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Former Fla. lawmaker likened Obama to Curious George in Facebook post

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — As she weighed in on the Roseanne Barr controversy, a former Republican state legislator from Broward County — who also served as a county campaign chairwoman for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio's presidential campaign — likened former President Barack Obama to the cartoon character Curious George.

Susan Goldstein made her comments in a Facebook post, one of many she made in recent days as public debate has swirled around Barr's racist tweet about Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett that if "muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby = vj."

Goldstein, reached by phone late Thursday afternoon, declined to talk to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. "I'm sorry. I can't talk to you right now," she said and hung up the phone.

Shortly after midnight on Friday, Goldstein said on Twitter that her comments "were not intended to offend anyone. I understand much better, after hearing the heartfelt concerns from both sides, that my comments may have hurt some of my friends and for that I am sorry."

Her post, which was on Facebook on Thursday night but gone Friday morning, reads: "And I truly think Obama resembles the Curious George cartoon, who I think is an adorable character. Curious George that is. That is what my eyes see. And I am not racist, and there I not a mean spirited intent in my observation. But I can't say it. Double standard."

Former state Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, who served with Goldstein in the Florida House, said Goldstein's comments, first reported by Miami New Times, are "astonishing."

"It shows a tone deafness to a large segment of our society that (she) still feels it's appropriate to make that kind of comment. There are certain rails in politics that you don't touch," said Smith, who is African-American. "Tone deafness is a kinder way of saying ignorance.

"What she's shown, in her still defending Roseanne and making the further comment, is not empathizing with the sensitivities of someone of my color. ... It's just a tone deafness to a community when Roseanne is told 'hey, comparing black people to monkeys, you just don't do that,' and to follow up and do that."

Grace Carrington, an African-American leader who serves as Broward's state Democratic committeewoman, said Goldstein's comment shows a "lack of respect for our community."

The message African-Americans get from such comments is "that we're a joke and we're not significant and we don't have a mind," Carrington said.

New Times reported that Goldstein said questioning her post was making "something out of nothing" and that "this is why people hate the press."

In another post defending Barr, Goldstein wrote: "People make mistakes, people sometimes go too far. Liberals definitely love to exaggerate the outrage, indignancy and drama. And of course they blame it all on President Trump. Like all those listed above we all move on and get over it. Why can't they do it with Roseanne?"

Some conservatives — including Goldstein in several other comments on Facebook — have complained that Barr was treated unfairly because her eponymous television show was canceled by ABC after the racist tweet about Jarrett.

Their complaint is that liberals say nasty things about President Donald Trump and others and they don't get in the same kind of trouble. Trump tweeted Wednesday that he should get an apology from ABC for comments made about him. A prime conservative complaint example is the comedian Bill Maher's repeated suggestion that Trump is descended from orangutans. Conservatives online believe Maher should be fired.

Cynthia Busch, chairwoman of the Broward Democratic Party, said likening of someone who's African-American to an ape or monkey is in a different category.

"As a former elected official, Ms. Goldstein should honestly have known that her comment would be construed as an overt racist commentary," Busch said." That term comes from a place that was just so discriminatory, so terrible that you have to understand that it's not just a joke to that community. It's more than that. It's about their entire history in this country. You just can't go there and ever think somehow you're not trying to recall a time when there was Jim Crow segregation and lynchings and people not being able to go to school and get educated."

State Rep. George Moraitis of Fort Lauderdale, chairman of the Broward Republican Party, said Goldstein should not have made the comment.

"It's inappropriate to compare anyone to an animal, whether the intent is racist or not," he said. "I completely disagree with those comments."

Moraitis, who hadn't seen what Goldstein wrote and learned about it over the phone from a reporter, said he couldn't discern her intent. "Do I think it's racist? That's very subjective. I don't think Susan would do that. I don't want to speculate on what I think she meant," he said.

Goldstein was one of five Broward county chairs for Rubio's unsuccessful 2016 presidential campaign. In December 2017, she posted a picture with Rubio on Twitter and wrote "Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all from @marcorubio Team Florida! Great Holiday Celebration!"

Rubio's office did not respond to an email Thursday seeking comment.

Goldstein, 60, served a single term representing a Weston-based district in the Florida House of Representatives from 2004 to 2006, when she was defeated for re-election by Marty Kiar, who is now Broward's elected property appraiser.

Goldstein became involved in civic affairs as an advocate for the developmentally disabled after her daughter was diagnosed with autism.

She currently works as a Tallahassee lobbyist. State disclosures show a client base heavy with nonprofits and autism-related entities, such as the Dan Marino Foundation and the Jacksonville School for Autism.

Goldstein's state disclosure filings, which report lobbying income in broad ranges, show she was paid between $50,000 and $130,000 for lobbying work in the first quarter of 2018, which includes the annual legislative session.

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