SEIU can be one mean mofo.
The Service Employees International Union -- best known locally for its fight to unionize the Nova Southeastern University custodial staff -- has jumped into a Broward County Commission race in a big way. And it's going after veteran commissioner John Rodstrom like a rabid dog.
The union, which has endorsed Rodstrom challenger Bryan Caletka, is blanketing District 7 (which includes parts of Fort Lauderdale stretching west through Plantation to Davie) with mailer ads and telephone "push" polls painting Rodstrom as a lobbyist-loving, out-of-touch millionaire who does his public business with influence peddlers on the golf course and at posh restaurants.
True or not, the ads are powerful, mainly because they use Rodstrom's own words against him. One that found it's way into the Pulp's mailbox has a blurry, rather diabolical-looking photo of Rodstrom in a suit next to one of his quotes from 2005: "Lobbyists just meet me for lunch or some other place outside the office, and nothing has to be revealed."
The union also called the Pulp (randomly) on the phone and slammed Rodstrom, bringing up his Republican roots, his votes against the human rights ordinance (read: he's anti-gay), vacation home in North Carolina, and, again, his relationship with lobbyists. It also claimed he supported and protected a jail contractor who allowed inmates to escape. I asked the caller what they were talking about she said, "Well, um, it's not like Rodstrom allowed the inmates to escape ...". Whew, that would be damning, wouldn't it?
[NEW: The union sent me it's back-up research on the issue (for which a source said was part of a background check that cost $10,000). The contractor was Wackenhut, which ran (runs?) the work-release center on Powerline Road in Pompano Beach. There were a lot of walk-away escapes (twice the state average) and Rodstrom pooh-poohed then-Sheriff Ken Jenne's plan to charge the company a penalty for every escapee. Wackenhut had donated $10,000 to an anti-strong mayor group started by Rodstrom at the time.]
"Rodstrom has not been supportive of the needs of working people," Ruiz told me. "The union endorsed a candidate who we believe will indeed support the needs of working people."
Of course, you wouldn't know it's the SEIU from ads and phone slams. Instead you'll hear that it's from the "Integrity In Government Coalition," an Election Communications Organization registered by Ruiz last week. Ruiz denies it, but sources tell me the phone calls started before the actual registration. One of them is Rodstrom, who calls Caletka "diabolical."
"People have been getting these calls for weeks and we didn’t know who was doing them," said Rodstrom. "They just make this stuff up. I have no idea what they are talking about."
There is no hard evidence any phone calls were made prior to registration, so we should take that with a grain of salt. Hey, some of this may be a bit on the shady side, but Rodstrom is indeed vulnerable on the lobbyist issue (Judy Stern is running his campaign).
Caletka, a Davie councilman and schoolteacher, says he has nothing to do with the SEIU efforts. Rather he says he's been busy with voters and conducting polls, including calls to 54 voters last weekend. He wouldn't tell the poll results.
"I can say it’s very close between John and me," he told me. "And I’ll say this: If it looked like I was going down in flames, I’d throw one hell of a party and go to the beach on Sunday. But I’m working hard every day and I don’t believe in exercises in futility."
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Also running are Carlton Moore and Robert McKinzie, who the Pulp believes don't have a chance, since they will split the black vote, thus counseling out any chance either of them has.
Oh, one more ad that caught my eye. It had three mugshots side by side: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and ... Broward sheriff's candidate Scott Israel. The heading: "Eight months ago all three of these men were Republicans."
Israel, of course, switched parties to Democrat because it was the only way in hell he could possibly be elected. On the back, the ad points out that Israel says he only became Republican was so he could get a summer job on Long Island as a teenager (which of course only enforces the idea that he is merely a political opportunist). It also offers that just last year Israel wrote a letter to Charlie Crist saying he intends to run for the nomination of the "Republican Party of Broward County for the position of sheriff."
It's a damning ad -- and it comes from the "Broward Coalition for Justice and Equality" (don't you love it how these mercenary political orgs use such high-minded and vaunted names?). Don't know who that is yet, but I'm betting it's a Barbara Miller special (the lobbyist is behind Rick Lemack.) What I do know is these primaries are getting very interesting before next Tuesday's vote.