On a personal note: Paul Pelosi, my own hammer attack, and thoughts on stopping political violence

The scene outside the Pelosi home in San Francisico. (Photo: AP)

Oct. 30, 2022 by David Silverberg

In the early morning hours of Friday, Oct. 28, Paul Pelosi, husband of the Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.), was attacked with a hammer in his San Francisco, Calif., home by an assailant screaming, “Where’s Nancy?”

As of this writing, Mr. Pelosi is in the hospital recovering with a fractured skull and other wounds. The assailant, David DePape, is in custody. No doubt many more details will be revealed in the days to come. Mr. Pelosi certainly has all the thoughts, prayers, best wishes and good will I can send him.

As horrifying as an act of political violence can be, when I heard of it, I felt a special chill run up my spine.

I know exactly how it feels to be attacked with a hammer.

Spoiler alert: It hurts. A lot.

In 1981, a mugger tried to kill me with a hammer and nearly succeeded.

Actually, being hit with the hammer didn’t hurt me at all. That’s because the blow that slammed the back of my skull knocked me unconscious.

Even after I woke up on my back on a sidewalk in a pool of blood with police, emergency medical technicians and blue flashing emergency lights all around me it didn’t hurt. It didn’t hurt in the ambulance or at the hospital when I gave a statement to police and drew a picture of my assailant.

Only when the excitement died down and people left my side and I was on a gurney awaiting X-rays and further examination, did it start to hurt. And then the pain built, intensified, became overwhelming and obliterated all else. It bore like a twisting corkscrew into the center of my brain. And when you have a head wound you get no pain relievers because the doctors don’t know how you’ve been affected so you just have to tough it out, fully conscious and awake.

Technicians came and asked the date (in my case, Nov. 19, 1981). They asked the name of the sitting president (Ronald Reagan). They asked for my name. Fortunately, for me, I had it together and could answer the questions.

I hope Mr. Pelosi similarly has it together. Speaker Pelosi asked for privacy and she and her husband deserve it, so some details will be withheld.

It’s clear, however, that Speaker Pelosi was the target of this assailant—and this is hardly the first time she’s been targeted for violence.

Both Pelosis are victims of a rise in violence and violent rhetoric in American political life. That trend has a single, recent and obvious point of origin. It’s a bad trend. Even if it can’t be stopped cold, there are nonetheless ways it can be confronted. Indeed, one small measure has just come out in—of all places—Southwest Florida.

And for the record, nobody—nobody—should ever be hit with a hammer.

A Maryland mugging

To fill in the rest of this story: What happened to me was an attempted robbery on a street in Silver Spring, Md., a suburb of Washington, DC.

On the night in question, I passed two young men on a deserted street at about 10 pm. My assailants never spoke to me or asked for money. After one hit me on the back of my head with his fist, the other attacked with a ball peen hammer. After a brief defense with a bag holding books (I was returning home from the National Press Club book fair), I fled. The hammer-wielder caught up with me, knocked me unconscious and then, when I was down, hit me again on the back of the head.

Police had been watching and were on the scene almost instantaneously. But the hammer-wielder wasn’t done yet. The first plainclothes policeman to arrive was only carrying a radio. The hammer-wielder hit him full force in the face, smashing his jaw. Then the assailant turned and charged the rest of the team coming up the street. One detective told me he had his gun drawn and the assailant in his sights but another policeman ran into the field of fire. Otherwise that would have been the end.

A police car raced up the street and rammed the hammer-wielder just as the rest of the team grabbed him. All of them went tumbling over the car’s hood but the hammer-wielder was finally apprehended. The other mugger ran in the other direction and was arrested with less drama. He was carrying a big fire hydrant wrench that he unsuccessfully tried to use as a weapon.

As the police told me later, when would-be robbers use blunt instruments, their intention is to kill. A robber armed with a gun or knife usually just wants to scare people into giving up money or valuables. But people using clubs or hammers fully intend to do bodily harm or kill to get what they want.

Both muggers had commuted to Silver Spring by Metro from inner city Washington, specifically to commit crimes. The hammer-wielder was named Paul Edward Sykes. He was charged with my attempted murder and assaulting a police officer. Sixteen years old, he was tried as an adult because of the capital nature of his crime and sentenced to 19 years for the attempted murder and 19 for hitting the officer, to be served consecutively. It was later commuted to just 19 years.

I was lucky: I made a full recovery. I believe I lost some hearing and I can’t sleep on my left side anymore because when I fell, I fell on my face and it may have injured nasal passages. But one of the worst effects of a hammer injury to the head is the uncertainty of its effects. Just exactly what brain functions had been affected? A victim is left wondering, sometimes for years.

In my case, when it was all finished, I felt that justice had been done. I was able to make a victim impact statement before sentencing and received restitution. In fact, so unusual was it to see the system work the way it was intended that I wrote an essay about it that was published in the “Periscope” section of Newsweek. In those days that was a big deal.

The accomplice, Lawrence Hardy, was 15 years and 9 months old and tried as a juvenile, receiving a much lighter sentence. I still have an apologetic greeting card he sent me. It’s titled “Sorry about your accident.”

The history of violence

The attack on Pelosi—and the attempt on the Speaker—is part of a dark side of American history.

Political violence has marred American politics in the past. In 1804 Vice President Aaron Burr killed former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton in a duel. In 1856 Rep. Preston Brooks (D-SC) savagely beat Sen. Charles Sumner (R-Mass.) with a cane at his desk on the floor of the Senate. There have been other duels and fights among politicians as well, most before the Civil War.

Since then politicians have carefully refrained from advocating or threatening actual physical violence. They’ve known that nowhere is the Golden Rule applied more forcefully than in politics: what you do unto others will most certainly be done unto you. It largely kept violent language out of the public arena, no matter how impassioned the issues or debates.

That applied until 2015. It’s not hard to find the starting point for rise in violence and violent rhetoric in recent American political life. It starts with Donald Trump. As a candidate, Trump broke the taboo against invoking or encouraging violence. At his 2016 campaign rallies, Trump said things like, “I’d like to punch him in the face,” of a protester and “part of the problem is no one wants to hurt each other anymore.” Speaking of behavior at his rallies, at one point he said “the audience hit back. That’s what we need a little bit more of.” And in reflecting on a protest the previous day, “I’ll beat the crap out of you.”

Illustration by Jesse Duquette.

Trump didn’t slow down when he was elected president, infamously equating violent neo-Nazis and racists in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 as “good people on both sides.”

He made other statements too. But, of course, his most infamous act was inciting the crowd at his Jan. 6, 2021 rally on the Ellipse to physically attack the United States Capitol and members of Congress and lynch his vice president. In a presidential vehicle, he himself violently grabbed the throat of a Secret Service officer who wouldn’t take him to the Capitol.

What is most striking about Donald Trump is that he’s physically a coward. He’s never put himself in harm’s way as a member of the armed forces. He’s always been protected and never been physically attacked. He has no idea what it’s like to be on the receiving end of violence. To him, urging violence is a game, a show of machismo, an abstraction, a catharsis, something he can get away with without consequences. As he infamously put it: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?”

The closest he ever came to feeling what it’s like to be attacked was when an eagle he was using in a Time magazine photo shoot tried to bite him. Clearly, the eagle wasn’t impressed with his tweets, his wealth or his fame.

Candidate Donald Trump flees the wrath of a bald eagle named Sam during a Time magazine photo shoot in 2015. (Photo: Time)

At the grassroots

Trump’s acceptance and encouragement of violence has leached down to grassroots America and the attack on Paul Pelosi is one example of it.

But even Southwest Florida has reflected Trump’s attitudes. In the 2020 congressional campaign in the 19th Congressional District along the Paradise Coast, the multitude of Republican candidates promoted their rage and especially their affinity for firearms in their campaigns. Candidates insulted each other and fired weapons on screen, at times directly threatening each other.

