The following is a true story from 1989.
I worked as an artist/designer for Stonebrook Advertising in Orlando. We created print ads and radio commercials for the Belk Lindsey department store chain. Mostly, it was newspaper ads, but, yes, I did a few voice overs. My boss was Glenn Stone, but you couldn't call him Glenn. He was always Mr. Stone and he liked to wear dark, expensive suits, slick and kind of glossy looking; and just to give you an idea of how formal he was, I happened to be in his neighborhood late one Saturday morning. He was outside, cutting the grass while wearing a starched white shirt and tie. I kid you not. I think his wife even called him Mr. Stone.
One workday afternoon, he called me into his office. "Dave, come on in here and sit down. This here is Judge Byrd. He's running for re-election and he needs some artwork done."
I recognized the gentleman and offered a handshake. “Good afternoon, Your Honor.”
I knew right away that he and Mr. Stone were old friends. It was quite obvious they both were from the same “good ol' boy” mold that still permeates in communities everywhere, especially in pockets of the deep south. Mr. Stone explained that Judge Byrd needed campaign designs including ads for newspapers, bumper stickers and bulk mailer pieces. Mr. Stone decided that I would do the work for the judge. Oh, great. Tag, you're it.
Originally hailing from New Jersey, I had a few inherently stereotypical prejudice issues with southern judges and politicians from what I had heard in the news over the years -- hanging trees and all. Nothing major at the time because I had already been in Florida for eight years; it was just a slight amount of apprehension. Being white, I wasn't too concerned about myself, as long as I could muster up a good southern drawl if pulled over by the law. Not really, but I think you get my drift.
We sat there and discussed what kind of strategy would help in his bid to retain his seat. We went over design ideas. Judge Byrd was running against someone I had never heard of until a few weeks earlier, when some upstart named Belvin Perry announced his candidacy to unseat Judge Byrd in the Osceola County Circuit Judge race. I don't recall that party affiliation had anything to do with it, but I was immediately rooting for Belvin. I couldn't say exactly why at the time, but I just didn't particularly care all that much for Judge Byrd. Although I couldn't pinpoint the reason, it probably had to do with the southern thing and that persnickety air of white male privilege that wasn't as inherent in the New York/Philadelphia corridor, from whence I came.
After going over the plan of attack and some incidentals about his opponent, Judge Byrd was ready to leave, confident in the knowledge that we would deliver exactly what he needed to garner a victory. As he walked out of Mr. Stone's office, he proudly exclaimed something that I found quite shocking and highly offensive...
"I'm gonna kick that little black boy's ass."
Mr. Stone was all excited. I was flabbergasted. I couldn't believe what I had just heard. I said nothing in return. As a matter of fact, I didn't respond at all. My face went blank. How could a sitting judge display blatant racism like that? Suddenly, I had a real problem. Personally, I wanted to do everything I could to help Judge Byrd lose the election. Professionally, I had to do everything in my repertoire of artistic talents to get him re-elected or face losing my job. I was very confused, to say the least. It was a lose/win, win/lose proposition. I didn't want him to be re-elected, but I had to do my professional best to design winning ads, bumper stickers and flyers. Why me, dear Lord, why me?
I called an attorney friend of mine and told him I needed to talk about something VERY important. We met after work and I explained my moral and professional dilemma.
"My personality is split in half on this, Bill. I don't want to do it, but I don't want to lose my job. Since I'm obligated to do it, I've got to give it my all as a professional. I have to help the guy get re-elected and it goes against my moral fiber."
He was quite familiar with the judge, too, and pretty much felt the same way. "Boy, Dave, I've been an attorney a long time now and that's a new one on me. It's a mess and I don't envy you at all. If you want my professional advice, you have to do it unless you have another job lined up somewhere and I'm sure you don't."
He was right, I didn't.
I went to work on a strategy I felt would benefit Judge Byrd. I set up a slate of ads that had to run at certain times throughout the campaign. They had to be laid out in different sizes, too, since, in those days, newspapers weren't alike. I worked on demographics so I could recommend where I felt mailing the flyers would benefit him the most. And the bumper stickers. Oh, yes, those things. They looked nice, but I cringed when I got behind his supporters, and I saw quite a few. I wanted to say, "Hey! That's my design. Oh, never mind."
I was proud of my work. I was sick of my work. And I waited for election day with bated breath.
Judge Byrd lost his bid for re-election. It was a bittersweet victory for me. I wondered if there was something I did wrong. But I was glad he didn't win and I knew in the end that it didn't hurt me professionally. There was no blame; no guilt. Judge Byrd took his loss well. All politicians know one day they will lose.
Bill asked me how I felt. Very relieved, I said. Was there something subconscious inside that held me back from really giving it my all? Oh well, it was over and my secret personal nightmare was, too.
Judge Belvin Perry went on to become Chief Judge of the Ninth Judicial Circuit and, of note, he presided over the Casey Anthony trial. And Judge Byrd? I saw him years later at a Belk Lindsey store. He remembered me and we had a very nice chat. He went back into private practice.
My friend Bill became a workmen's compensation judge for the state of Florida, appointed by then governor Jeb Bush. I always told him what a fine, fine judge he'd make one day and he did. He's still as humble as the day we first met.
In the end, it was the will of the people that unseated Judge Byrd, not my designs. Thank God I was never asked to do anything like that again. Torn apart, I wouldn't wish it on anyone.