‘Hated woman of color’ and ‘white Jewish guys’ in race for clerk

Christel Deskins

Brenda Forman got one thing right. She married well, politically speaking. When the former Brenda Dixon married Howard Forman, her predecessor as Broward’s elected court clerk, she took a name that was magic with county voters since the 1970s. If you had to choose one name that has been synonymous […]

Brenda Forman got one thing right. She married well, politically speaking.

When the former Brenda Dixon married Howard Forman, her predecessor as Broward’s elected court clerk, she took a name that was magic with county voters since the 1970s. If you had to choose one name that has been synonymous with Broward politics for more than a generation, that name is Forman. It’s easy to say, easy to remember, and sounds Jewish, when that mattered more than it does now.

A liberal Democrat with a big heart and a knack for remembering names, Howard Forman won countywide seven times, three times as county commissioner and four as clerk, once unopposed and all in high-turnout presidential years. He also served 12 years in the Florida Senate.

The consummate career politician, he was never grazed by scandal. It didn’t hurt that he shared a last name (no relation) with another Forman, the late pioneer land baron Hamilton Forman, who exerted his fierce will over hospitals, schools and elections of politicians and judges.

When Howard Forman finally left the stage four years ago, his wife Brenda became clerk. She had no qualifications, but had the right name.

She has since careened from one controversy to the next, her judgment always in question. The office is plagued by high turnover and slow progress to move to electronic records. Her care of an 800-member staff during the pandemic has been faulted, and she faces a $5,000 fine from the Commission on Ethics for illegal financial disclosure forms.

This is why name recognition alone is the worst way to elect someone. Voters unfamiliar with issues and overwhelmed by choices are prone to making mistakes. They choose the most familiar name they see. Hopefully change is coming. With record numbers of people voting by mail in the pandemic, people have plenty of time to look past a familiar name and make smart, informed choices.

Forman faces two opponents. Neither claims a well-known name, and either would be an improvement over the status quo. Both are retired circuit judges. Paul Backman, 71, of Hollywood, and Mark Speiser, 72, of Fort Lauderdale, have decades of experience on the trial bench and know first-hand what’s wrong with Forman’s operation.

Backman entered the race first and is spending lots of his own money to reach voters in TV ads. One spot opens with a split-screen image of the two Formans, now divorced, to address head-on the idea that she’s riding on his name.

Things got messy when Speiser entered the race shortly before the deadline. In a joint Sun Sentinel candidate interview, Backman claimed he’s the victim of a “political hit job” by a small group of Hollywood political activists who don’t like him.

Speiser acknowledged that he was recruited to run. After he filed, he told the Sun Sentinel, Backman warned him what could happen: “We’re going to have two white Jewish guys in the race and we’re going to end up splitting the vote,” with Forman winning again.

That would be a travesty. Here’s why. This is an open primary. All three candidates are Democrats, so all voters can vote, regardless of party. With more people voting, it increases the chance that sanity will prevail.

Forman skipped that Sun Sentinel interview, but took to Facebook Wednesday and gave a rambling 35-minute speech and made personal attacks on her opponents. She used religion as an issue and played the race card to an extent rarely seen in Broward’s history.

“Why is it that I am the most hated woman of color in Broward County?” Forman repeatedly asks her Facebook audience.

Forman says she’s running against two judges who “launder money” and “pay off people to do evil things.” She kept asking that “most hated woman” question. No matter how many times Forman says it, the criticism of her record has nothing to do with race, and everything to do with competence. Her online performance offers more evidence that her career as clerk must end.

Without proof, she called Backman a “drunk” and Speiser “mentally challenged.” Yet she complains that people tell lies about her.

Pivoting to the coronavirus, she said God “took me to the heavens” as she lay in a hospital this month, recovering from COVID-19 and what she said was double pneumonia. She distorted details of a Sun Sentinel news story about her hospitalization.

Ever since Forman walked out of Memorial Hospital July 7, she says on the video, she has listened more closely to the Lord. “He has more work for me to do in the clerk’s office,” Forman says. “He said my work is not done.”

In this race, don’t look to the heavens for guidance. Just look at the candidates.

Steve Bousquet is a Sun Sentinel columnist. Contact him at [email protected] or (850) 567-2240.

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