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To be Jewish and not pick Lieberman?

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When Joe Lieberman was named the Democrats' vice-presidential candidate, the first person I wanted to call was my buddy, Frank Bank.

"I was shocked. I never dreamed it'd happen in my lifetime. No one did," said Frank, 56, a Jewish guy who grew up in the Borscht Belt of West Los Angeles' Fairfax district and lives in Tarzana today.

Set aside for now the sad commentary that at this late date in America, Lieberman's becoming the first Jew on a major presidential ticket registers amazement.

I asked Frank, who's voted Republican "for a quarter of a century," if Lieberman meant he'd go Democratic in November.

"Do I want to vote for Lieberman? Yeah, I really do. He's a really good, smart, strong man with tons of experience.

"But I've got to realize who I'm getting with him as No. 1. I can't vote for Al Gore because he's everything I'm against — corruption, lies, cheating," Bank said.

There you have one snapshot of a dilemma facing at least some Jewish persons.

You might think it's a no-brainer, voting for their guy, finally breaking a monumental barrier. But it's thoughtfulness that'll keep Frank from pulling a Democratic lever.

"I'm a hard-headed man. I have to vote my conscience, and that sure won't let me vote for Gore," Bank said.

To understand how this plays out inside a man like Bank, it helps to know him some.

We became close when we collaborated on his biography, "Call Me Lumpy." It's about Frank playing Clarence "Lumpy" Rutherford on "Leave It to Beaver," his growing up in SoCal, his other showbiz life and afterlife as a highly successful financial broker.

I don't know anyone more fiercely steeped in his Jewish heritage than Frank Bank.

Doing the book, Frank reminisced fervently about growing up helping his dad, Leonard, with the family meat business and following dad to Gilmore Park to watch the minor-league baseball Hollywood Stars with a daily gang of kibitzers led by Al Jolson.

Try arguing anyone ever outpitched Sandy Koufax and you might have to fight Frank. He's equally reverent recalling other Jewish stars: Hank Greenberg of the Detroit Tigers. Sid Luckman, Chicago Bears quarterback. Boxer Bennie Leonard. Actors John Garfield and Paul Muni and countless entertainers Frank brushed against in Tinseltown and the neighborhoods Leonard served.

And because Frank is, was, always will be, an intensely proud Jewish man, he'd dearly love to back Lieberman.

"Of course. He's on our team," Frank said.

"But I can't. I'm not rich enough to vote Democrat."

To Frank, the Dems lay false claim to America's current prosperity — the groundwork was laid in the latter George Bush days. But Frank won't be voting Republican either for the first time since 1976.

"W is a moron," Frank said.

"But Gore's a crook, so I'm thinking Nader seriously. The best ticket would've been Bradley-Lieberman. I'd have campaigned for it. Bill Bradley is a good, smart man like Lieberman."

This from a guy whose abiding hero is Ronald Reagan.

"The best president in my lifetime. No one even close. I'm sittin' here looking at his picture on my desk right now," he said,

"We've only had two good presidents in my time, Ronnie and Harry (Truman)," Bank said. "And Lieberman's a heck of a lot closer to Ronald Reagan, if you take the time to look, than Al Gore."

The more we look, isn't Lieberman a quandary for a lot of us? Isn't it a public mantra that we so rarely produce decent candidates for high office?

Along comes a guy looking pretty good to this Episcopalian boy. Lieberman's honorable, bright and, given his natural, funny manner at his acceptance the other day, the easiest speaker to hear of the final four.

Like Lumpy, I'd have to say I'm not sure what I'm doing in November, and it's too bad we don't have a shot at this good Joe for No. 1.

Gib Twyman's column runs Saturdays. Please send e-mail to gtwyman@desnews.com , faxes to 801-237-2121.