The Kiwanis Club in Tamarac is holding a hearing on Monday to kick out a City Commission candidate whom the club is accusing of anti-Semitism.
But while the accusation is highly questionable, there's concrete evidence that secretive and cutthroat politics are at play.
Club President Joel Davidson informed longtime city activist Patti Lynn yesterday in an email that the Kiwanis were holding a expulsion hearing based on using the term "shylock" on her blog, It's Just Politics, in a post in March. Lynn -- who in 30 years of involvement in local politics had never before been accused of any type of prejudice -- has since apologized for what she wrote and removed the word from her site.
What Davidson didn't write in his email is that he is a longtime neighbor and close friend of Lynn's opponent, Tamarac Vice Mayor Patte Atkins-Grad. Davidson also didn't reveal that he is one of Atkins-Grad's top campaign volunteers and is in charge of handing the vice mayor's signs and T-shirts.
Davidson says his friendship and ardent political support of Atkins-Grad has nothing to do with his push to expel Lynn from the club. But the timing of the Kiwanis hearing arranged by Davidson certainly doesn't help him persuade anyone on that score: It comes eight days prior to the November 3 election.
And that's just the beginning of the political ties in this Kiwanis caper. Lynn's blog post went unnoticed for months, until another blog, WatchingTamarac.com, pointed it out in August and then sent a mass email to political folks in the town.
WatchingTamarac is an anonymous blog that is decidedly anti-Lynn. I did a search on the ownership of the blog and it came back to none other than former Broward County School Board member Marty Rubinstein. Rubinstein's undated post came under the headline, "Anti Semitic Tirade?"
The kicker is that Rubinstein just happens to be paid consultant for the
Patte Atkins-Grad campaign. Rubenstein said he wasn't paid for posting the anti-Semitic allegation or the email blast. Records show he's been paid $232, and he says he expects to be paid more by the campaign in the future.
Rubinstein said he learned of Lynn's blog post from an email himself but wouldn't reveal who sent it to him ("I don't recall who sent it and do discard emails," Rubinstein told me). Rubenstein said he believed the use of the term showed that Lynn was anti-Semitic and lacked a "filter," but he also acknowledged that hard-core politics had a role in it. "When you're in a political campaign, things get... do I want to say the word nasty?" he asked rhetorically. "I guess that's the word. They just do. It's human nature."
He said the campaign didn't direct him to do it, and Atkins-Grad told me she would never endorse such a move.
"I wouldn't let anybody send anything out like that," she said. "I think it's slanderous. It hurts me for people to even think I would be involved in that. I don't slander people; it's not my style."
I asked Atkins-Grad, a realtor who goes by the nickname "Positively Patte," if she thought Lynn was anti-Semitic.
"I'm not blind," she said. "I'm Jewish; my husband teaches world religion and Hebrew. Once you write something like that, it is hard to argue."
The offending (for some) sentence came in a March 23 blog post that Lynn wrote about assessments charged by the city to some business owners.
"The purpose of the assessment was for 'infrastructure' in the city's 'vision' for Main Street. The terms were draconian," he wrote. "If the entire City Commission were not of the Jewish faith, the term 'Shylock' may have come into play."
The term shylock originates from the usurious Jewish character in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. Some have claimed that Shylock, best-known for demanding a "pound of flesh" from a debtor, is an indication that Shakespeare was anti-Semitic. Others say Shylock is a sympathetic character. For more about that debate, click here.
The terms shylock and shylocking were even part of Florida's state loansharking laws until April of this year, when a bill sponsored by Eleanor Sobel banned it after the Anti-Defamation League complained that it propogated stereotypes about Jews as "money-hungry."
Lynn, a progressive corruption-fighting candidate who points out that she is a longtime member of the Anti-Defamation League and regularly contributes to the Holocaust Museum, said that she read the play in the ninth grade and that it had a profound effect on her, so much so that she can ring off quotes from it to this day off the top of her head.
"It's just a Shakespeare thing," Lynn said. "I'm an Italian Baptist. It's The Merchant of Venice; that's the way I look at it. When he said he wanted a pound of flesh, Portia said, 'The quality of mercy is not strained. It dropeth as a gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.' I'll never forget those words."
Once Rubenstein sent his email blast with Lynn's words, the Kiwanis Club immediately went into action. On August 9, the club sent Lynn what it called a "personal note" urging her to resign from the club rather to face public and political humiliation for being expelled on charges of "bigotry and anti-Semitism." From the letter, which was signed by former Kiwanis President Mindy Salway:
It has been brought to the attention of the Board of Directors of our Club from various individual members that your political blog contained anti-Semitic references to our political leaders in Tamarac. The comments which you published have gone far beyond what we think is acceptable conduct for a member of the Club... We are aware that you are running for political office in Tamarac, and we are not interested in providing fodder for anyone else who might be running to use these comments against you in that arena. That is why this letter is totally informal.
Thus branded, Lynn could either resign without a fight, which would be almost an admission that the charges were true and almost surely would have been used against her in the campaign anyway, or she could fight the charges and face public ridicule. She immediately apologized on the blog but didn't know what to do with the Kiwanis.
"How do you prove that you're not anti-Semitic?" she said. "I'm not, I know I'm not, but to prove that to someone else is impossible."
In her apology, she wrote: "I am in a political campaign. I admit to making a damned stupid mistake by using a word that might have, (and obviously did), offend some people. I certainly hope that this is not a concerted effort by a political campaign to cause divisiveness in our community. That, in fact, would be offensive. All of that being said, if I have offended YOU, I sincerely apologize. I am not anti-Semitic."
Atkins-Grad said she thought the Kiwanis letter was a friendly gesture. "I thought the Kiwanis sent her a very nice letter saying that what she did just wasn't the Kiwanis way," the vice mayor said, not explaining how she came to know about something that was supposed to be a "personal note."
Davidson, the Kiwanis Club president who scheduled Monday's hearing, said he believes Lynn's words were discriminatory. He said the timing of his Kiwanis bigotry hearing -- which Lynn says she can't attend because she has been invited a Barack Obama event that day at the Fountainbleu Hotel -- had nothing to do with the election.
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"It was a matter of finally getting a quorum together for the hearing," Davidson said. "It has been delayed. This has nothing to do with politics. These are two different things and my work on the [Atkins-Grad] campaign has nothing to do with the hearing. I have an open mind. I will not prejudge. I am looking at this from the perspective of the Kiwanis."
When asked if he would abstain from the hearing because of his apparent conflict of interest, he said there was no reason for him to do such a thing.
"I feel from past history it's a derogatory term," he said. "It would be no different if I used the n word for an Afro-American. I'm an eye-for-an-eye-type person, and if somebody used that word, then there will be consequences. To put it out on the internet, you are putting it out to the world. Consequently you have to pay for it."
Let's just hope they don't demand a pound of flesh.