Sobel was born in Brooklyn, New York, and attended Brooklyn College, graduating with a degree in history in 1967. She then attended the City University of New York, where she received a master's degree in social studies education in 1968, and Columbia University, receiving a master's degree in learning disabilities in 1975. In 1976, Sobel moved to Florida, where she worked as a school teacher and a community activist, working on the campaigns of mayoral candidate Mara Giulanti and City Commission candidate Kenneth A. Gottlieb, who would later go on to serve in the Florida House of Representatives with Sobel. When Suzanne Gunzburger resigned from the Hollywood City Commission following her election to the Broward County Commission, Sobel's unique approach through more than 1,000 signatures supporting her appointment was a first time approach to an open appointed seat and was elected by the City Commission to replace Gunzburger on November 20, 1992. Sobel served as Vice Mayor of Hollywood from 1996-1997. Until 1998, she served on the City Commission when she was narrowly defeated for re-election by former Mayor Sal Oliveri by just 139 votes. In light of her defeat, she remarked, "I look out there and I see people who have worked together, a city that has moved forward in four years. We tried our best. These things happen."
When incumbent State Representative Fred Lippman declined to seek another term in 1998, Sobel ran to succeed him in the 100th District, which included Hallandale Beach and Hollywood in southern Broward County. She faced Arthur Palamara, Mike Mallor, and Doria Bonham-Yeaman in the Democratic primary, which also served as the general election because no other candidates filed, and a contentious election, largely between Sobel and Palamara, soon followed. Sobel campaigned on reducing class sizes, providing funding for pre-school programs, reforming HMO practices, providing health care for the working poor, and reducing crime by increasing victims' rights and expanding after-school programs and neighborhood crime watch organizations. In the end, Sobel defeated her opponents to win her party's nomination, receiving 53% of the vote to Palamara's 42%, Bonham-Yeaman's 3%, and Mallor's 2%. Running for re-election in 2000, she faced Eric Spivey, the Republican nominee and a former insurance executive. Sobel was endorsed for re-election by the Sun-Sentinel, which praised her "lengthy experience in public office" and for doing a "decent job of representing her district," concluding, "[S]he deserves the opportunity to gain more experience and seniority in the state Legislature." Spivey did not prove to be a serious challenge for Sobel, and she won re-election in a landslide, receiving 73% of the vote to Spivey's 27%. She was re-elected without opposition in 2002 and 2004, and could not seek another term in 2006 due to term limits.
In 2006, when Sobel could not seek another term in the legislature due to term limits, she instead opted to run for an open seat on the Broward County School Board. In a nonpartisan election, she faced Terry Snipes, a teacher, and Mac McElyea, the former Mayor of Dania Beach, and campaigned on leading a nationwide search for a superintendent, "implementing the class-size amendment, improving the dropout rate in high schools and hiring a nurse for every school." Once again, Sobel was endorsed by the Sun-Sentinel, which declared, "Eleanor Sobel is the best of three candidates for the job," citing her experience in the legislature. She ended up winning by a wide margin, receiving 51% of the vote to McElyea's 25% and Snipes's 24%.
When State Senator Steven Geller was unable to seek re-election, Sobel ran to succeed him in the 31st District, which was based in Broward County, and submitted her resignation from the School Board. She faced former State Representatives Kenneth A. Gottlieb and Tim M. Ryan in the Democratic primary, and the Sun-Sentinel remarked that all three candidates were "cut-from-the-same-cloth" who "compiled similar voting records and took similar positions on issues." Despite that, however, they endorsed Ryan in what they called "a tough choice," suggesting, "Ryan offers the most promise in taking lessons learned from his legislative experience and using them to work with senators on both sides of the aisle to get things done." Ultimately, Sobel emerged narrowly victorious over her opponents, receiving 36% of the vote to Gottlieb's 34% and Ryan's 31%, and advanced to the general election, where she received nearly 100% of the vote against only write-in opposition.
When the state's legislative districts were redrawn in 2012, Sobel ran for re-election in the newly created 33rd District, which contained much of the territory that she had previously represented. She won the Democratic primary uncontested, and faced Juan Selaya, the Republican nominee, in the general election. The Sun-Sentinel endorsed her for re-election, praising her as "a strong voice in Tallahassee for education, health care issues and senior citizens' services." Sobel ended up defeating Selaya with 67% of the vote.
Sobel served as a staunch champion for elderly reform through improving the practices and procedures for assisted living facilities (ALF). “…Sen. Sobel and Rep. Ahern have been fighting for – to bring about innovative change to the assisted living industry, in order to better protect and serve Florida’s seniors – may soon come to pass.” The bill passed in 2015.
Under the leadership of Senator Sobel, Chair of the Senate Committee of Children, Families, and Elder Affairs, Senate Bill 12 significantly advanced help for people with mental health and substance abuse issues through greater access to services.
Sobel was also a strong proponent of the Affordable Health Care Act. “Next week, my office will continue to help implement the law of the land, the Affordable Health Care Act. Shoppers of health insurance plans will be provided with information about enrollment options under the federally-run health insurance Marketplace, a critical component of Obamacare. Enrollment begins Oct. 1 and my staff and I are committed to working with “navigators” and informing interested insurance consumers about new web sites and choices available to them. I believe the Marketplace will provide citizens with an array of plans to choose from that are both affordable and comprehensive in terms of the benefits to enrollees.” –Sun Sentinel
Sobel is a strong advocate for LGBT rights and honored the 6 couples that challenged Florida’s same sex marriage ban by awarding them with the “Champions of Change” award and married the couples in her office.
In 2016, Governor Rick Scott signed Senate Bill 716 into law which Sobel had sponsored. The bill establishes a Holocaust Memorial in Tallahassee at the State Capitol.
Sobel is a strong advocate for animal rights and protections especially greyhounds. She successfully passed the Victoria Q. Gaetz (Wife of Senate President Don Gaetz) Greyhound Protection Act in the Florida Senate that would report greyhound injuries (current law limits reporting of deaths) but the bill died in the Florida House of Representatives.
In 2016, the New Times of Broward and Palm Beach named Senator Eleanor Sobel as their "Best Politician of 2016" stating, "Eleanor Sobel spent much of this past year doing what few Florida politicians seem willing or able to do: defending abortion providers. In a year when Gov. Rick Scott, Voldemort incarnate himself, signed a bill to defund Planned Parenthood, Sobel stood strong and tried to amend the bill to save funding for those who'd become pregnant by rape or incest. (She was effectively booed from the floor and withdrew the amendment.) In addition, Sobel pushed hard for — and eventually got — money to hire 160 new mental-hospital employees in a state that may have the most dangerous mental wards in the nation. Oh, and she took some time to repeal that silly law that made it illegal for unmarried couples to live together. Here's to cohabitation!" Children, Families, and Elder Affairs (Chair)
Select Committee On Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Vice Chair)
Ethics and Elections (Vice Chair)
Health Policy (Vice Chair)
Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services
Appropriations on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development
On December 4, 2015, Sobel announced that she would run for Mayor of Hollywood in 2016, confirming speculation that began shortly after Mayor Peter Bober announced he would not seek re-election.
Sobel currently contributes to the Sun Sentinel South Florida 100 influential leaders opinion panel on issues of importance.