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    E-mail prompts cries of Bush anti-Semitism

    The Democratic Party chairman calls the e-mail mentioning Jesus "anti-Semitic.'' A staffer sent it mistakenly.

    By LUCY MORGAN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published August 22, 2000


    TALLAHASSEE -- Democratic Party Chairman Bob Poe says Gov. Jeb Bush's office is guilty of "bigotry" and anti-Semitism for failing to discipline a staffer who mentioned Jesus in an e-mail.

    Leslie Steele, who has served in the governor's press office for Republican Gov. Bush and Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, quickly apologized last week for an e-mail she mistakenly sent to reporters.

    Steele forwarded a Bible verse that she had received from her mother when she meant to send a revised schedule for the governor. She sent a written apology when she realized her mistake.

    "Leslie is not anti anything," Bush said when asked about the Democrat's allegations. "I have not remained silent on this subject. I support her. She made an honest mistake for which she apologized."

    Bush described her as "a loving person who has served with integrity in the Chiles and Bush administrations."

    Poe made his comments Monday during a news conference called to crow about plans to bring Vice President Gore and his running mate, U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, to Florida on Wednesday.

    "Unfortunately while we were having a good time in Los Angeles, something more serious happened," Poe said. "Anti-Semitic e-mail was sent out by a member of the governor's staff."

    Poe said he was personally offended and believes Bush's silence is evidence of "hatred and bigotry" and "this allusion of inclusion."

    "Being silent gives permission for this kind of thing to continue," Poe added. "It gives people of faith a bad name."

    Steele responded to Poe with a hand-delivered letter delivered to the Democratic Party Monday afternoon.

    "It was very disturbing that you judged me without even knowing me," Steele wrote to Poe.

    Describing herself as a 31-year-old single mother, Steele said she paid her own way through Florida A&M University, taking her son with her to class when she couldn't find sitters and working at McDonald's.

    "I know you have a job to do, but it's wrong that you have decided to use my mistake in your attempt to attack the Governor for political purposes," Steele wrote.

    She said her parents live out of state and often worry about her. They send her a Bible passage every day. It was a verse from the second epistle of John that she mistakenly forwarded to reporters.

    The forwarded message read: "This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God; Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist."

    "Now I'm afraid of my computer," Steele said Monday as she delivered a copy of her letter to reporters.

    Republican Party Chairman Al Cardenas denounced Poe for "character assassination" and called Poe's remarks "a new low in Democrat campaign tactics" for attacking someone who made "an honest mistake."

    Meanwhile, Bush was in South Florida to speak at the annual Florida-Israel meeting. Bush was warmly received during a visit to Israel last fall designed to increase business opportunities between Israel and Florida.

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    From the Times state desk