A Harvard Degree Figures in Fla. Race

Whichever way the fierce contest in Florida’s Broward County turns out today, a Harvard alum won’t be representing District 97 in the state legislature.

But that may come as a surprise to voters who have been keeping up with their mail lately.

In a campaign brochure sent out two weeks ago, Republican candidate Alexander “Sandy” Halperin said he had graduated from Harvard.

The Massachusetts native actually attended Salem State College and New York University’s Dental School before spending four years as an assistant professor at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine.

The Halperin campaign simply attributed the inaccuracy to a “typo.”

Karen Halperin, the candidate’s daughter, said a newly hired graphic designer had written the brochure and, while the mistake had been corrected before printing, the corrections weren’t incorporated into the final product.

She added that after the material was sent out, the campaign notified the press and the Broward County Fair Campaign Practices Committee but didn’t have the money to mass mail a correction.

But the Democratic incumbent in the Florida House race, Nan Rich, said the mistake demonstrated a lack of “truth and integrity.”

“In the brochure, it says he graduated from Harvard University and next to it was a cap and gown,” Rich said. “So it wasn’t an typographical error. Obviously it was an untruth.”

She has capitalized on the incident in her campaign, sending out several mailings that referred to the phantom degree. She mailed a campaign flier yesterday that reprinted a short New York Times piece on Halperin’s error.

The Miami Herald had reported on the incident Oct. 31, and the story in the Times ran Sunday.

Karen Halperin said she was “amazed that our opponent has been able to get so much mileage about this.”

“I don’t think [Rich] anticipated him coming this close,” she said. “She’s really desperate. I don’t know how someone can make an issue of a typo.”

Rich said the race was close this year because of redistricting that made what was once a Democratic district evenly split between the two major parties.

She added that “people seem to be disturbed” when told about the mailing inaccuracy.

Marilyn Roberts, an associate professor of advertising and political campaigning at the University of Florida, said that while Halperin should be held responsible for his literature, she doubted the incident would have much impact on voters, who will mostly be coming to the polls to choose sides in Florida’s tight gubernatorial race.