By E.J. Kessler

Published June 06, 2003, issue of June 06, 2003.
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A prominent Florida Democrat is challenging remarks made by Republican Rep. Mark Foley, who has been blaming Democrats for spreading rumors that he is gay.

“It’s my understanding that a lot of the rumors about Rep. Foley were not generated by Democrats, but by the extreme right faction of the Republican Party in Florida,” said the chairman of the Democratic Party in Broward County, Mitch Ceasar. “It’s not coming from Democratic folks.”

Foley, a five-term congressman representing the state’s 16th district — which stretches from Palm Beach County on the Atlantic Ocean to Charlotte County on the Gulf of Mexico — is running for the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Bob Graham, who is pursuing a presidential bid. With $2.3 million in the bank, the fiscally conservative, socially moderate Foley is considered his party’s best chance to take the seat, and so far he has only one Republican rival for the nomination: conservative Republican Rep. Bill McCollum of Orlando. But the rumors of a gay relationship that have trailed the unmarried lawmaker for years have surfaced again, and Foley tried to address them at a press conference in Florida late last month.

“In recent weeks a number of Democratic activists have taken it upon themselves to push rumors about me,” Foley told reporters there, according to an account that appeared in The Advocate, a national gay news magazine. “It is becoming apparent to me these Democratic activists have only one motive: They don’t want me to run or have to run against me.” He declined to address the substance of the rumors, saying the matter was private and the question “inappropriate.”

Ceasar’s charge represents a ratcheting up of rhetoric from the Democratic side. In an earlier statement released in response to Foley’s press conference, Florida state Democratic chairman Scott Maddox denied that the rumors were coming from Democrats but did not try to place the blame on Republicans. “We’re not going to engage in a he-said-she-said, pointing-fingers game,” his spokeswoman, Allie Merzer, told the Forward.

Asked to respond to Ceasar’s contention, Florida Republican Party spokesman Towson Fraser echoed Foley’s language. “We believe it is Democrat activists spreading the rumors,” he said. But he added: “If there are any Republicans spreading the rumors, they should stop immediately. That’s not the kind of activity Democrats or Republicans should be engaged in.” He called gossip campaigns “disgusting and revolting… whatever the issue.”

Foley’s spokesman, Christopher Paulitz, reiterated the congressman’s stance that it is Democrats who are pushing the rumors. “Congressman Foley will continue to talk about tax relief, homeland security, prescription drugs for seniors and peace in the Middle East on his quest to become the next senator from Florida,” Paulitz said. “He will not allow Democrat activists to drag this campaign into the gutter.”

Republican leaders in Congress and in Florida, including House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas and Governor Jeb Bush, have voiced support for Foley in the wake of the rumors.

* * *

The treasurer of the presidential campaign of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry is sounding a cautious note about second-quarter contributions filings from the Democratic field — including his candidate.

“The second quarter is always tougher because you get the low-hanging fruit in the first quarter,” businessman Robert Farmer told the Forward in a telephone interview. “Everybody knows that. You have to expand your group.”

Farmer sees a possible exception to that general situation, however: the campaign of North Carolina Senator John Edwards. Contrary to some who speculate that Edwards has tapped out his base among trial lawyers, Farmer thinks the Edwards campaign has financial legs. “I think they could do even better than last quarter,” Farmer said. “The trial attorneys feel they really accomplished something with them.”

Edwards’s campaign raised about $7.4 million in the first quarter, beating out the Kerry campaign’s $7 million — even though, as Farmer pointed out, Kerry, who started earlier than Edwards, has raised more in total and has a greater amount of cash on hand.

Farmer demurred when asked to project a ballpark figure for Kerry’s second-quarter numbers, saying that “there’s not a lot of upside” in announcing such information.

* * *

The new policy director of the presidential campaign of former Vermont governor Howard Dean spent a number of years toiling for Israeli and American Jewish philanthropies.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, a veteran of the Clinton administration’s policy shop, worked in 2002 as the New York director of the New Israel Fund, which funds projects promoting peace, women’s rights and social justice in the Jewish state. From 1997 to 1999 he lived in Israel and worked with Israeli not-for-profits and “a handful of minor politicians,” providing them with strategies for reaching out for support and funds in the United States, he told the Forward in a telephone interview. Among the groups he helped were the Van Leer Institute, the Jerusalem Foundation, Peace Now and the Center for Educational Technology.

Ben-Ami, who grew up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side as the son of an Israeli, worked for Clinton from 1992 to 1997 on welfare reform, education, women’s issues and AIDS policy. He bristled at the idea that Dean might be perceived as a more liberal politician than his former boss.

“I took a long time to research and get to know the field and felt there’s only one candidate putting forth an alternative for the Democratic Party,” Ben-Ami told the Forward. Noting that Dean is a fiscal conservative who “implemented welfare reform following the Clinton model,” he said, “it’s a big mistake…if people take a simplistic, left-right, single-word label and attach it to Howard Dean.”

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