Then-state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen takes aim in a 2020 campaign ad for state Senate in which she warned her opponent to stop lying about her record. (Image: Campaign)

Nor has the violent rhetoric eased. For example, on June 16 of this year extreme conservative farmer and grocer Alfie Oakes called for the public execution of federal judge Christopher Cooper of the District of Columbia, for sentencing anti-vaccine doctor Simone Gold for her role in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“Simone Gold likely saved more Americans than anyone in history… by prescribing millions of doses of ivermectin.. She is a true American hero!” Oakes posted. “The bought and paid for corrupt DC judge that sentenced her to 60 days in jail is a traitor to this country and should be publicly executed!” (The post, originally appearing at https://www.facebook.com/alfieforamerica/posts/pfbid02qcYvDbunLP7JzVdoK5R227rmaKvPnbaHDRT8W3P4GqcaufMGhWxJwQZiPNcuiwxXl, was removed after many days online.)

But as one reader, Matt Fahnestock, posted in reply: “We need a plan of action.”

Deterring violence

The use of violence for political ends is a bad road that leads to a bad end. In their classic 2018 book How Democracies Die, authors Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky write: “We should worry when a politician 1) rejects, in words or action, the democratic rules of the game, 2) denies the legitimacy of opponents, 3) tolerates or encourages violence or 4) indicates a willingness to curtail the civil liberties of opponents, including the media.”

They also list four criteria for judging incipient use of anti-democratic violence in politics: “Do [authoritarian politicians] have any ties to armed gangs, paramilitary forces, militias, guerrillas, or other organizations that engage in illicit violence? Have they or their partisan allies sponsored or encouraged mob attacks on opponents? Have they tacitly endorsed violence by their supporters by refusing to unambiguously condemn it and punish it? Have they praised (or refused to condemn) other significant acts of political violence, either in the past or elsewhere in the world?”

Remember, that was written in 2017.

People do not have to feel helpless in the face of incipient violence. The use of violence is illegal, it’s still punished under the law. Honest, impartial law enforcement can and must crack down on the criminals who engage in it, as is happening in the Paul Pelosi case and in the prosecution of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists. Opponents of violence have the law on their side.

It’s also important that existing authorities and governments express their condemnation of political violence. Here, Southwest Florida is leading the way.

On Tuesday, Oct. 25, the Collier County Board of Commissioners issued a proclamation condemning bigotry, anti-Semitism and hate crimes. (Full disclosure: This author conceived and drafted the text.)

That proclamation “condemns any call to violence or use of violence for any purpose at any time; and resolves to actively and vigorously oppose, investigate, and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law any advocacy of violence, acts of violence, or crimes manifesting hatred against any person, property, or institution based on faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation.”

A government proclamation won’t end or stop violence. But it puts the government, the legitimate elected local authority, on the record against it and makes clear that there’s no acceptance or tolerance of it in the jurisdiction. It means that local authorities are committed to enforcing the law.

If every town, city and county in the country adopted the Collier County proclamation, it would at least put them on the record opposing political violence and deny its legitimacy. It would help ensure that political violence is neither condoned, accepted nor excused. What is more, getting localities to issue the proclamations is something that activists and everyday citizens can do at the local level in their own home towns.

Beyond the larger concepts of violence and politics and democracy, violence is horrible at any level. It maims. It kills. It ruins lives. It leaves widows and orphans and families bereft and devastated. It weakens communities. It destroys social unity. It can bring down democracies.

And on a personal level, this author can authoritatively attest that it hurts like hell. It doesn’t take a hammer to drive that point home.

Here’s blessings and luck to Paul Pelosi. May he swiftly recover and be made whole. And may we all, with the help of God, protect these United States.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Early voting active in Collier, Lee and Charlotte counties

Activists show support for their candidates outside the Headquarters building of the Collier County Public Library in Naples. Jen Mitchell, incumbent candidate seeking re-election for District 3 of the Collier County school board, is to the left in the green shirt. (Photo: Author)

Oct. 28, 2022 by David Silverberg

Voting is active and robust throughout Southwest Florida, according to county supervisors of elections.

In its first day of early in-person voting in Collier County, 6,132 ballots were cast at polling stations yesterday, Oct. 27. Combined with 36,630 mail-in ballots, Collier’s turnout is at 16.85 percent of 253,830 eligible voters. So far, 56.15 percent of the ballots were cast by registered Republicans, 25.84 percent by registered Democrats and 16.92 percent by non-party affiliated voters.

Early in-person voting in Lee and Charlotte counties has been under way since Monday.

In Lee County, turnout is running at 19.65 percent, with 18,779 votes cast in person and 83,006 ballots mailed in. Lee County has 518,035 eligible voters. Of ballots cast, 52.28 percent were from registered Republicans, 27.37 percent from registered Democrats and 19.11 percent from non-party affiliated voters.

Charlotte County has the highest turnout of the three coastal counties with 20.75 percent of 152,778 eligible voters having cast ballots so far. Of these, 9,395 votes were cast in person and 22,309 votes were mailed. According to the Supervisor’s office, 50.36 percent of ballots were from registered Republicans, 29.58 percent from Democrats and 18.14 percent from non-party affiliated voters.

Because of the damage and disruption caused by Hurricane Ian, early in-person voting in Lee and Charlotte counties continues until Nov. 7. In Collier County, it concludes on Nov. 5.

Times and locations for early in-person voting are posted on the respective supervisors’ websites.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Collier County condemns bigotry, anti-Semitism and hate in proclamation

Illustration by Rose Wong.

Oct. 25, 2022 by David Silverberg

Full disclosure: The author was the drafter of the proclamation covered here.

Today, the Collier County Board of Commissioners proclaimed the county’s condemnation of bigotry, anti-Semitism and hate towards all people.

The proclamation made at the Commission’s regularly scheduled general meeting came amidst a rise in anti-Semitic expressions nationally and incidents locally, as well as a general increase in expressions of intolerance and prejudice (proclamation image below).

The proclamation was introduced by William McDaniel (R-5), chair of the Commission. It was approved by all commissioners.

This author spoke in favor of the proclamation, stating “President George Washington famously wrote that the United States gives ‘to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.’ This proclamation puts Collier County squarely within that fundamental, patriotic American tradition.”

Also speaking was Rabbi Adam Miller of Temple Shalom in Naples. Miller noted that Temple Shalom was 60 years old and when he became rabbi, one of the oldest congregants related that when she was being shown local properties the realtor told her that she should stay on Florida’s east coast with other Jews.

The current proclamation, said Miller, was valuable for everyone because “it expresses respect and engagement” with the whole community.

Also present to lend support was Rabbi Ammos Chorny of Beth Tikvah Congregation, Naples; Rev. Tony Fisher, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Greater Naples; Vincent Keeys, president of the Collier County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and Bebe Kanter, Democratic candidate for county District 2.  

Significance of the proclamation

No proclamation is going end hate or bigotry or anti-Semitism. However, amidst a rise in prejudice, especially during a heated election period, there is value in a formal statement condemning those sentiments.

The proclamation puts Collier County officially on the record against that kind of bias.

Deterrence

Very importantly, the proclamation may deter hate crimes, violence and expressions of anti-Semitism. It “condemns any call to violence or use of violence for any purpose at any time; and resolves to actively and vigorously oppose, investigate, and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law any advocacy of violence, acts of violence, or crimes manifesting hatred against any person, property, or institution based on faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, or national origin.”

Given that there have been instances of anti-Semitic vandalism and leafletting in neighboring Lee County, this may protect Collier County from similar incidents. Anyone contemplating such actions, if made aware of the County’s position, may decide not to break the law.

It also makes vigorous investigation, pursuit and prosecution of hate crimes a priority for county law enforcement.

The denunciation of violence also comes amidst advocacy of violence and violent political rhetoric.  Most immediately, yesterday, Oct. 24, Christopher Monzon, a supporter of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), was brutally beaten by four men while passing out campaign flyers in Hialeah.

