‘It’s devastating, deeply disturbing to have my name used in that way…’
(Anthony Man, Sun Sentinel) FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — During a sometimes emotional appearance on Friday, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz that society would not be intimidated and she would not be humbled by the series of suspicious packages that sent to a range of public figures, including her office in Sunrise.
Wasserman Schultz wouldn’t speculate about the motive of the person who mailed the packages.
“It’s very difficult to know (why) someone who is clearly insane and who was that much of a madman … could do this, it’s impossible to ascribe motives. It’s sinister and evil,” she said.
She said the person who sent the packages would be brought to justice. Speaking before a suspect was identified in South Florida, Wasserman Schultz said it was “sickening” and “gut-wrenching” to think that the perpetrator could be from the area.
Wasserman Schultz said she has been in constant contact with local, state and federal law enforcement since the package arrived at her office on Wednesday. She said she has been told the investigation is the FBI’s top priority.
Speaking to a phalanx of reporters after she voted early in Hollywood, the congresswoman provided few details beyond what was already known, referring most specific questions to law enforcement.
— She said the package was “received by my staff” at her district office, and staffers handled it according to their training. She declined to say if she was present in the office at any time while the package was present.
— When a reporter used the term “bomb” to describe what arrived at her office, she said it needed to be referred to as a “suspicious package.” Asked later if it was, in fact, a bomb, she wanted different terminology used.
— She declined to discuss threats in general. Asked if she has received any recent threats, she said it was “not something that I can talk about.” Similarly, she wouldn’t address whether she’s receiving more threats than usual. “I really can’t get into details like that. I’d refer you to law enforcement.”
— Wasserman Schultz declined to say if security has been enhanced for her or at her offices. “We’re making sure that we have the utmost safety,” she said. “I can’t get into the details, but there are certainly safety measures being taken.”
As Wasserman answered questions from reporters for about 15 minutes outside the Hollywood Branch Library early voting site, police were present. On Thursday, she was with Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum at a Plantation synagogue and on Wednesday night she was at the gubernatorial debate in Davie — both at events that had high levels of security in place even before the suspicious packages began arriving.
Her Friday appearance attracted an enormous media contingent — including 11 video cameras from a range of media outlets. She hasn’t received such intense attention since her days as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee
Wasserman Schultz’s appeared emotional as she described knowing her office received the package. “Obviously, when you have a suspicious package come to your office and you have staff who has handled it and you realize there is potential danger, it’s frightening. It’s frightening, nightmarish.”
The congresswoman didn’t bring it up on Friday, but she has seen the devastation caused by violence directed toward public officials. One of her closest friends, then-U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., was left with a severe brain injury after a Jan. 8, 2011, assassination attempt in which six people were killed and 13 wounded. Wasserman Schultz was in the hospital room a few days later when Giffords opened her eyes.
She said she had no idea why her name and office were used as the return address on the packages. “Obviously, it’s devastating, deeply disturbing to have my name used in that way,” she said. “It’s disturbing, troubling, sinister.”
Earlier this week, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called the packages “an act of terror” and an “effort to terrorize.” Wasserman Schultz declined to call it an act of terrorism. “This is a deeply disturbing occurrence.”
“We are not going to be knocked down by violence, and by vitriol and by venom. Never are we going to allow violence, vitriol and venom to knock us down,” she said.
Wasserman Schultz, who has been a sharp critic of President Donald Trump — and who has been harshly criticized by the president — was somewhat more muted on Friday when asked about the impact of his sometimes incendiary rhetoric.
“We’re all responsible for making sure that we act and speak civilly, that we keep the volume down,” she said. “When you raise the temperature, when you whip people into a frenzy, when you carelessly not think about what the impact of your words, particularly at the highest level of office in this country, then you are acting grossly irresponsibly.”
Politics wasn’t missing from Friday’s event. Wasserman Schultz was joined in voting by several Democratic elected officials including Broward Mayor Beam Furr and School Board member Robin Bartleman.
Outside, she was surrounded by volunteers for her campaign and other Democratic candidates. She urged people to vote for Andrew Gillum for governor and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., for re-election.
“We’re Democrats. And it’s Democrats that are going to make sure that we can establish some reestablish some sanity and some balance and some unity to the way decisions are made in this country and in the state of Florida,” she said.
One of her election opponents, no party affiliation candidate Tim Canova, showed up as well. He complained that Wasserman Schultz has declined to debate him.
©2018 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.