IN DRAMATIC CONFRONTATION, JENNINGS FAILS TO GET RETRACTION OF ANTI-SEMITISM CHARGES
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
BRADENTON, Fla, Jan. 31, 2006. -- When they crossed paths at a mostly Democratic gathering last week, Christine Jennings, the Sarasota banker-turned-politician who is seeking the nod from Democrats to represent them in the race for Congresswoman Katherine Harris's vacant 13th Congressional District seat here, stopped a Bradenton man who had accused her of making anti-Semitic remarks and tore into him, saying supporters who learned of her alleged remarks were upset and that the unrest threatened to derail her campaign.
Jennings demanded that Manatee County Democratic Executive Committee Vice Chairman Mitch Mallett retract his statements to The American Reporter, a source present at the gathering said, but Mallett responded, "You are asking me to lie, Christine, and I won't do it."
Jennings, in the presence of several witnesses, asked Mallett to retract his statement to the American Reporter and say that this reporter lied when we reported on Dec. 3 that Mallett himself had been one victim of her anti-Semitic remarks in 2004. An undetermined number of other people had signed affidavits in 2004 for a Jewish challenger, Sarasota attorney Jan Schneider, attesting to Jennings' anti-Semitic remarks, Mallett said at the time. Asked about the exchange, Mallett said he preferred not to be quoted by name on the matter.
Schneider refused to comment for the American Reporter story, but reliable sources said she is currently gathering new affidavits to replace those gathered in 2004, which were apparently destroyed at the end of her campaign, in which she defeated Jennings and two other candidates by a large margin.
Circumstances have changed for the two candidates since 2004, however, with Jennings having begun her campaign for the 2006 nomination on Election Day two years ago, and Schneider - now a two-time loser after having won the nomination in 2002 and 2004 and lost in two general elections - rallying little support and little funding this time around. Her recent fundraisers have been successful, however.
The issue troubles thoughtful Jews active in local Democratic Party circles. While they all would like to see a Democrat win the Congressional race - only four Democrats now hold office in Manatee County, a growing and conservative retirement hub 50 miles south of Tampa where Republicans hold 4:3 edge voter registration - few think that Schneider can actually win. But with her abundant money and careul, smart appearance, Christine Jennings holds out that strong possibility. Embracing her, though, is difficult for those who remember the Holocaust of just a generation past and ask themselves, if they believe the charges are true, whether the rewards of one electoral victory is worth putting a closeted anti-Semite in office, Democrat or not. For them, as Paine once said, "These are times that try men's souls."
In the meantime, with the alleged remarks generally unknown to the public, Jennings has been successful in gaining significant support in the Jewish community, most notably from California's Sen. Barbara Boxer, who recently headlined a fundraising dinner for Jennings here, and from some of the most prominent Jewish socialites in the wealthy Sarasota community.
Jennings has also gotten funds from Chicago Congressman Rahv Emmanuel, the Jewish head of the influential Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, from liberal Massachussetts U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Those contacts have been "concerned" about the remarks attributed to her, Jennings indicated, the source said.
Mallett said last month that he was personally treated to anti-Semitic remarks by Jennings during her last-minute 2004 campaign, when she asked him, with respect to Schneider's successful campaign for the Democratic nomination, "Do we want to be represented by a Jew?" Jennings was unaware he was Jewish, and Mallett didn't tell her until after she had made the comment, he said. Mallett, unknown to Jennings, was also a volunteer in Schneider's 2004 campaign, though not part of her inner circle, he said.
In a second controversial comment, this one to the Venice Area Democratic Club in 2004, Jennings reportedly described herself as "a fundamentalist who's done everything but dance with snakes." She also ignited controversy when she spoke at the West Coast Center for Human Development during a candidate debate on separation of church and state, where she characterized the United States as a "Christian" nation, reliable sources told The American Reporter.
"What you are saying can wreck everything I've been working two years to build," Jennings told Mallett, a top salesman for the NYSE-listed Pre-Paid Legal corporation. The congressional candidate brought at least two witnesses with her to observe the conversation, including Manatee County DEC Chairman C.J. Czaia and her campaign manager. The conversation took place following an evening devoted, ironically to the fiery words of Thomas Paine, the American patriot famed for his bold defense of democracy in his pamphlets "Common Sense," "The Age Of Reason" and "The Rights of Man."
The source said Jennings approached Mallett with Czaia and the other man in tow, and with little preamble demanded that he retract his comments. She said she was getting asked about them by people who "Googled" her name and found the American Reporter story outlining the charges made by Mallett and others, which is served up by search engine on its third page of results. Repeatedly however, Mallett told her she was asking him to lie for her, and refused to do it.
The source said Mallett told Jennings he would not lie, and offered her an opportunity to come on his radio show and make an apology. She retorted, "I don't want to come on your show." As Mallett repeatedly tried to repeat what she had said to him in the 2004 campaign, Jennings cut him off each time, the source said, saying, "I don't want you to repeat it."
When Mallett tried to excuse himself to take part in an important national telephone conference call with Pre-Paid Legal officals, Jennings attempted to stop him, saying she did not believe he had to participate in the call and that "You're going to have to stay here all night if neccesary to resolve this."
Czaia, the Bradenton attorney whose successful defense of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia's killer, Joseph Smith, in an attempted kidnapping case a few years before the young girl's 2004 kidnapping and murder may have undone his own Congressional campaign for the Harris seat two years ago, spoke up for Mallett at that point, confirming that Mallett was needed on the call, and Mallett left. Czaia shares time on a 7-9 a.m. radio show, "American AM," that precedes Mallett's 9 a.m. "It's Your Gavel" on weekdays on WWPR-AM 1490. Among the show's regular weekly guests is a prominent supporter of convicted swindler Lyndon Larouche, a perennial candidate for the presidency who is frequently accused of anti-Semitism. Czaia has said he does not support Larouche, however.
Among other comments to Mallett at the Thomas Paine gathering, held at the Sudakoff Auditorium at New College of Florida in Sarasota on Jan. 26 and sponsored by Florida Veterans for Common Sense, Jennings said that she had many friends in the Jewish community and had made risky loans to Jewish customers at the Bank of Sarasota, which she founded and sold several years ago.
"I wouldn't have done that if I was anti-Semitic," she told Mallett, acording to the source.
AR Editor-in-Chief Joe Shea is member of the Democratic Executive Committee of Manatee County and a 2004 contributor to candidate Jan Schneider.