Sen. Richard Stone (D.Fla.) said yesterday that he accepted a personal apology from Florida businessman Jack Eckerd for injecting a religious issue into the 1974 Senatorial campaign in that state. Eckerd, the Republican candidate who was soundly defeated by Stone, ran advertisements in Florida newspapers on the eve of Election Day and on Election Day itself noting that he was a Protestant and Stone a Jew.
The B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation League urged President Ford last week not to appoint Eckerd to the post of Administrator of the General Services Administration for which he was reportedly being considered. George Bernstein, chairman of the ADL’s Florida regional board, said in a letter to the President that Eckerd was “not fit to hold a top level position in our government” because of his “obvious appeal to religious prejudice” in the last election campaign. So far, the White House has made no statement on appointing Eckerd who heads a drugstore chain in Florida.
Stone, who is Florida’s first Jewish Senator, said in a statement yesterday, “By coincidence, Jack Eckerd and I sat together on (last) Friday’s airplane trip from Washington to Atlanta and we had a chance to discuss the campaign advertise- ment incident and Mr. Eckerd’s feelings then and now. I believe he sincerely means his apology and meant it when he said that a candidate really should put forth his own religious commitment and not that of his opponent.”
Stone added, “There is nothing wrong in discussing a candidate’s own religion. There’s everything wrong to discuss an opponent’s personal religion and even more so to advertise it.”
TOOK STEPS TO MAKE CORRECTION
Eckerd apologized for the incident in a letter to Americans for Democratic Action which had also urged the President not to nominate him for the GSA post. He wrote that “As soon as I realized the interpretation put on it (the ad) I took immediate steps to correct it and then I made a public apology to Sen. Stone and published it through Florida at my own expense. Certainly a candidate’s religion should not be an issue in a campaign.”
Should the President nominate Eckerd, he would have to appear before the Senate Committee on Government Operations headed by Sen. Abraham Ribicoff (D.Conn.). Sen. Stone said he would introduce Eckerd to the committee members in that event which is standard Senatorial practice. However, he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that, contrary to some press reports, he has not endorsed Eckerd for any federal appointment.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.