The proclamation also repudiates the kind of overtly anti-Semitic allegations made locally by Katie Paige Richards, who claimed to be campaign manager for Collier County School Board candidate Tim Moshier. On a national level, rapper and singer Kanye West (who now prefers to go by the name Ye) has tweeted anti-Semitic tweets, sparking anti-Semitic demonstrations and leafleting in California.

An anti-Semitic demonstration on an overpass in Los Angeles, Calif., on Saturday, Oct. 23. (Image: TMZ)

Hospitality

With Southwest Florida recovering from Hurricane Ian and its hospitality and tourism industries damaged, the proclamation makes clear that Collier County is an open, welcoming place and ready to receive all visitors and guests.

This is important on a global basis as people make their vacation plans and the tourist season rolls around. They will be carefully examining Southwest Florida.

Despite the physical damage resulting from the storm, at least Collier County’s welcoming attitudes and commitments are intact, as made clear by the proclamation.

History

It is a sad fact of history that after a natural disaster there is frequently scapegoating and persecution of minority ethnic, racial or religious groups. It seems that people must vent their frustration and anger resulting from a natural calamity. But since they can’t take it out on the storm, fire or flood, they take it out on each other—and it’s at its worst when it’s officially sanctioned.

There are numerous examples of this.

Reaching back in history, after the Great Fire of Rome in the year 64 of the Common Era, the emperor Nero sought to deflect suspicions of his own arson by blaming and persecuting Christians in the Roman Empire and especially in the city of Rome itself. In 1666 during the Great Fire of London, with Britain at war with Holland, Londoners attacked foreigners living in their midst while the fire raged.

In the United States, people of Irish extraction were blamed for the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, giving rise to the legend of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, a sly canard against them. In 1889, after the Johnstown Flood in Johnstown, Pa., survivors, some of Eastern European extraction, blamed ethnic Hungarians for a variety of lurid crimes and alleged atrocities. In 1906 after the San Francisco earthquake, the discrimination and prejudice against the city’s Japanese community was so great that it threatened to cause war between Japan and the United States. President Theodore Roosevelt had to intervene on behalf of the community. In 1927, after the Mississippi River and its tributaries severely flooded there was a savage wave of lynchings of blacks when the waters receded. During the 2019-2021 COVID pandemic, goaded by President Donald Trump, attacks on Asians rose exponentially.

In an example of better behavior and the positive influence authority figures can have, after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 (a deliberate, man-made disaster), President George W. Bush and New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani successfully tamped down any retaliation against American Muslims.

“I ask you to uphold the values of America, and remember why so many have come here,” Bush said in a speech to a joint session of Congress on Sept. 20, 2001.  “We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them.  No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background or religious faith.”

So far Southwest Florida has not seen any of this kind of scapegoating in the wake of Hurricane Ian. The Collier County anti-bigotry proclamation may go some way toward preventing it in the days ahead.

A reaffirmation

There is a power in reaffirmation and recommitment—just ask couples who renew their wedding vows.

The Collier anti-bigotry proclamation may seem to simply restate principles and values that all decent people share. But sometimes it’s things that seem most self-evident and obvious and taken for granted that need reaffirmation.

Further, these values and principles have long been under assault, along with democracy itself. They can no longer be taken for granted or assumed to have power on their own.

The proclamation makes clear that Collier County is a place of tolerance that “abhors bigotry, discrimination, prejudice, and all forms of hate against all people regardless of faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, or national origin,” as it states.

Beyond just setting an example for Southwest Florida, the Collier proclamation can serve as a template for every town, city and county in the nation as they reaffirm their allegiance to common values and principles. The village-to-village fight can be waged for good.

Collier County’s issuance of the anti-bigotry proclamation puts it squarely within the fundamental, patriotic, American tradition expressed by President George Washington at the dawn of the nation in 1790. He wrote that “…happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

And now Collier County has again made clear that applies in Southwest Florida as well as everywhere else.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Collier County Commissioners expected to condemn anti-Semitism, bigotry at Oct. 25 meeting

A meeting of the Collier County Board of Commissioners on July 13, 2021. (Photo: Author)

Oct. 20, 2022 by David Silverberg

Full disclosure: The author drafted the proclamation discussed in this report

The Collier County, Florida, Board of Commissioners is slated to vote on a proclamation condemning hate crimes, bigotry and anti-Semitism at its meeting next Tuesday, Oct. 25.

The item is on the Commission agenda for the meeting as Proclamation 4A, the first such proclamation to be considered at the meeting.

The proclamation (text below) is scheduled to be introduced by Commissioner Bill McDaniel (District 5) chair of the commission. It is expected to pass unanimously, having previously been on the “consent agenda” of items that commissioners vote on to approve as a block.

Consideration of the measure was held over from the Sept. 27 meeting, when Rabbi Adam Miller of Temple Shalom in Naples protested that it was being considered on the second day of Rosh Hashonah, the Jewish New Year and requested a postponment.

The proclamation puts Collier County’s opposition and condemnation of hatred, bigotry and anti-Semitism on the public record. It commits the county to “actively and vigorously oppose, investigate, and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law any advocacy of violence, acts of violence, or crimes manifesting hatred against any person, property, or institution based on faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, or national origin… .”

The proclamation was initially inspired by a number of anti-Semitic incidents in Lee and Collier counties, in particular the anti-Semitic expression of Katie Paige Richards, who claimed to be campaign manager for county school board candidate Tim Moshier.

However, since that posting in early September, additional anti-Semitic expressions have been made by singer and rapper Kanye West (who now goes by the name “Ye”) and former President Donald Trump, who accused American Jews of being ungrateful for all he had done for Israel.

The Commission meeting will convene at 9:00 am at the Collier County Government Center, 3299 Tamiami Trail East, 3rd Floor in Naples. Residents can sign up to address the Commission prior to the meeting. Public petition speakers are limited to 10 minutes and general address speakers to 3 minutes.

Text of the proclamation:

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida is an open and welcoming place to residents, guests, and visitors from all over the world;

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida adheres to laws and regulations and upholds the Constitution and Amendments of the United States of America;

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida provides equal justice under the law and protection to all law abiding residents and visitors;

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida supports democracy and democratic forms of government;

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida abhors bigotry, discrimination, prejudice, and all forms of hate against all people regardless of faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, or national origin.

NOW THEREFORE, be it proclaimed that the Board of County Commissioners of Collier County, Florida condemns anti-Semitism in all forms and expressions; condemns all forms of discrimination, prejudice, and hate against any person or group of people regardless of faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, or national origin; condemns any call to violence or use of violence for any purpose at any time; and resolves to actively and vigorously oppose, investigate, and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law any advocacy of violence, acts of violence, or crimes manifesting hatred against any person, property, or institution based on faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, or national origin, and will provide to bigotry no sanction and to persecution no assistance.

DONE AND ORDERED THIS 25 Day of October, 2022.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Endorsements: Recommendations for the General Election in Lee and Collier Counties

Oct. 17, 2022

Our elections are no longer “normal”—and this year’s general election is no exception.

Since the presidency of Donald Trump, each election has become a referendum on whether America will remain a democracy. That was especially true in the 2020 presidential election and it remains true in 2022.

At stake is the legislative branch of the American government and the state of Florida. Will America be governed by a party that supports checks and balances on executive power, respects the will of the majority of voters as expressed in elections, and honors its founding Constitution? Or will it be governed by a party wholly given to the worship of one man, which excuses his crimes and appetites, and is willing to replace its governing institutions with his whims, rages and prejudices?

These questions will be answered, not just at the national level, but at every level of government, from the counties, to cities to school boards.

So this year’s election is a referendum on the future and not just a judgment on individual candidates and propositions.

As has been stated in the past, it has always been the position of The Paradise Progressive that a media outlet covering politics has a duty to endorse. Following candidates and political developments on a regular basis provides insights and knowledge that need to be shared with voters. Whether the outlet is national or local television, online or print or even a simple blog, it is the obligation of independent media in a free society to help voters make an informed choice.

