The Yiddish name Leibel (“little lion”), due to regional differences in pronunciation, is sounded as Lay-bel by Lithuanian and as Lie-bel by Polish Jews. When I meet someone by that name, I like to greet him with this crack: “It is better to be labeled than to be libeled.” Better still to be neither, I suppose, but then one must choose an arena other than politics.
My current service as a campaign manager is galloping towards resolution. Election Day for Miami-Dade County commissionerships is held along with the gubernatorial and senatorial primaries on Sept. 5. Although I scrupulously limited my campaign materials to labeling, I was fearful that the inevitable August Surprise by the incumbent would involve severe libeling.
Sure enough the Miami Herald received an anonymous document drop last week; my client had been the subject of a foreclosure proceeding on his condo, later dismissed when he caught up the mortgage. Whew, I can exhale now. Middle class voters will not turn on a guy who shares their struggle with the mortgage payment.
My favorite part of campaigning coincides with the least favorite part of romance: meeting the folks. The candidate and I spend hours a day going door-to-door together. Each knock presages an untold adventure: what is behind Door #1? I confess to being completely hooked on the sales experience, meeting an imperfect stranger and seeking a commitment to vote. Not to mention the many dogs and cats who are turning my legs into sniffing and rubbing posts.
Doing it in the greater Miami area makes it that much more interesting. Every career or quirk is represented in this melange. The confident campaigner approaches his quarry with the sure knowledge that somewhere there lies a point of commonality that can blossom into a connection — and that somehow he will find it in the moment allotted.
With two of us working as a tag team (yes, the Miami sun tanned ’em in tandem), the possibilities are multiplied by the sum total of our individual experiences. He is the candidate, so he makes the first move. He introduces himself: a former city commissioner, an attorney, a C.P.A., with a Georgetown degree in Foreign Service. Often that is enough. The homeowner (or her favorite son) is one of the above. One man we met was the head of security for many years at the United States embassy in Colombia.
The candidate mentions an issue or two in the hope of striking a passionate chord. Yes, it is terrible the way the County Commission is squandering tax money. The traffic grows ever more snarled. The airport is a nightmare of disorder. Why didn’t the Commission protest when the seaport was going to be controlled by Dubai? We must create a special fund for low-interest loans to help owners bring aging condos up to code. You know, I never thought of that: that is a wonderful idea.
My role is to step in if none of that resonates. One man, slipping away from us, mentions his years in the Coast Guard, so I tell him where to find my article lauding the work of the Coast Guard after Hurricane Katrina. Another gentleman is a local entertainer known for doing fine renditions of Al Jolson songs; ever so gently I coax him into singing a few enchanting bars.
Languages are helpful, too. When we encounter Israelis I launch into Hebrew and the ones with American citizenship all promise to vote. Will they deliver… who knows? One store clerk steps out of the store to say hello and remind me that he used to work at a place across town where I shopped. I get him to promise to speak to all his Bangladeshi friends to vote for Mr. Beskin. A Chinese friend sent an appeal on our behalf to his fellow Chinese immigrants.
At one doorway the elderly lady who answered was decidedly unsympathetic. We were ready to give up when I heard her husband call out in Yiddish. Quickly I told her in Yiddish that the candidate was a thoroughgoing mentsch. In departing I said “Zeier eingenem,” a courtly phrase that means I was very taken by our meeting. She was so touched and she murmured those very words back to me with a fond, wistful smile.
In the end the libels dissolve and the labels disserve. It is liable to come down to two words between strangers who seem to have known each other forever.