Scandal Cuts Both Ways in Fla. Race
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 21, 1998; Page A14
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. This one wasn't even supposed to be close.
Rep. Corrine Brown (D) was running for reelection in Florida's 3rd Congressional District, where two-thirds of the voters are Democrats and 42 percent of the voting-age population is black. Brown, who is African American, won her last race with 61 percent of the vote. Her opponent this year is Bill Randall, a black Republican who had little name recognition, no political base and few dollars.
Then something happened to Brown: scandal. Since this spring, Florida newspapers have had an extended field day with her, exposing a string of allegations of unethical behavior.
And Brown, like a number of other candidates, is finding her message obscured and her opponent bolstered by the allegations about her personal scandals and controversies in an environment where voters are increasingly calling character and morality important attributes.
Gayle Davis, for example, a Republican and medical assistant here, said, "I am tired of being embarrassed by people who are supposed to be representing us."
Among the issues raised about Brown: An associate of an African businessman purchased a $50,000 Lexus for Brown's daughter, an attorney for a federal agency in Washington, after Brown lobbied to get the African man out of prison; Brown kept a jazz singer on her official payroll as a "congressional outreach specialist"; Brown received a $10,000 check from the secret account of black Baptist leader Henry J. Lyons, who was indicted earlier this year on racketeering and theft charges.
All of a sudden it's a race.
On Monday, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman John Linder (R-Ga.) came to Florida to raise money and campaign for Randall. And Randall's fund-raising efforts, initially weak, have picked up. In the last reporting period, from Aug. 13 to Sept. 30, he out-raised Brown, $156,730 to $75,223. A recent GOP survey had Brown at 44 percent and Randall at 43 percent. A Democratic survey came to a very different conclusion: Brown led 58 percent to 26 percent.
After a raucous downtown rally for Randall, featuring Gingrich, that was frequently interrupted by Brown supporters, Randall was asked by a reporter if Brown had the values and character to represent the 3rd District. "I'll say this much," he replied, "I think Corrine Brown and President Clinton should resign."
He continued: "I think this race has gotten on the radar screen based on what this candidate has done to herself. It's not so much that I'm all that great of a candidate or anything."
The NRCC has financed television issue ads on Randall's behalf that denounce Brown. "We need public officials to be honest and preserve the rule of law," the ad says. "But look at Corrine Brown's record."
"Call Corrine Brown," the ad ends, listing her campaign phone number. "Tell her, public officials must obey the law."
But it turns out Randall has some scandal problems of his own.
The Daytona News-Journal reported Sunday that Randall was convicted in 1988 of passing a $1,300 bad check. Adjudication was withheld and his record later wiped clean. Also, in the 1980s, Randall, an ordained minister, ran afoul of the IRS for failing to pay $30,000 in taxes. Liens were placed on him and his wife, Mary, and he's still paying off the debt.
In an interview, Randall acknowledged that both allegations were true. But he said the bad check was in part due to problems he had with the IRS, which had frozen accounts and made it difficult to pay bills. He spun his legal problems into a political manifesto against the IRS. "I'm running on the issue of IRS reform," said Randall, who wants to abolish the agency. "The reason I'm doing that is because I have experienced what they do to you. And I don't want anyone else to have to go through it."
Randall, 53, opposes abortion and said he wants to focus on local control of education and school vouchers in Congress. Ideologically, he and Brown offer voters a stark choice. She is considered one of the House's most liberal members, voting against a ban on late-term abortions, welfare reform the balanced-budget amendment, and for the minimum wage increase.
Brown, 51, a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is also known as an effective pork-barrel legislator, who has brought back millions of dollars for road and bridge projects to her district, which stretches from parts of inner-city Jacksonville to Orlando.
Both Brown and Randall are now finding it difficult to focus on their agendas amid the controversies. In an interview, Brown said she believes her constituents were ignoring what she called biased and inaccurate media accounts. She defended the $10,000 check from Lyons, saying it went to organize a political rally; the jazz singer performed legitimate constituent services for youth in the district. And Brown's daughter was friends with the associate of the businessman. (Campaign aide Ronnie Simons said she sold the Lexus and donated the money to charity to "stop the attacks against her mother.")
"My gut reaction is always, let he who is without sin cast the first stone," she said of Randall, adding that "the only poll that counts is on Election Day."
Perhaps the most well-known politician, other than Clinton, who has been distracted and damaged by scandals this year is Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun (D-Ill.). She has been hurt by allegations that she misused campaign funds and took improper trips to visit Nigerian leaders accused of human rights abuses. She is down in the polls compared with wealthy businessman Peter Fitzgerald (R).
A brief sampling of some other candidates battling scandal allegations:
Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-Idaho) admitted that she had a long affair with a married man. Chenoweth had run ads critical of Clinton. She faces Dan Williams, whom Democrats believe now has a good chance of winning.
In Nevada, Democratic House candidate Shelley Berkley has had to defend against allegations that in a past job as counsel to a casino owner, she advised the owner that he should give jobs to family members of certain politicians. Her GOP opponent, District Judge Don Chairez, has had his own problems: A federal agency is investigating allegations of sex discrimination, harassment and retaliatory termination allegations he has denied.
Connecticut freshman Rep. James H. Maloney is considered one of the Democratic Party's most vulnerable incumbents this year in part because of his brother's ethics troubles. Last year, his brother Robert pleaded guilty to 17 misdemeanor charges involving illegal reimbursements to donors to Maloney's unsuccessful 1994 campaign. The congressman repaid the money, but it left him with little cash at the start of this race and a tarnished image.
Staff writer Ceci Connolly in Washington contributed to this report.
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