Further, it needs to be noted that while The Paradise Progressive has a progressive orientation, as its name implies, it is not affiliated with any particular party or governed by any party’s dictates. Its judgments are its own. That said, it does reference Democratic Party endorsements.

There are three criteria for The Paradise Progressive’s candidate endorsements:

1. Is the candidate qualified for the office he or she is seeking?

2. Can the candidate be relied upon to make clear, understandable, rational decisions based on facts, data, logic and science?

3. Does the candidate support the United States Constitution, the peaceful transition of power and—most of all—democracy?

In response to reader queries, below is a list of all Paradise Progressive endorsements for elected office statewide, in Collier and Lee counties, and in the 19th, 17th and 26th congressional districts that cover Southwest Florida.

Not all these races or candidates been covered in depth in Paradise Progressive postings or fully explained in editorials. Nor is this a complete list of offices up for election.

The offices are listed in the order that they appear on their respective ballots. They include races for non-partisan positions like judgeships and school boards, which are extremely important this year.

Where necessary, for example in judicial and constitutional matters, there is additional discussion.

State and federal offices

United States Senator

  • Val Demings

Representative Congressional District 19:

  • Cindy Banyai

Representative Congressional District 17:

  • Andrea Dorea Kale

Representative Congressional District 26:

  • Christine Olivo

Governor and Lieutenant Governor:

  • Charlie Crist and Karla Hernandez

Attorney General:

  • Aramis Ayala

Chief Financial Officer:

  • Adam Hattersley

Commissioner of Agriculture:

  • Naomi Esther Blemur

State senator, District 27:

  • Christopher Proia

State Representative, District 77:

  • Eric Englehart

State Representative, District 80:

  • Mitchel Schlayer

County offices

Lee County Board of Commissioners, District 5:

  • Matthew Wood

Collier County Board of Commissioners, District 2:

  • Bebe Kanter

Judicial elections

  • Judge Jorge Labarga – Yes
  • All others – No

The Lee and Collier County Democratic parties are recommending that voters vote “yes” to retain Jorge Labarga on the Florida Supreme Court and vote “no” on all others.

The Paradise Progressive concurs.

The reasoning for this vote is explained in the article: “How Florida Voters Could Fire Their Worst Supreme Court Justices In November,” by Matthew Henderson, a Florida-based attorney and policy analyst, writing in Balls & Strikes, a website of commentary and analysis on judicial affairs.

“If DeSantis wins re-election” Henderson writes, “…he can replace any justice the voters reject with another loyal conservative. If Crist wins, however, he can overhaul the court immediately.”

He continues: “Historically, voters have not paid much attention to retention elections; to date, no appellate judge or justice has ever lost one. But scrutiny of the state’s highest court has increased after controversies involving other DeSantis appointees. If even one justice gets close to being replaced, it puts the entire system into question unlike any time since the last time justices were unmasked as partisan hacks in the 1970s.”

Labarga, Henderson writes, “has distanced himself from his colleagues. Appointed by Crist in 2009, Labarga is conservative, but not as brazenly political as his colleagues.”

The other state Supreme Court judges on the ballot offer a stark contrast.

Charles Canaday, who has been on the court for 14 years, is a former Republican state representative and as a US congressman was an impeachment manager against President Bill Clinton in 1999.

Ricky Polston argued in favor of giving state money to religious charter schools despite the state Constitution forbidding it.

Jamie Grosshans, appointed in 2020 by DeSantis, “is the closest thing to an Amy Coney Barrett of Florida,” according to Henderson. As a law student she was “event coordinator for something called the Institute in Basic Life Principles, which turned out to be an actual cult teaching about the ungodliness of blue jeans. She then interned at the Claremont Institute, the conservative think tank that gave us Trump’s personal coup lawyer, John Eastman.” Eastman was the attorney who came up with the legal theory used in the attempt to overthrow the 2020 election.

John Couriel joined opinions making it harder to sue for wrongful deaths as a result of tobacco use and shielded corporate executives from depositions.

Given this record, a “no” vote for all Supreme Court judicial candidates other than Labarga is justified.

As Henderson puts it: “As conservative judges at all levels flex their muscles in courthouses across the country, Florida voters have the opportunity to evict a few of its own revanchist justices who think there are a few too many civil rights floating around.” 

School Boards

Lee County District 1:

  • Kathy Fanny

Lee County District 4:

  • Debbie Jordan

Lee County District 6:

  • Jada Langford Fleming

Collier County District 1:

  • Jory Westberry

Collier County District 3:

  • Jen Mitchell

Collier County District 5:

  • Roy Terry

Municipal elections

City of Bonita Springs City Council District 5

  • Jude Richvale

Constitutional Amendments

  • Amendment 1: Yes
  • Amendment 2: No
  • Amendment 3: Yes

Interestingly, the Lee and Collier County Democratic parties split on these measures, with Lee County’s party advocating “no, yes, yes” and Collier County’s party advocating “yes, no, no.”

Amendment 1 states that effective January 1, 2023, flood resistance improvements to a home will not be included in assessing properties for ad valorem [to value] tax purposes.

Advocates of Amendment 1 argue that it will both incentivize and reward homeowners who protect their properties from flooding. Critics point out that it will reduce the tax revenues for state and local governments.

This amendment overwhelmingly passed both the state House and Senate on a bipartisan basis, unanimously in the Senate. After Hurricane Ian showed the damage that flooding can do, Amendment 1 makes eminent sense for a Florida in the grip of climate change. It will benefit homeowners of all incomes and help build climate resilience. It should be passed.

Amendment 2 would abolish Florida’s Constitutional Revision Commission that meets every 20 years to consider constitutional changes.

Advocates argue this would protect Florida from ill-considered, vague or confusing and whimsical changes, while critics say that rather than abolishing it entirely, qualifications for sitting on the Commission can be tightened.

The idea of a periodic review of the Florida Constitution is a good one and the Commission should be kept. Amendments proposed by the Commission still have to be approved by voters. It also provides a source of new ideas in addition to the four others—citizen initiatives, constitutional conventions, the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, or legislative joint resolutions—available to Florida. This proposal should be rejected.

Amendment 3 gives the legislature the authority to grant an additional homestead tax exemption up to $50,000 to public employees. These include classroom teachers, law enforcement officers, correctional officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, child welfare services professionals, active duty members of the United States Armed Forces, and Florida National Guard members.

Advocates argue that these workers and servicemembers deserve a tax break given the nature of their jobs and duties. Critics point out that this measure would cost the state and localities $85.9 million starting the fiscal year after it passes. They argue that it also wouldn’t guarantee that these workers could find affordable housing and it sets a precedent of favoring one group or profession over another for taxation.

The critics have very valid points. However, Florida—and especially Southwest Florida—has great need for these workers so this incentive may be helpful.

The benefits of this amendment especially apply in the case of classroom teachers. After all the bile, hatred and denigration aimed at these public servants by extreme anti-public education fanatics including the governor, after all the restrictions proposed and imposed on them by the legislature and especially given their low pay and benefits, teachers deserve relief and support. There are few enough incentives for classroom teachers to work in Florida. What is more, numerous ideologically-driven school boards are poised to impose further restraints on classroom teaching. This is why electing good school boards are so vitally important in Southwest Florida and everywhere. (See school board endorsements, above.)

This amendment will go some way toward attracting new teachers to the state and retaining the ones already working in Florida. It will assist those who provide vital services in the public sector. It should be passed.

For a very complete, objective, non-partisan analysis of the constitutional amendments on the ballot, see the James Madison Institute’s 2022 Amendment Guide.

Cartoon by Andy Marlette.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Collier County Commission reschedules anti-bigotry resolution vote to Oct. 25

A meeting of the Collier County Board of Commissioners on July 13, 2021. (Photo: Author)

Sept. 22, 2022 by David Silverberg

Full disclosure: The author is the drafter of the resolution described below.

