Wednesday, October 13, 2004

He’s My Thug

Mel Martinez, Republican candidate for the Senate in Florida, gets a lesson in irony.

When Republican Senate hopeful Mel Martinez decided to run a commercial condemning rival Betty Castor for not firing suspected terrorists when she headed a university, his campaign featured one man: former immigration agent Bill West.

The ad, in which West said Castor was soft on terrorism, appeared days after the Martinez camp savaged her for campaigning with Janet Reno. The campaign said the former U.S. attorney general’s “armed thugs” seized Cuban rafter Elián González and sent him back to the communist island, “allowing Fidel Castro to have his way.”

That rhetoric, however, tripped Martinez up: The federal officer whose undercover agents cased the Little Havana home of Elián’s relatives in preparation for the raid was also Bill West.

The Martinez campaign caught its misstep — that it had insulted the federal agents who worked for West — the day The Herald published a story about the “armed thugs” comment. The campaign called West to apologize as it prepared to roll out the anti-Castor ad.


Castor pounced on Martinez’s campaign for sending conflicting messages. On Monday, Castor unleashed her own commercial, calling Martinez “hypocritical.”

“It’s certainly ironic,” Castor said Tuesday. “His campaign showed such disrespect for the INS and then to use a person he so violently disagreed with regarding Elián González speaks volumes about his campaign.”

Asked about the “thugs” comment on CNN’s Inside Politics after The Herald story ran, Martinez said the press release that used those words was “inappropriate.”

“I never said that. It was something put out by someone in my office.” [Miami Herald]

Martinez, the former mayor of Orlando and HUD secretary in the Bush administration, was hand-picked by Karl Rove to run for the seat, and it shows.