."
Levine said that after the now-infamous post-debate handshake, Dave Thomas' wife, Cindy Thomas, snapped at her, "Why don't you go get a drink?"
So who is making stuff up here?
(I left a message for Cindy Thomas to respond and will update as soon as she does.)
It seems to me that it's the old hands at dirty whisper campaigns -- AKA the Stephanie Kraft camp -- that may be creating the fiction in this race. Understand that Kraft apparently still harbors ill feelings from four years ago when Levine ran against her. Levine, to her credit, was telling people back then that Kraft was corrupt and that the board needed new direction.
Levine says she learned about the Broward culture of corruption the hard way. When she first launched her campaign in 2006, she says political consultant Bev Stracher arranged a meeting between her and Shawn Chait, the dirty developer who allegedly later bribed Mitch and Stephanie Kraft.
She says she met with Stracher and Chait at Stracher's kitchen table.
"[Stracher] called me and said there is somebody I want to introduce you to who I think can finance your entire campaign," said Levine. "They were looking for people to put into positions who didn't know shit. That's what Thomas is, a puppet. And I don't do puppet well."
She said that during the sitdown, Stracher told her that $50,000 to $60,000 should be enough money and that Chait asked Stracher if they should create a 527 committee for Levine. Stracher told him, "Not yet."
"I had no idea what they were talking about," said Levine. "At the end of it, I just shook Chait's hand and said, 'Sir, whatever you contribute to my campaign, you can count on my honesty, integrity, and fair vote,'" she recalled.
Levine, who said she has since met with state prosecutors regarding the Chait investigation, said that Stracher later urged her to drop out of the race.
She says she knew Kraft was corrupt in part because during the 2006 campaign, she was constantly with one person: School Board lobbyist Neil Sterling. "Neil Sterling went everywhere with Stephanie Kraft," said Levine. "He spent the entire day of the election with Stephanie on the steps of Kings Point [condos in Tamarac]. Where Stephanie went, Neil Sterling went."
We now know that Sterling put Kraft's husband, Mitch, on his payroll even as Stephanie Kraft was voting on contracts for his clients.
Levine said that at one point during the campaign, Kraft told her on the phone that if she didn't drop out, she would beat her anyway and then make sure that none of the programs Levine was proposing for schools would get any backing.
Kraft held onto that promise, says Levine. And now, even after losing her seat and taking a trip to jail for the Chait-related corruption charges, Kraft is still doing all she can to defeat Levine through Dave Thomas, who has accepted Kraft's support.
Levine said she's been all about just one thing for the past four years: fighting corruption.
"What pisses me off is that people assume I'm stupid," Levine told me. "I'm going to be the 'Columbo' of the School Board. That's what they are petrified about. They know I will dig up what they are trying to hide. They might want to get out their tubes of K-Y."
How's that for straight talk?
So what of that handshake? There's so much noise around it now that it seems almost impossible to know what should be believed. Well, I found as close to an independent witness as I could, someone who saw a very interesting exchange between Levine and Thomas right after the debate. Read about it inside.
The independent witness I found is Bob Sutton, who ran and lost against both Levine and Thomas in the primary.
Sutton, a teacher and businessman, says he's been on the fence about who he is going to vote for between the two. Regarding Thomas, he says:
"I like Dave because of the military background, the police background, and that he's an educator. And I like him personally. He's working his ass off. You have to wonder why he keeps going with the corrupt side, though."
Of Levine, Sutton says:
"The positive with Jaemi is that she's a fighter. She's stuck steadfastly about what she has been doing for five years now. She has been saying there is corruption, and she has proven that it's true. She's like a little Tasmanian devil. I almost think we need her in there now to do the damage, to change things, and then maybe we can bring in Dave."
Sutton was at Tuesday night's debate at All County Music in Tamarac -- and he says that what happened afterward will likely make a "big difference" in his vote.
Sutton said that he didn't witness the handshake itself but that apparently right after it happened, he asked both Thomas and Levine to set aside their differences for a moment and pose for a picture with him.
"Jaemi was fussing about how she was hurting," said Sutton. "She said to Dave, 'You hurt me; I am hurting.' And Dave was saying, 'Don't worry, I won't touch you, I won't touch you.' I was like, 'What the hell is this about?' I didn't know what happened at the time, but I do now."
They both agreed to pose for the photograph, which Sutton said was taken by Coral Springs Forum reporter Arun Sivasankara. I've been unable to make contact with Sivasankara.
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Sutton says what he saw indicates there was definitely an incident, and he said it very well may swing his vote to Levine.
"I don't like abuse or bullying in any form, especially if you happen to be stronger physically," said Sutton, adding that he sat next to Thomas' wife, Cindy, at the debate. "This is a School Board race. Why would it come down to, 'I'm stronger than you'?"
He said he finds the idea that Levine would make up the handshake idea to be ludicrous.
"I know Jaemi, and I know Dave, and she doesn't have that much upstairs to come up with something like that," said Sutton. "Look, she was injured at the event. She was fussing about being injured; I heard her. But I want to say one thing, and I hope you put it in there. If we could just focus on what we agree on, we could accomplish so much more than what we're doing now."