The Collier County, Florida, Board of Commissioners has rescheduled a vote on a resolution condemning bigotry, hate crimes and anti-Semitism for Oct. 25.

The resolution was scheduled to be passed at the Commission’s general meeting on Sept. 27 as part of the “Consent Agenda,” routine matters passed en bloc, without separate discussion of each individual item.

However, Rabbi Adam Miller, Temple Shalom, Naples, protested to Commission Chair Bill McDaniel (R-District 5) that the meeting fell on the second day of the Jewish High Holy Day of Rosh Hashonah, the New Year. He requested that it be rescheduled until after the Jewish holidays of Yom Kippur and Sukkot, when he could mobilize other community and religious leaders to support it.

McDaniel agreed.

The resolution, below, is now scheduled to be considered as a separate item at the Commission’s general meeting on Oct. 25.

In its entirety the resolution states:

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida is an open and welcoming place to residents, guests and visitors from all over the world; and

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida adheres to the laws and regulations and upholds the Constitution and Amendments of the United States of America; and

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida provides equal justice under law and protection to all law-abiding residents and visitors; and

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida supports democracy and democratic forms of government; and

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida abhors bigotry, discrimination, prejudice and all forms of hate against all people regardless of faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation or national origin.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF COLLIER COUNTY, FLORIDA: condemns anti-Semitism in all forms and expressions; condemns all forms of discrimination, prejudice and hate against any person or group of people regardless of faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation or national origin; condemns any call to violence or use of violence for any purpose at any time; and resolves to actively and vigorously oppose, investigate and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law any advocacy of violence, acts of violence or crimes manifesting hatred against any person, property or institution based on faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation or national origin, and will provide to bigotry no sanction and to persecution no assistance.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Collier County Commission to consider resolution condemning hate, bigotry, anti-Semitism

Collier County residents hold a candlelight vigil at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation to protest hate and bigotry in the wake of violence in Charlottesville , Va., on Aug. 14, 2017. (Image: Author)

Sept. 21, 2022 by David Silverberg

Full disclosure: The author is the drafter of the resolution described below.

The Collier County, Florida, Board of Commissioners will be taking up a resolution condemning bigotry, hate crimes and anti-Semitism at its next general meeting next Tuesday, Sept. 27.

The resolution is officially on the meeting’s agenda as item 10A, although that could be changed if deemed necessary by the county manager. The general business portion of the meeting begins at 10:00 am.

In its operative paragraph the resolution condemns anti-Semitism, discrimination, prejudice and hate. It states that the county resolves to pursue and prosecute hate crimes against people, property and institutions and, to paraphrase President George Washington, “will provide to bigotry no sanction and to persecution no assistance.”

(The full text is below.)

Commissioner Bill McDaniel (R-District 5) and chair of the Board, is expected to introduce the resolution.

The resolution comes amidst a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Southwest Florida.

Although the resolution is an expression of opinion rather than an ordinance imposing penalties, it nonetheless puts the county on the record opposing all forms of hatred, bigotry and discrimination.

In its entirety the resolution states:

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida is an open and welcoming place to residents, guests and visitors from all over the world; and

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida adheres to the laws and regulations and upholds the Constitution and Amendments of the United States of America; and

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida provides equal justice under law and protection to all law-abiding residents and visitors; and

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida supports democracy and democratic forms of government; and

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida abhors bigotry, discrimination, prejudice and all forms of hate against all people regardless of faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation or national origin.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF COLLIER COUNTY, FLORIDA: condemns anti-Semitism in all forms and expressions; condemns all forms of discrimination, prejudice and hate against any person or group of people regardless of faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation or national origin; condemns any call to violence or use of violence for any purpose at any time; and resolves to actively and vigorously oppose, investigate and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law any advocacy of violence, acts of violence or crimes manifesting hatred against any person, property or institution based on faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation or national origin, and will provide to bigotry no sanction and to persecution no assistance.

The Board of Commissioners will be meeting at 9:00 am on the third floor of the Collier County Government Center, 3299 Tamiami Trail East in Naples. Public petition speakers are limited to ten minutes and general address speakers to 3 minutes.

To reach the commissioners:

Rick LoCastro

Andy Solis

Burt Saunders

Penny Taylor

William L. McDaniel, Jr.

Chair

Liberty lives in light

©2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

‘To bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance’—Responding to anti-Semitism in Southwest Florida

The bridge over the Rhine River in Basel, Switzerland. (Photo: Author)

Aug. 31, 2022 by David Silverberg

In the city of Basel, Switzerland there is a bridge that crosses the Rhine River.

It’s a magnificent, sturdy bridge and a critical asset for the city. It was built around the year 1225 and was quite an engineering feat for its day.

Construction of the bridge was made possible by a loan from the city’s Jewish community. Theirs was an act of civic engagement and community pride that supported the city’s growth and prosperity. With the bridge built at the southernmost navigable point on the Rhine, Basel flourished and prospered.

But then in 1347 bubonic plague, the Black Death, began to scourge Europe. It was a horrible disease of unknown origins with a swift lethality that terrified the living. Although the term “pandemic” wasn’t known at the time, it was a sickness that seemed to strike the whole world.

In the year 1349, the Black Death hadn’t yet reached Basel but its onslaught was known and residents of Basel panicked. A conspiracy theory began making the rounds that Jews had poisoned the wells, causing the plague.

The Jewish community had high-level protection: in late 1348 Pope Clement VI issued a papal bull absolving Jews of responsibility for the plague. They were under the safeguard of the Holy Roman Empire. The bishops of Basel, Freiburg and nearby Strasbourg met to coordinate their responses.

But none of the assurances held any weight with an agitated and unreasoning mob. On Jan. 9, 1349 those Jews who hadn’t already fled the city were rounded up. The children were separated to be forcibly converted. The estimated 100 to 600 adult men and women were forcefully taken to an island in the Rhine, shackled together in a wooden hut—and then burned alive.

A Jewish community was massacred despite its high-level promises of protection, the civic-mindedness of its members, and its obvious contributions to the well-being and welfare of the city. Their innocence could not prevail in the face of a delusional conspiracy theory that had no foundation in fact. (And, by the way, the immolation didn’t stop the plague.)

Flash forward 667 years. On December 4, 2016, Edgar Welch, a 28-year-old man from Salisbury, North Carolina, shot his way into a pizza restaurant in Washington, DC, based on an utterly baseless and absurd conspiracy theory he had read on extremist websites asserting that a pedophilia ring was operating out of the restaurant. On October 27, 2018, Robert Bowers, 46, entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa., and killed 11 people and wounded six based on a conspiracy theory that Jews were importing people into the United States to replace non-Jewish whites. On March 15, 2019 Brenton Tarrant, 28, killed 51 people in Christchurch, New Zealand when he attacked two mosques based on the same racist “great replacement” conspiracy theory.

Conspiracy theories—the term doesn’t fully convey the real nature of these hateful, fabricated, slanderous lies—have consequences. Unfortunately, we live in an age of delusions when such insanities are running rampant.

It was probably inevitable that after demonizing immigrants, blacks, Hillary Clinton, Democrats, Joe Biden and going through a pandemic when ignorant people ferociously fought safeguards like masks and vaccines and promoted magic potions, that some would turn their wrath to Jewish targets. The most laughable slander is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-14-Ga.) bizarre 2018 allegation of space lasers owned by the Jewish Rothschild family causing California wildfires. But as absurd and laughable as that defamation is, it’s part of a trend.

