By E.J. Kessler

Published May 21, 2004, issue of May 21, 2004.
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In one of the most expensive House races in the country, the lone Jew in Texas’s congressional delegation is lashing out at his opponent by linking him to an anti-immigration group producing racially charged ads, and to conservative anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, who has compared the estate tax to the Holocaust.

The goal for Rep. Martin Frost, a veteran Democratic congressman from Dallas forced to run in a new district by the Lone Star State’s contentious redistricting plan, is to paint his Republican foe, incumbent Rep. Pete Sessions, as “insensitive” — the campaign’s word — on matters relating to the Jewish community. Frost’s campaign also portrays Sessions as being so conservative as to stand outside the mainstream, even in the Republican Party. The Sessions campaign disputes these contentions.

Frost’s press secretary, Justin Kitsch, called the Forward to point out that Sessions was “one of six” congressmen who contributed to the primary campaign of “ultraconservative” Rep. Patrick Toomey, who unsuccessfully challenged Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the nation’s senior Jewish Republican lawmaker, in a primary last month.

“It shows how extreme [Sessions] is and how he’ll support an extreme conservative over a moderate, Jewish senator,” Kitsch said.

The North Dallas district, which Sessions has represented for one term, has the highest concentration of Jewish voters in the city, by many estimates, and Democrats are seeking a high turnout among Jews and the district’s minority population to swing the Republican-leaning district toward their candidate. Frost, a former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has been a prominent target of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who engineered the redistricting plan in order to strip the Texas delegation of most of its Democrats.

Frost’s contentions about Sessions started last month after the anti-immigration group, the Coalition for the Future American Work- er, began running ads, since stopped, attacking Frost on several local television stations. The ads depicted dark-skinned people in ways that suggested they were breaking immigration laws, according to press accounts, and made claims about Frost’s record that his campaign called “factually inaccurate and racially inflammatory.” The coalition has denied the Frost campaign’s assertions, saying it was merely pointing out Frost’s “bad record.”

In an interview with The Dallas Morning News, Frost declared that Sessions was hiding “behind the white sheets of white supremacy” for not demanding that the coalition stop the ads. Sessions’s campaign manager, Chris Homan, told the newspaper at the time that Sessions had no knowledge of or involvement with the ads and that he was “not going to engage groups like this in any capacity.”

The matter ended in a kind of truce: Sessions and Frost recently signed a “clean campaign” pledge renouncing any help from outside groups. Homan told the Forward that the campaign did not denounce the ads earlier on the advice of a campaign lawyer. Now that it has signed the pledge, he said, “We are happy to say we didn’t want the ads, didn’t like the ads. The ads were divisive and we wish they had never run.”

In any event, Frost’s campaign has continued to try to paint Sessions as “insensitive.” In a recent press release, Frost’s campaign chairman, Marc Stanley, excoriated Sessions for “the insensitive manner in which [he] chooses to define himself,” seizing on a government-funded mailing issued by Sessions containing a photo of Sessions receiving the “Hero of the Taxpayer” award from the famously fire-breathing Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform. The release reprinted several of Norquist’s more memorable bons mots, including his equation of the estate tax with the Holocaust and bipartisanship with “date rape.”

Stanley, a trial lawyer who has served locally in leadership positions in Aipac, the American Jewish Congress and the Jewish Community Foundation, repeated the “insensitive” characterization last week in a telephone interview with the Forward.

“It’s telling to me that Sessions would associate himself with a guy who made insensitive comments on the Holocaust,” he said.

Homan dismissed Stanley as the source of “a tantrum a week” and said that Frost frequently resorted to “negative” and “divisive” tactics. Rejecting the charge of insensitivity, he said Sessions, who is married to an Hispanic woman, “has represented areas of Texas that are Hispanic and African American and done an excellent job.”

Stanley’s comment incensed a Jewish supporter of Sessions, Fred Zeidman, a major Texas Republican fund-raiser whom another Texan, President Bush, named chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.

“A man gets an award for tax cutting, and that means he runs with the devil?” Zeidman asked rhetorically. “Why don’t you ask [Stanley] about Martin Frost hanging out with all the [Congressional] Black Caucus folks who voted against Israel? That’s ridiculous. It’s beyond a stretch. It’s pond-scum politics.”

As for the Jews of Dallas, observers of all stripes said they are split along partisan lines. Communal leaders sound unhappy that they are being forced to choose between Frost and Sessions.

“We have a situation where two people are great supporters of Israel, and now one is going to lose this race,” said the chairman of the Dallas Jewish Community Relations Council, Lawrence Ginsburg. “It’s unfortunate for supporters of Israel in Congress.”

Zeidman acknowledged that Frost, who sits on the Holocaust memorial council, had been a good friend to Israel. Even so, he said, “I think it’s better off if he loses. Having a non-Jewish friend is much more meaningful. His ability to influence the vote is much more important than Martin Frost’s.”

Zeidman added, “There’s a lot of money being raised Jewish-wise in Dallas for Sessions. The Jewish community is stepping up.”

Stanley, for his part, said Jews would reject Sessions because of his conservative stances on issues such as social services and abortion: “We think we will have the overwhelming support of the Jewish community. I think it’s important to keep Jews in Congress.”

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