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Bush's remarks widen divide

Black and Jewish Democrats tell the governor to retract what they say are insulting comparisons.

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By TIM NICKENS

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 3, 2000


More than a dozen Jewish and African-American legislators are demanding an apology from Republican Gov. Jeb Bush for comparing his visits to a synagogue and a public hearing on affirmative action to his brother's controversial campaign speech at Bob Jones University.

In a letter to Bush on Thursday, 16 Democrats asked the governor to retract his comments on network television this week that he would be willing to speak at the South Carolina school. His older brother, George W. Bush, spoke last month at the private school, which has a history of racial intolerance and anti-Catholic views.

The legislators also wrote that Jeb Bush used a "callous and hurtful analogy" when he later compared his brother's speech at Bob Jones University to his own appearances at a recent Miami public hearing on his One Florida initiative and at a South Florida Jewish synagogue during his campaign for governor. Bush made those comparisons through his spokesman Tuesday to the St. Petersburg Times.

"Please explain, Gov. Bush, what is there about a synagogue that matches the anti-Catholic and racist sentiment at Bob Jones University?" the letter said. "What is it about a meeting with African-Americans, women and other minorities expressing their views that is so similar to the Bob Jones University belief that the races should live separately?"

Before the Democrats' letter was released, Bush told reporters that he did not intend to equate speaking at Bob Jones University to appearing at a synagogue.

"That was totally, totally taken out of context," Bush said in Tallahassee.

After the letter was released, Bush spokesman Justin Sayfie said the governor's office would have no additional response Thursday night.

Bush defended his older brother in a television interview Tuesday on NBC's Today. The Texas governor has been criticized by his opponent in the Republican presidential primary, John McCain, for visiting Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., and not immediately opposing the school's discriminatory views. The private school bans interracial dating and acknowledges on its Web site that it opposes the Catholic Church's doctrines and theology.

Jeb Bush, who is Catholic, said in the television interview that he also would be willing to speak at the school even though he is "offended by parts of their teachings."

"I would, and I wouldn't feel that I was lending credence to a view by going to speak to different groups," he said on Today. "I have spoken in places where people are not supportive of my views and I am not supportive of theirs, but as a public servant I think it's my responsibility and as a candidate I have done the same thing."

Through a spokesman, the Florida governor cited three examples Tuesday evening for the St. Petersburg Times: a recent public hearing in Miami on the One Florida initiative to replace existing affirmative action programs in university admissions and public contracting; a campaign visit to a Jewish synagogue in South Florida; and a campaign visit to an AFL-CIO union hall in Miami and perhaps Jacksonville.

Sayfie, Bush's spokesman, stressed on Tuesday that Bush was not opposing particular synagogues or its members.

But legislators who signed the letter demanding an apology said Thursday that Bush needs to explain his remarks himself.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Davie, who is Jewish, said Bush should not have made the comparisons or indicated he would speak at Bob Jones University.

"He has yet to recognize as both the formal leader and the figurehead of the state of Florida that he has to be more careful about the comments he makes and the analogies he draws," she said. "If I knew the core value of a particular group differed wildly from my core values, not only would I not speak before that group but I would repudiate that group."

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