And now Southwest Florida has its own blood libel: Katie Paige Richards, who claimed to be the campaign manager of Collier County school board District 5 candidate Timothy Moshier, repeated a current extremist conspiracy theory on social media that Jewish-controlled media is using pornography to brainwash white males. This comes after a Bonita Springs rabbi’s car, driveway and home were vandalized and defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti in January, after anti-Semitic flyers were distributed in Fort Myers saying anti-Semitism is a human right and other flyers festooned with swastikas were placed on car windshields at local shopping malls. Most recently, on the other coast, anti-Semitic threats of violence were directed at Bruce Reinhart, the magistrate judge in Palm Beach Gardens who approved the search warrant for Mar-a-Lago.

Jews have heard these kinds of libels before: that Jews punctured communion wafers to make them bleed; that they took blood from Christian children to bake matzohs; that they poisoned wells to spread bubonic plague; that they conspired to impose democracy on Europe and overthrow monarchies; and that Germany lost World War I because Jews stabbed it in the back.

So when new libels and conspiracy theories emerge, it’s not as though Jews are just offended or emotionally upset. They have a lot of historical experience with these kinds of completely false and malevolent fantasies. They’ve been there before. Jews know how they begin, how they spread and how they end—and they always end badly.

There’s also no excusing the source of this madness. In America in the past, these kinds of fantasies could be debunked with facts, healthy skepticism and simple reality. But Donald Trump sought to discredit real reality and impose his own reality, a reality that ranged from such delusions as having the largest inaugural crowd ever to believing that he won an election that in fact he lost. He smeared as “fake” those who pursued truth. He sought scapegoats for a pandemic he couldn’t competently handle. He not only tried to impose his own lies on the world, it was as though he opened a sealed box and allowed every lunatic’s hallucination to gain credence and circulation. Some of those hallucinations are anti-Semitic.

The time may come when this mass mania may die down. This has happened before in America, ever since the days of its first bout of madness, the Salem witch trials.

But until the lunacy passes, as with the Salem witch trials, there are real casualties.

Anti-Semitism in Southwest Florida

For Southwest Florida’s Jewish community the rise of local anti-Semitic insanity presents the same challenge that every Jewish community has faced in the past: how best to respond?

On Sunday, Aug. 28, Rabbi Bruce Diamond, head of the Fort Myers Community Free Synagogue, which bills itself as a progressive congregation, published an op-ed in the area’s Gannett newspapers, the News-Press and Naples Daily News under the headline, “I worry about the rising tide of aggression.”

In many ways it’s a strange and internally contradictory essay (with some significant lapses in grammar and usage reproduced here as in the original).

On the one hand, Diamond argued, “At this time there is no existential threat to America’s Jew. It may be that the amount of antisemitic violence and incitement is increasing around us and throughout America, but so are all sorts of violence and incitement aimed at so many groups. It’s not just Jews who are the targets- it be anyone, anywhere and at any time.”

Then he states that “Like many of you, I worry about the rising tide of aggression and government’s inability (and sometimes its apparent unwillingness) to containing it.” 

However, cultural and grassroots anti-Semitism, in Diamond’s view, “is a universe apart from the government organizing and sponsoring violence against its residents, be they Jews or any other identifiable group.”

That kind of official persecution can’t happen, he argues, “as long our democratic institutions remain intact, the courts are empowered, and, by consent of the governed, our Constitution holds sway.”

Still, as Diamond acknowledges, “history teaches us that there no guarantees.” Further, “A people that is made to feel threatened by its leaders can tear its government to shreds and jettisoned its most cherished values overnight.”

So ultimately, Diamond writes, “don’t let yourself feel threatened — not by media eager to sell, by the politicians eager for the trappings of power, or anyone else trying to gain control over you and what is yours. They themselves are the threat. But, remarkably, if we all decide to ignore them they will go away and we will be just fine!”

Diamond is apparently putting the onus for anti-Semitic sentiment on the media that seeks to expose it, officials attempting to stop it and anyone else in authority trying to combat it. If those people are ignored, he believes, the wave of anti-Semitism will simply go away—“like a miracle, it’ll disappear,” as one person infamously said of the COVID virus.

As for the real purveyors of anti-Semitism on the Internet, in leaflets and in public forums, he apparently believes they too will pass like the wind and rain or they don’t present a threat.

A somewhat different response came from Rabbi Mendy Greenberg, head of the local Bonita Springs Chabad (a Hebrew acronym for “wisdom, understanding, and knowledge”) chapter of the very orthodox Lubavitcher religious movement.

On Jan. 31, 2022 it was Greenberg’s mailbox that was destroyed, his car window broken, and his sidewalk defaced with the word “Jew’s” in big red letters by two teenagers, Tucker Bachman,17, and a 14-year old accomplice. The perpetrators were swiftly caught by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, charged with hate-crime felonies and in March sentenced to probation.

When the arrests were made Greenberg was generous and forgiving. He said that Lee County was a place of love and friendship and he had never experienced any anti-Semitic crime in his 17 years there.

“This type of behavior is obviously in the minority so, but it also stains the community,” he said, calling for kindness on the part of people of different faiths and backgrounds.

He was neither bitter nor vindictive. “A little light sheds away a lot of darkness. It may sound like a cliché but it really can change reality. For the Jewish community, my message is there is nothing to be fearful for. We are here to stay, we are not going anywhere. We’re proud of who we are.”

In a subsequent service after the incident, Greenberg urged congregants to deal with anti-Semitism by praying and putting on “tefillen,” boxes with sacred script in them used during prayers by very orthodox Jews.

Analysis: Responding effectively

So what’s the best response to incidents of local anti-Semitism?

Is Diamond right in thinking that, “if we all decide to ignore them they will go away and we will be just fine!”

Is Greenberg right that “there is nothing to be fearful for” and prayer will be sufficient?

Sadly, history doesn’t bear out either of these responses. Ignoring prejudice just strengthens it and indifference has always led to disaster.

Rather, small acts of anti-Semitism—indeed, all minor acts of extremism, hatred and bigotry—are like the early raindrops that precede a storm. They may seem scattered and insignificant at first but they’re precursors of much worse to come.

Unlike a storm, however, these are human actions and human actions can be changed or deflected.

In one respect, Diamond is absolutely right: officially sanctioned and sponsored anti-Semitism. “cannot and will not happen as long our democratic institutions remain intact, the courts are empowered, and, by consent of the governed, our Constitution holds sway.”

A vigorous defense of democracy, the Constitution and justice will indeed impede anti-Semitism at the grassroots. And the local person to date who has most embodied and enforced a robust and unflinching response to it isn’t Jewish at all.

When Greenberg’s home was defaced, Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno was having absolutely none of it.

“Violence based on discrimination or hatred of anyone is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in my county,” he said emphatically at the press conference announcing the vandals’ arrests.

Greenberg was grateful. He thanked “God Almighty for such a special sheriff’s department. It is unbelievable the type of support and velocity, speed and determination of the Lee County Sheriff’s staff to get down to the bottom of this case,” he said.

Marceno was pursuing specific violations of specific statutes but his vigor and decisiveness shows the way that anti-Semitism must be confronted if it’s to be defeated. And the Lee County Sheriff’s Office response exemplified the way hate crimes need to be pursued and prosecuted.

But that’s law enforcement. What can everyday people do?

As long as the US Constitution holds sway and provides legal, non-violent channels for activism, the answer is always the same: energize, organize and mobilize.

Opposing anti-Semitism should be a no-brainer for politicians and officials of all parties. For the past 50 years it was just a standard position that was largely taken for granted. But now it must be reaffirmed and people must push them to do it.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish organization that monitors and opposes anti-Semitism and all forms of defamation, has formulated what it calls its COMBAT Plan. It consists of:

  • Condemn Antisemitism
  • Oppose Hate and Extremism Driven by Antisemitism
  • Make Communities Safe from Antisemitism
  • Block Antisemitism Online
  • Act Against Global Antisemitism
  • Teach about Antisemitism

The details are explained in a 2-minute, 50-second video on YouTube.

One of the major aspects of the COMBAT Plan is to get existing institutions—political, social and religious—to condemn anti-Semitism.

