This is a sentence I hope never to have to write again: I owe Broward County Mayor Stacy Ritter an apology.
This week, I wrote about the "Mitch Ceasar Mob," the unofficial name for the cabal of Democratic Party officials who peddle their influence with candidates to make pretty good money. I focused on a soldier in the mob named Norma Goldstein, a 76-year-old widow and Democratic Executive Club member who lives in Kings Point condo in Tamarac, one of the Dem's chief turf areas. Goldstein is entertainment chairwoman at Kings Point and can bring in the votes. That's why candidates pay her. Ritter gave Goldstein about $11,500 during her past two commission campaigns during which she ran unopposed. I asked Goldstein about the payments, and she first said she didn't believe she'd been paid that much. When I asked her what she did for the money, she said she passed out fliers and walked with Ritter and couldn't remember doing much of anything else.
Now Ritter has gone a step further and put Goldstein on the county payroll. Goldstein works in Ritter's district office, working 18 hours a week at about $20 an hour. Goldstein told me she does only one job for Ritter: setting up speaking engagements for the mayor.
Ritter has also paid Democratic committeewoman Diane Glasser, Glasser's daughter-in-law Lori, and Democratic Executive Club member Jack Shifrel. It's sort of like political protection money paid to the dons of the party.
I've done a few stories on Ritter recently, as you may know. She never calls me back. I'm talking like eight times she hasn't called me back. She has publicly stated that she doesn't talk to me. So I almost didn't call her this time just because it's no use. But I did so late in the game, just on the off-chance. I called her office and was told she was on vacation. Then her aide called me back and asked me to email her questions. This was a bit of a breakthrough. I did so quickly, and told her I needed the answers by the end of the day.
Well, to make a long story short, I missed her email. It got buried in one of those occasional avalanches you get, and I flat didn't see it until this evening, long after any hope of getting it in the newspaper. It was not a good moment for me. I emailed an apology to Mayor Ritter, and I also want to publicly give her credit for stepping up to the plate and answering the questions.
After the jump is a reprint of her answers here (we'll also include them in the newspaper next week somehow), and you might notice that her answers differ significantly from Goldstein's initial statements.
Q: You put Democratic Party official and Kings Point condo entertainment chairwoman Norma Goldstein on the county payroll to work in your district office. She apparently works about 18 hours a week at $20 an hour. What does she do to earn the taxpayers' money?
A: Norma is a well respected member of the Community who has a wonderful administrative background. As she told you, she was an aide for a State Senator in New York. Most members of thehave District offices and District staff, Norma serves as my District aide. She works only part time and receives no County benefits. She serves several days a week in my District Office in . She makes appointments, answers phone calls, and refers constituents to either our downtown office or to appropriate County staff. She regularly attends meetings in the District on my behalf. It is very valuable to me to have her attend homeowners, condominium and community meetings on my behalf. She also sets up speaking engagements in front of those same groups so that the constituents can continue to be informed and updated on .
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Q: You also paid Goldstein more than $10,000 from your County Commission campaign accounts. What did she do to earn that money from your campaign when you ran unopposed?
A: I run a campaign as if I were opposed right up until the qualifying period ends. Norma has always been an excellent organizer. As a consultant to my campaign, she arranged meetings with voters, breakfasts, town hall meetings and created many opportunities for me to spend time with the voters in the district I represent. She reviewed voting lists and helped organize events, made sure campaign material was available and distributed that material.
Q: You have also paid Jack Shifrel and Diane and Lori Glasser in the past out of your campaign accounts. All of them are Democratic Party officials. What did they do to earn their money, and do you believe it is proper to pay party officials from campaign accounts? It appears to be a pay-to-play system, especially when it comes to maintaining condo support.
A: Just because someone volunteers and has a position as a member or an officer of a Democratic Club doesn't and shouldn't disqualify them from a paid position in a campaign. The people you mention are terrific organizers. There is no "pay to play". No one has to hire them to get elected. Many of these people are skilled and understand campaigns from working on so many of them. They know how a phone room works, how to get volunteers to picnics and cover events of every size. They distribute literature and organize bagel breakfasts. Trying to make it sound like something seedy is something only you could come up with. Is there something wrong with hiring? If not, what's wrong with hiring local community organizers as campaign staffers? I'm proud of the work they do and the effort they put forward.