It's been reported in both the Sun-Sentinel and Miami Herald unquestioningly as "anti-Semitic." The Broward Sheriff's Office agrees and has gone as far as using subpoena power to investigate what it says may be a hate crime.
What is it?
A Hitler mustache and the words "Nazi bitch."
The offending material appeared on a political blog in Cooper City during the height of the election season in January. A post on the blog pictured Mayor Debbie Eisinger with a square of scribble on her upper lip and the epithet included.
This, of course, isn't anti-Semitic on its face (so to speak). Think about it: Whoever posted it was comparing Eisinger – who is known as a power-hungry politician in Cooper City – to the most reviled dictator of all time and certainly not in a favorable light. If anything, it's anti-Nazi.
Bloggers compare George W. Bush to Hitler quite a lot, and, while some might call it distasteful and wrong, I've never heard it called anti-Semitic. And I've certainly never heard of any instance where it was investigated as a potential crime.
Except in Broward County, where deputies took the extreme measure of sending subpoenas out to Google and AT&T to uncover the owner of the blog, which was called "Save Cooper City" and is now defunct. The blog's owner, according to deputies, is Commissioner John Sims, who is now the subject of a recall petition organized by the mayor and her political backers.
Their cry: "Anti-Semitism!"
My cry: "Anti-Americanism!"
The pro-mayoral forces are led by former commissioner Elliot Kleiman and Eisinger's campaign manager, Lori Green. Also lurking in the background is big-time Broward lobbyist Judy Stern, a paid political consultant to Eisinger who is blamed, rightly or wrongly, for some of the more extreme tactics employed by Eisinger and Co.
And together they are trying to overturn a democratic election based on a spurious argument that Sims hates Jews. It's an emotional heart-tugger of an accusation that is sure to get pens to wagging on petition forms.
If you ever met Kleiman and Green, you would notice immediately that they seem to be perfectly nice and reasonable people. But the blood sport of politics has obviously gotten under their skins.
They are holding meetings to encourage people to hound Sims at City Hall until he gives up and resigns, and they are distributing all kinds of personal information about the commissioner in an attempt to disgrace him further.
"To save him the embarrassment of being recalled, he can resign," Kleiman told a group of citizens at a recall meeting last Tuesday. "And I think we should remind him of that at commission meetings."
This coming from a buttoned-down and bespectacled former professor whose main issue, prior to losing his election in March, was lowering the speed limit in Cooper City neighborhoods.
All indications are that he's become obsessed with destroying John Sims. And though Sims is certainly no saint and has likely brought a lot of this upon himself, no one deserves the underhanded beating he's being given.
In addition to leading the recall drive, Kleiman has a personal website (www.elliot.cc) that is all about Sims, all the time. Ironically, it's the only place in town where you can see the original post that compares the mayor to Hitler.
The recall group is also handing out information about a domestic battery charge filed against Sims back in 1991, when he was going through a tough divorce and was accused by his ex-wife of pushing her and trying to pull the wedding ring off her finger.
Involved in that case was a psychological evaluation that basically found Sims has some psychological problems, including a penchant toward narcissism and an inability to deal with stress but that he didn't seem violent by nature.
The court documents, by the way, are actually recycled news. Kleiman's son, Scott, himself a former commissioner, trotted them out during Sims' campaign last year, and it didn't keep the candidate from winning.
"I wasn't even aware my son was going to present that to the commission, believe it or not," says Elliot Kleiman of his son's rather low political tactic. "And I didn't want to distribute the stuff about his past. But [the recall committee] elected to do so."
The animosity between Sims and the members of the recall committee goes back to a CBS-4 report in 2006 that included undercover footage of Kleiman, Eisinger, and other Cooper City officials drinking prior to commission meetings. It was a sizable scandal that shamed Eisinger and may have led voters to oust Kleiman during the last election.
Kleiman blames Sims as the source for the story, but both Sims and the reporter on the piece, Mike Kirsch, deny that.
Ed Wooley, a retired freight executive with an MBA from Harvard who lost his bid for election, says the real reason for the recall is simple: Eisinger wants to get rid of Sims so she can have the necessary four votes to decide who will be named city manager (longtime city manager Chris Farrell recently retired).
"I don't believe this is really about anti-Semitism at all — it's all a red herring," says Wooley, who has been active in Cooper City politics for the past decade. "And they've roped some people into believing it."
The mayor's campaign manager, Green, says it's about the reference to Hitler.
"This is above and beyond criticism, this is referencing an atrocity in international history under the Hitler regime," she says. "This is on the same level as a noose or a cross burning."
Green, who like Kleiman is Jewish, says the blog posting doesn't constitute a hate crime — yet. "Right now there is no legislation against Internet bullying or hate," she says. "But I absolutely think there should be."
Obviously the blog posting isn't a crime; it's free speech if ever there was such a thing. So why did the BSO investigate it? Well, that's where this case gets very interesting.
After the blog posting appeared on January 12, Green and the rest of the Eisinger camp were up in arms. Green says she didn't speak with deputies about it but that someone from the campaign might have. Bottom line: There was nothing that could be done about the Hitler mustache.
Six days after the blog posting, a car owned by Green was vandalized in her driveway in the upscale and gated Embassy Lakes neighborhood. Apparently someone had scratched a swastika into it with a rock.
No one can ever remember such a thing ever happening in Embassy Lakes before. Green complained to deputies and told them about the "Nazi bitch" blog posting and gave them the Web address. She also told deputies that she and Eisinger had "political enemies" who might be responsible.
That's when Cooper City investigators turned to BSO's sex crimes unit, which is adept at obtaining IP addresses, and subpoenaed the information from Google and AT&T. It's similar to a political case in Deerfield Beach where another blog (Deerfield Beach Insider) was exposed by deputies after comments were posted that were critical of the city and deemed to be threatening. No arrest was made in that case, thankfully, and no arrest has been made in this one either.
The swastika also remains a mystery. Some, including Sims and Wooley, say it was either a kids' prank or that someone from Eisinger's camp did it to get sympathy votes for the election. Green emphatically denies that it was a campaign ploy, and there is certainly no evidence that it was one.
Sims, for his part, says he had nothing to do with the swastika or the blog, even though BSO claims it was started on his computer. He says he has lawyers working on a lawsuit that he intends to file against Eisinger and other members of her camp.
"Judy Stern and Debbie Eisinger are masters at this kind of thing," he says, adding that he thinks it's all payback for the CBS-4 piece. "I look at the people they are tied to in this campaign against me and it scares the hell out of me. The target on my back just keeps getting bigger and bigger.
"I'm going after these people. It's pretty serious what they have done here. We're talking about civil conspiracy, defamation, you name it, it's happened."
His last word on the subject: "I'm not going anywhere."