On the political front as applied in Southwest Florida, that means people need to contact their elected officials—of whatever party or level of government—to insist that they publicly condemn anti-Semitism.

That should also extend to candidates for elected office. Any candidate who refuses to condemn anti-Semitism should know that he or she will pay a price: at the ballot box, in financial donations and in social isolation.

Political parties too should be pushed to take public stances against anti-Semitism. To cite a particular local case, the Collier County Republican Party reacted to the reports of Richards’ anti-Semitism in the school board race with a defensive message to members accusing the Naples Daily News of “fake news and selective reporting of facts” and attacks by “leftists.”

What it should do is issue a clear and unambiguous condemnation of anti-Semitism and those who spread it. It needs to clearly, emphatically and publicly state that anti-Semitism has no part in the Party, its platform or its candidates and those who embrace or accept or propagate it will not get its endorsement, its support or even be allowed to be members.

Additionally, government bodies like municipal and county governments should be urged to pass resolutions condemning anti-Semitism—as well as all forms of bigotry and prejudice. These may not have the force of law but there is a value in putting this position on the public record.

Non-governmental entities like chambers of commerce, professional and civic associations should also be urged to adopt resolutions, amendments and statements announcing their abhorrence of anti-Semitism, hate and extremism.

Religious leaders of all faiths, denominations and creeds should be encouraged to denounce anti-Semitism, hatred and prejudice from their pulpits and in their communications to congregants.

Citizens should report any criminal anti-Semitic incidents and hate-driven activities to law enforcement and the ADL, which provides an online reporting form, and to local media for coverage and exposure.

Teaching the evils of anti-Semitism and extremism needs to be updated in schools. The ADL provides materials and online resources.

Regrettably, in Florida, there’s no telling at this point how legislatively-mandated changes to the state’s curriculum and teaching force will help dampen anti-Semitism, given Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “anti-woke” crusade. In the past, teaching about the Holocaust and Anne Frank was considered sufficient. But curricula need to be updated and modernized to deal with online hate and new conspiracy theories.

In a very specific instance in Collier County, incumbent school board member Roy Terry needs to be returned to office in District 5 to help continue enlightened, secular, objective education, along with fellow incumbents Jory Westberry in District 1 and Jen Mitchell in District 3.

All this will not end hatred, prejudice and anti-Semitism altogether. But it should ensure that it’s confined to the stupidly ignorant, the pathetically gullible and the completely insane—who should be recognized as such.

History’s lessons

History is clear: hate doesn’t just evaporate, passivity doesn’t protect, and appeasement doesn’t appease. Anti-Semitism and all “conspiracy theories” and hatred need to be actively opposed.

If there is any comfort to be had, it is that this opposition is very much in the American tradition. Here, history provides strength and reassurance and this from a Founding Father revered by every true patriot.

In 1790, when the United States was newly formed, Moses Seixas, a Jewish resident of Newport, Rhode Island, wrote to President George Washington praising the new government’s attitudes toward religious freedom, in light of past European persecutions.

Washington wrote back and his answer clarified not just the government’s attitude but what would become the nation’s attitude toward all its citizens:

“The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

This is the policy that’s now being put to the test both in American government and on American streets, both nationally and locally, in Southwest Florida and everywhere else.

Every true patriot, every good citizen, every American should heed Washington’s words: “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance” and give the nation their “effectual support” by supporting democracy, tolerance and freedom with their votes, their actions and their words.

That’s what builds bridges between people—whether those bridges connect communities or cross rivers like the Rhine.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Reading the tea leaves from Southwest Florida’s primary election

I see a need to clean a cup in your future. (Photo: Author)

Aug. 26, 2022 by David Silverberg

Getting lessons from elections can be like reading tea leaves at the bottom of a cup—just about anything can be deduced from the dark, soggy jumble.

But elections have consequences and so discerning trends from voting patterns becomes important. And when democracy, governance and representation are on the line, making sense of it all becomes downright critical.

What is to be made of the primary elections held Tuesday, Aug. 23, in Southwest Florida? This analysis is based on official returns from the supervisors of elections in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties.

Turnout was low

As is to be expected in a late August primary in steamy Southwest Florida, turnout was low.

In Collier County, only 29.7 percent, of eligible voters turned out. In Lee County, that came to 26.57 percent of eligible voters. In Charlotte County, it was 26.77 percent.

This was down from 2020’s totals. In the last election cycle 36.3 percent of voters turned out for the primary in Collier County, 31.67 percent in Lee County and 21 percent for Charlotte County.

Then again, 2020 was a presidential election year, it was a referendum on Donald Trump’s presidency and it took place in the midst of a pandemic, so the intensity of the electorate was reflected in the primary.

Mail-in voting is here to stay—and favored by voters

In 2020, while mail-in balloting was hardly new, it was newly controversial and strenuously denounced by Trump.

But this year’s balloting seems to show that despite the denunciations and recently enacted restrictions on drop-boxes and verification, mail-in voting remains popular and widely used. This year, mail-in ballots accounted for 54 percent of Collier County ballots, 66 percent of Lee’s and 53 percent of Charlotte’s.

Clearly, legislative restrictions and increased complications placed in the way of easy mail-in balloting have not dampened enthusiasm for this form of voting.

What is more, this is an especially favored form of voting for the many Southwest Florida residents who are away during the days of August.

Did DeSantis make a difference for school board candidates?

In both Collier and Lee counties, the school board elections remain unresolved in all but one race where a candidate won an outright majority and thereby the election.

In an unprecedented move this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) reached down the ballot to endorse candidates in what are usually non-partisan elections. He aided candidates with publicity, cash and favorable mentions to advance his “education agenda.”

According to the non-profit website, Florida Phoenix, “of DeSantis’ 30 endorsed candidates, 19 appear to have won their races and five lost on primary night. The other six appear to be either in runoff situations or advancing to the general election based on election data and local coverage.”

Locally, in District 5 of the Lee County School Board, Armor Persons won with 54.85 percent of the vote.

The other local DeSantis-endorsed candidate was Sam Fisher in District 1. He came in with 43.34 percent of the vote, not enough to elect him outright. He will be facing incumbent Kathy Fanny, who took 30.91 percent of the vote.

This indicates that at least in Lee County, a DeSantis school board endorsement does not automatically result in a school board victory for the favored candidate.

That said, in District 1, Fisher did out-poll Fanny, who now must use the time until November to close the gap.

Thanks to DeSantis’ intervention, school board races are now actually part of the 2024 presidential campaign and one more mile marker on his road to the White House. His credibility is on the line for every candidate he endorses.

In Florida, school boards are not your parents’ sleepy, down-ballot elections any more.

Collier County school board incumbents have to up their game

All the Collier County school board races will be decided in the general election in November.

Interestingly, despite the MAGA (Make America Great Again) nature of some Collier County school board candidates, DeSantis did not endorse any of them.

This makes for what should be an intense and active race to November. The incumbents, Jory Westberry in District 1, Jen Mitchell in District 3 and Roy Terry in District 5 must use the next two months to energize and broaden their campaigns while their opponents, Jerry Rutherford, Kelly Lichter and Tim Moshier, will be doing the same.

The incumbents, all of whom have dedicated their lives and careers to education, have tended not to view their elections as the all-out political struggle their challengers did. For the most part, they continued to see the election as the relatively quiet ratification process it was in the past, interesting only to a small group of parents and professionals.

However, the school board election is now part of a much larger ideological struggle. If serious, sensible, secular education in Collier County is to be maintained, Westberry, Mitchell and Terry need to approach their races much more intently, raise more money—which their challengers are certainly doing—and become much more energetic.

The Moshier mess

Timothy Moshier’s Collier County school board campaign in District 5 deserves special attention following the revelation that Katie Paige Richards, who claimed to be his campaign manager, posted a blatantly anti-Semitic video on social media. When asked, Moshier initially stated that he had “no problem with it.”

