Face Off

John Coleman and his fellow reform candidates in Hollywood face an uphill battle against mayor Mara and Co.

"Someone very intelligent told me a long time ago that if you always say a guy is a bum or somebody's a jerk, and you say that for a year -- without backing it up -- 'Oh, that guy's a jerk. He's a jerk, he's a jerk, he's a jerk.' At the end of a year, whoever you've been telling that to for a year believes that person's a jerk. It works.

"So always make your attack on their slate. Remember, they're running a slate. How do you know they're running a slate? Well, [Broward political consultant] Barbara Miller is running this campaign, that campaign, and that campaign. You say, 'Hey: They're the slate. We oppose the city hall slate.' That can be one of your things. You turn it around on 'em: 'Our slate? Our slate is for the people. We are together because we oppose them. Let's see if they walk, talk, act like a slate: Same campaign person. Same financial backing. Same issues. On the dais they vote the same. They all live in the same neighborhood -- Emerald Hills. Who's the slate here?' Call 'em a name! Call 'em the Three Stooges! Or the three whatever."

Tactics: "You won't win Emerald Hills because Emerald Hills is their bastion. They live there. So why on Earth spend any time in Emerald Hills? Don't! Zero! Why? You have real strengths in some of the condos. You can hit it hard, and that's what you have to do. If you can take the beach condos and Westlake and Hillcrest condos away from that bloc, and you ought to be able to, you probably have enough opposition impetus to win. That's what Sal did in 1990. Sal lost when Mara went and made peace with those groups again in 1992. OK?"

Coleman: "What about terms like 'clean sweep'?"
"Well, sure. 'Clean sweep' works fine. You get a broom handle, put a sign there, people will like it. 'What's the broom for?' 'It's time to get the Three Stooges out. Sweep 'em out!' You put the shoe on the other foot.

"The name of the game in most campaigns, all things being equal, is not to make mistakes. If you don't give them anything to attack you on, all they'll be able to put out is puff pieces about themselves, which no one will be interested in reading.

"Most of the issues have answers. Mara and the others will come up with answers. So if you try to play the information game, you can't do it. So deal with what the image is. You say, 'Come on. This is embarrassing, Mara. It's not your job to embarrass the city. How could you let this happen? [Former city attorney] Alan Koslow, who resigned in disgrace for paying all that money to his girlfriend, is now the chief lobbyist in the city. How can that be? How does that work?'

"They have to run on their record. You run against their record. You don't have to run on your record -- you don't have one. They can out-debate you because they have more information than you. But the one thing a serious candidate can't handle is if you poke fun at them. Reagan did it best when he said, 'Well, there they go.' There's no answer to that. What are you going to say? 'No, I'm not going! Well maybe I am?'"

On campaign finance reporting: "There are no campaign police. We like to think there are, but there aren't. OK? Everybody makes a big scene about it when there's some sort of supposed violation, but nothing happens, because I assure you the other guys have done far worse. The winners never pursue it, because there's no point to it. And the losers are never successful because the boys they go up to are people who know they've done even worse, OK? And what's worse, they've already lost, it's ancient history, so what's it matter?"

Debates, another waste of time: "Virtually nobody goes to these things except the press and candidates' supporters," he explains. "There aren't any undecided voters there. But let's say there were. If you got 100 percent of everyone at every debate, you'd still lose.

"Our process -- I hate to sound like America the Beautiful and all that stuff -- our political process thrives on a real debate. But the debate isn't in some meeting hall. It's out there!" -- here the Gray Man throws his arms wide and goggles his eyes.

Not sure his audience is getting the point, the Gray Man tries it another way: "People will either flock to your point of view or they won't. You will know right off how your campaign is going. Either you're going to see a thing that begins to mushroom, or you're gonna see nothin'. And if you see nothin', it'll be a tip for you that people are basically happy with what exists, even if you weren't." The Gray Man pauses. "That's about it. OK?"

Dead silence.

By the following Saturday, John Coleman has decided not to hire the Gray Man as his campaign manager, though he may use some of the Gray Man's top-secret technical services in the final days of the election.

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