The iconic images of the 2000 recount made a comeback this month, as Florida again had its share of Election Day woes and became a national punchline. The old photos popped up on "The Daily Show" and national newscasts: a balding middle-aged man, eyes bulging as he inspects a punch-card ballot.
"What can you do?" Broward Circuit Judge Robert Rosenberg said last week. "It's part of American history, a piece of Americana."
Rosenberg is the bug-eyed guy in those photos.
In some, he's peering through a magnifying glass. In others, his glasses are perched on his head. "I have 20/200 vision with astigmatism," Rosenberg told me. "I can't see anything up close through my glasses."
Rosenberg will retire from the bench after nearly 14 years next month. He became a lawyer in 1968 and spent nearly two decades as a federal proseuctor. He has tried and presided over hundreds of cases, yet he'll best be known for the crazy month he spent on Broward's canvassing board after the 2000 election, when America learned the difference between hanging, dimpled and pregnant chad.
At the time, Rosenberg was spoofed by "Saturday Night Live," parodied in a 2001 Super Bowl ad for Ruffles potato chips, and besieged by appearance requests from Jay Leno, Larry King and Ted Koppel. But until this year, the only interview he granted was to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., for a historical record of the recount.
"When it was over, it was over: I didn't want to cash in on it, I didn't want to be famous," Rosenberg, 69, said. "I wanted to be a judge."
Earlier this year, I landed in Rosenberg's courtroom for jury duty. After I was dismissed, he agreed to an interview. In his chambers, he had a paperweight with a chad suspended in glass on his desk. He told me how he sent the magnifying glass he used, along with punch ballots and an old stylus voting machine, to the Smithsonian.
He got pressed into canvassing board duty as an emergency replacement for retiring Broward elections supervisor Jane Carroll, who stepped down early because of the recount stress."It's a job I didn't want, a job I didn't ask for, but a job I got stuck with," Rosenberg recalled.
He had just arrived home from a judicial conference in Reno when Broward Chief Judge Dale Ross called. Lawyers for Bush and Gore saw Rosenberg as neutral, because he had been appointed a temporary judge by Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles in 1996 and a permanent judge by Republican Jeb Bush in 1999.
Amid a frenzied atmosphere, the board had to sort out thousands of questionable punch-card ballots. Also on the board: Democratic Broward County Commissioner Sue Gunzburger and County Judge Robert Lee.
"I saw my role as an umpire calling balls and strikes," Rosenberg said. "When it was over, both sides said I was fair, diligent and straight down the middle. I'm proud of that."