When the story was covered in The Naples Daily News (NDN), Moshier’s response was to claim that she wasn’t his campaign manager and that his wife was Jewish (presumably absolving him of all responsibility). He and his lawyers demanded a retraction and threatened a lawsuit.

The Collier County Republican Party issued a statement to Republicans saying, “The NDN is using fake news and selective reporting of facts to destroy Tim. That way, they can assure a continued liberal majority on the Collier County School Board.” It added: “He will not allow last-minute and despicable assaults on his character by the NDN and leftists to defeat him.”

However, for all their defensiveness and outrage, neither Moshier nor the Party denounced anti-Semitism in principle or the lies propagated by Richards, who asserted that Jews are using their supposed control of the media to promote pornography to brainwash white males. Neither Richards, nor Moshier, nor the Collier County Republican Party has repudiated that slander or anti-Semitism in general.

It needs to be pointed out that Moshier, a trucking company executive, has no educational credentials or school administrative experience whatsoever. During a school board candidate panel on May 21st, he called for cuts in the Collier County school budget—at a time when the school district is struggling to retain and attract underpaid teachers among many other needs.

What a more sensible and less defensive county Republican Party might have been expected to do is issue a statement condemning anti-Semitism, saying it has no part in the Republican Party, that it’s un-American and un-patriotic and completely rebuking and repudiating Richards and her delusional allegations.

This case is still open.

The meaning of MAGA for Collier County

MAGA candidates Chris Hall and Daniel Kowal won their races for Collier County Board of Commissioners in districts 2 and 4.

Incumbent Penny Taylor was defeated in District 4. Hall will face Democrat Barbara “Bebe” Kanter in District 2 in the November election.

After Taylor’s defeat, Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III, the extremely conservative farmer and grocer and Republican committeeman who endorsed and backed both candidates, posted on Facebook: “Ding dong the witch is dead,” above a picture of Taylor, with the label, “Walking Dead auditions.”

Alfie Oakes’ post-election Facebook post of Collier County Commissioner Penny Taylor. (Image: Facebook)

“That was just in fun,” Oakes said of the post to The Paradise Progressive in a phone interview. “I wish her all the best. It doesn’t come with any ill-intent. I told her [at the time of the Collier County Commission vote in July 2020] that if she masked the people I would make it my purpose to defeat her.”

When Taylor voted to impose a county-wide mask mandate at the height of the pandemic, Oakes posted a picture of her and two other county commissioners in Nazi-esque helmets outside his Seed to Table market. He helped fund Hall and Kowal’s campaigns through the Citizens Awake Now Political Action Committee, of which he is president.

More substantively, the likely elections of Hall and Kowal will place a solid MAGA majority on the Collier County Board of Commissioners.

It’s difficult to say exactly how their election will impact the county’s development, infrastructure and budgeting, given that neither made those issues a priority in their campaigns.

According to Hall’s campaign website, “God, his word, love, and ways, (virtue) has to be reinstated in our nation, our states, our counties, and cities. It’s the only way America won’t fail.” He complained that Andy Solis, the outgoing commissioner, voted for mask mandates, shut down beaches during the pandemic, voted against a sanctuary ordinance for guns and one to nullify federal law and allowed businesses to require vaccinations.

Kowal, a former Collier County deputy sheriff, ran a campaign for Congress in 2020 that mostly consisted of a bare-bones website. This time he stated on his website he was running for commissioner because he is “Pro-Clean Water, Pro-Limited Government, Pro-Second Amendment, Pro-Law Enforcement, Pro-Life, Pro-Military.” He also states “I stand for clean water, safe streets and sustainable growth.”

With a MAGA majority on the county council, the county will no doubt be primed to resist any future public health measures that commissioners find inconvenient, no matter how compelling or immediate the threat.

At the very least, a MAGA-dominated Commission calls into question the handling of all the county’s relations with the federal government—and this on top of the DeSantis-dominated state government’s hostility to Washington, DC.

For Oakes, the election may close a chapter in his contentious relations with the county government.

“I just think that the people are speaking,” he said of the results. “They don’t want this wokeness, and they don’t want this radical liberalism.”

As for the results of the election benefiting himself and his business, he said that was not his primary motivation in supporting these candidates. “I’m just happy that the people in Collier County have candidates who uphold the Constitution and America first,” he said.

In statewide races, Southwest Florida tracked the rest of the state

The big statewide race that received the most attention was the contest in the Democratic Party to see whether Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.) or Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried would be nominated to challenge DeSantis.

Crist won that primary statewide by 59.71 percent to Fried’s 35.34 percent. This proved to be true locally as well, with Crist winning Collier County by 57.1 percent, Lee by 53.65 percent and Charlotte by 57.08 percent.

This contrasts with 2018 when regional Democrats favored more conservative candidates over the eventual statewide winner, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. It proved that Southwest Florida Democrats are more temperamentally conservative in contrast to their brethren elsewhere.

It would be very interesting to know if Southwest Florida Democratic women favored Fried over Crist in light of the two candidates’ battle over their respective commitments to women’s choice. Fried was counting on a female groundswell to lift her to the nomination. It didn’t happen statewide. Did it happen in Southwest Florida? What might the results mean for the general election on Nov. 8? Just how much will the overthrow of Roe v. Wade factor into people’s next ballot?

Regrettably, the official tallies don’t provide those answers since there’s no gender breakdown in the statistics. There’s a real need in this region for serious, sustained, professional public opinion polling with publicly reported results.

Until we get those kinds of scientific surveys we’ll just have to deduce what we can from the results that we get—and read whatever we can from the tea leaves in the bottoms of our cups.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Primary election endorsement summary for Southwest Florida

Aug. 16, 2022

Today marks one week until Primary Election Day, Aug. 23, in Collier and Lee counties. Early in-person voting is already available and mail-in ballots can be mailed or deposited in ballot intake stations (formerly known as drop-boxes) from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm at specific locations in Lee and Collier counties. (See Lee County’s list here and Collier County’s list here.)

In response to reader queries, below is a list of all Paradise Progressive endorsements for elected office. Not all have been fully explained in editorials. Nor is this a complete list of offices up for election.

The Paradise Progressive is a media outlet with a progressive slant, as the name implies. However, it is not affiliated with any single party nor does it follow any party’s dictates.

The endorsements below cover both parties. In a closed primary state like Florida only voters registered with their parties will get to vote in the party’s primary. Other elections, for example school board and judiciar are non-partisan races in which anyone of any party can vote.

There are three criteria for The Paradise Progressive’s endorsements:

1. Is the candidate qualified for the office he or she is seeking?

2. Can the candidate be relied upon to make clear, understandable, rational decisions based on facts, data, logic and science?

3. Does the candidate support the United States Constitution, the peaceful transition of power and—most of all—democracy?

These criteria transcend party or faction. Based on them, this is a summary of The Paradise Progressive’s endorsements, with links to those editorials that explain them in detail.

Democratic primary

Statewide

  • Senator: Val Demings
  • Governor: Nikki Fried

Endorsing the next Democratic governor

  • Attorney General: Daniel Uhlfelder
  • Commissioner of Agriculture: JR Gaillot

Republican Primary

19th Congressional District

  • Congress: Jim Huff

Editorial: Rep. Byron Donalds has failed Southwest Florida and can’t be allowed to do it again

Collier County Commission

  • District 2 Commissioner: Nancy Lewis
  • District 4 Commissioner: Penny Taylor

Endorsing Republican candidates for Collier Commission Districts 2 and 4

Non-partisan, Collier County judge

  • Judge: Pamela Barger

Endorsing a new judge for Collier County

Non-partisan, Collier County Board of Education

  • District 1: Jory Westberry
  • District 3: Jen Mitchell
  • District 5: Roy Terry

Non-partisan, Lee County Board of Education

  • District 1: Kathy Fanny
  • District 4: Debbie Jordan
  • District 5: Gwynetta Gittens
  • District 6: Tia Collin

Endorsing real education at the Collier and Lee county school boards—and rebuking anti-Semitism

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!