Pitch for votes in South Florida on religious lines draws criticism

Political and religious leaders are condemning moves by two South Florida candidates to attract Jewish voters by reminding them that they're Jewish – and their opponents aren't.

The candidates themselves say they don't think they did anything wrong.

In a Democratic state House primary in South Broward, candidate Sheldon Lisbon sent an email telling supporters that a vote for him "is a vote for the Jewish community." Lisbon is Jewish; his primary foe, state Rep. Joe Gibbons of Hallandale Beach, is black.

In a Democratic County Commission primary in southwest Palm Beach County, a campaign mailing from Steven Meyer points out that he's Jewish and describes another candidate, Mary Lou Berger, as Christian.

Each district is home to a large number of Jewish Democrats who will be decisive in determining the winners of the Aug. 14 primary.

State Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith, in an unusual letter last month to candidates and party leaders, condemned what he called the "disturbing trend" shown by the Lisbon and Meyer campaigns.

Smith said he normally wouldn't criticize Democratic candidates' campaign tactics, but that these cases were different because "appeals for votes based up on religious affiliation are unacceptable."

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, who is Jewish and the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said Lisbon's email was inappropriate. So did the Anti-Defamation League, an organization devoted to combating anti-Semitism.

"Appealing to voters along religious lines is divisive," the ADL's Boca Raton-based regional director, Andrew Rosenkranz, wrote in a letter to Lisbon. "A candidate's religious beliefs – or lack thereof – should never be used as a test for public office or as a shorthand summary of a candidate's qualifications."


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