By E.J. Kessler, Forward Staff

Published May 09, 2003, issue of May 09, 2003.
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Florida Senator Bob Graham, one of the nine Democratic presidential hopefuls, may not be gaining as many contributors as he needs to win the party nod, if one Florida source is correct. “He’s picked up a lot of people, but nothing near what he should have picked up,” said a South Florida Democratic county chairman, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Graham spokesman Jamal Simmons retorted: “I don’t know, if you talked to our fundraising people, if they would say that. We’re having pretty good success. [Other campaigns] say they’re not having any luck in Florida anymore.”

Florida attorney Mitchell Berger, finance chairman for the presidential bid of Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, disputed that comment, noting that his candidate made $50,000 at a lunch in Aventura, Fla., last week. This week, the campaign was to have held another contributor event at a Florida Marlins game.

Berger predicted that Lieberman’s luck is likely to continue because the candidates’ debate held by ABC News last Saturday in Columbia, S.C., “was great for us.” He added, with characteristic flourish, “$50,000 to $60,000 a day keeps the Republicans away.” That works out to around $5 million a quarter, not the almost $7 million a quarter Berger was recently predicting to columnist Buddy Nevins of the Florida’s Sun-Sentinel, however.

Not to be outdone, sunny-tempered St. Louis businessman Lee Kling, finance chairman for the presidential bid of Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt, told the Forward that Gephardt’s fundraising operation is doing just fine. “We’re very confident of where we are and where we’re going to be,” Kling said, predicting that the campaign would bring in “close to $6 million each quarter,” on target for the campaign’s goal of $24 million.

* * *

Speaking of the South Carolina debate, ABC News is catching some flak for its press releases about the event. The problem? In three releases, the network prominently cited Lieberman’s Sabbath observance as the reason for the debate’s late start. That rankled several journalists and politicos, who thought it unfairly singled out Lieberman. “Tacky” was a word used more than once in messages to the Forward. The offending sentences: “The 90-minute debate will begin at 9:00 p.m. The debate is beginning at 9:00 p.m. so Senator Lieberman may participate consistent with his religious observance.”

“Of course, I’d be really offended if ABC scheduled the debate at a time that precluded Lieberman because of his religious observance, so I’m a little grateful,” said Washington media strategist Steve Rabinowitz. “But I’m also a little offended that ABC made such a big damn deal out of the eventual timing of the debate being to accommodate Lieberman. They seemed to take a perfectly understandable and appropriate explanation and make it sound almost like they blamed Lieberman for inconveniencing everyone. I don’t know if I’m more concerned about all the attention Lieberman’s Jewish lifestyle has generated lately or if I’m just easily offended.”

Others characterized the complainers as making a mountain made out of a molehill and suffering from a case of Jewish angst. ABC’s treatment of the issue is “something positive,” said the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman. “It shows they’re caring. We [Jews] can’t have it both ways. We can’t ask people to be sensitive to our tradition and then complain when they’re sensitive. We have a long way to go until we feel secure.”

Asked for comment, Lieberman’s campaign declined. “I think it best if we avoid commenting on the inner workings of the networks,” said spokesman Jano Cabrera.

Said ABC spokeswoman Su-Lin Nichols, “In response to the many, many questions we received about the late start, we provided an explanation. Lieberman’s campaign was aware of the language and they were fine with it.”

* * *

A couple of months ago, Roberto Ramirez, chief strategist for the presidential bid of Reverend Al Sharpton, told the Forward that the civil rights leader would be asking for contributions from the Jewish community, confidently predicting that Sharpton would find “a wealth of support” among progressive Jews. A glance at Sharpton’s filing shows that among the 87 contributors who gave to him in the first quarter, three have what look like Jewish surnames. That’s a greater percentage of Jews than in the general population, but fewer than in the average batch of Democratic contributors. Ramirez was right, however, that those Jews would be left-leaning. Asked why he gave $1,000 to Sharpton, Manhattan political operative J.B. Rabinowitz, said, “While I don’t think he has all the right answers, he’s keeping the party to the left, which is what we need to win elections.”

* * *

In one way, the Sunshine State senator may be getting a leg up on the competition — if not in this presidential election, then perhaps in some future race. As the postcard of Graham and his wife at right shows, the 66-year-old Graham’s four daughters are apparently single-handedly restocking the ranks of Democratic voters. Those are 10 — count ’em, 10 — grandchildren.

The card, which bears a union “bug” and says it was “not printed at government expense,” accompanied a letter on Senate stationery telling the Forward that it was a pleasure to meet us at the March 31 reception and dinner sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “I look forward, each year, to Aipac’s annual Washington conference for the chance to meet new friends and see many old ones,” the senator writes. “The United States of America has no stronger ally than Israel.”

* * *

Bill Clinton and his wife, New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, are both appearing publicly soon in their adopted home county of Westchester. The former president is meeting with members and guests of the Westchester County Association, a business group, on May 21. The senator is to speak May 12 at a “Not-For-Profit Leadership Summit” of the United Way of Westchester and Putnam. Her topic: “Surviving in a Time of Dramatic Change.”

* * *

The city of Boston, site of the 2004 Democratic National Convention, just did itself a huge favor: Mayor Thomas Menino has hired Boston Phoenix political writer Seth Gitell as his press secretary. Gitell, as longtime readers of the Forward know, was previously this newspaper’s Jewish communal affairs reporter and Washington bureau chief. “Seth is an adept journalist with a keen political instinct,” Menino said in a press release. “Put simply: He gets it.”

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