Face Off

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

Instead of the Gray Man, Coleman and his two de facto running mates have settled on Joe Whitehead, a lawyer and politics junkie who helped Sal Oliveri defeat Mara Giulianti in 1990 and then helped him lose a rematch in 1992. Whitehead has kept all of his laminated precinct maps in his closet. The precinct maps illustrate how Giulianti habitually carries Hollywood by winning big in ten key districts, some of which may now be vulnerable to attack. The western and southern borders of the city, and central Hollywood, are rich with registered voters who rarely vote but might vote against Giulianti if they did. They include blacks and Hispanic newcomers.

From afar Hollywood's mayor might seem invulnerable. Even as she has won five out of the last six elections, Broward's second-largest city has changed in ways that are hard to argue with. The downtown business district, once an unwashed stumblebum of a destination, now looks like an up-and-coming movie star. Hollywood's Broadwalk, one of the few places in South Florida where cars are entirely prohibited and pedestrians rule the roost, is alive with new moneymakers and moneyspenders.

Some delirious boosters along Harrison Street, Hollywood Boulevard, Young Circle, and South Ocean Drive have taken to calling Hollywood the next South Beach. The underlying reason for the renaissance is a special tax-zone created long before Mayor Giulianti or any of her challengers came on the scene. But Giulianti's administration has been vigorous in business recruitment and promotion.

The most apocryphal of these recent success stories is the one about Giulianti running into Fort Lauderdale businesswoman Kitty Oliver at a jazz concert. "She put the bug in my ear about Hollywood and then kept talking to me about the idea of opening a new place down there," Oliver says. Oliver is opening a new version of her successful, music-driven O'Hara's saloon. "Las Olas was a bit of a cold shoulder compared to the warmth and the outstretching in Hollywood," Oliver adds. "I mean, the neighborhood cop stops by and says hello. It's like Mayberry."

The problem for Giulianti and her two commission confreres now running for reelection is not just that all of Mayberry isn't sharing in the gold rush. It's not just that certain residents in west Hollywood still do without sidewalks or that north beach denizens haven't forgotten a clumsy attempt by the city to acquire and commercialize a state nature preserve. It's that the city's coziness with private business interests has some people wondering whether there's anything more to Giulianti's civic vision than the narrow notion of government as a vast secretarial pool for the chamber of commerce.

The view is bolstered by a few legendary personalities sauntering around city hall. Former city attorney Alan Koslow, after first engaging in an extramarital affair with a fellow city employee and then urging the city to pay the woman $50,000 to settle an unrelated sex-discrimination suit, today serves as an omnipresent city lobbyist. Bernie Friedman, Koslow's law partner at the firm Becker & Poliakoff, is so chummy with elected officials that local wags refer to him as "the sixth commissioner." The firm is a heavy contributor to Giulianti's reelection campaign.

The most recent deal in which Koslow and Friedman played a part was the awarding of a prime, six-acre parcel of public beachfront property near Johnson Street to developer Gus Boulis, founder of the Miami Subs fast-food chain and a principal in a local gambling-boat operation. Because the city charter prohibits selling public land for commercial projects, Boulis got a long-term lease. Sitting beside him at various commission meetings was lobbyist Friedman. And the recommendation that Boulis get the land was promulgated by the newly created Hollywood Economic Growth Corporation (HEGC).

As even the incumbent commissioners who created it will acknowledge, the HEGC was instituted as a means of skirting public-records laws and dodging public scrutiny of business dealings between the city and private enterprise. The argument for creating public-private corporations like the HEGC goes like this: In the early stages of many business-recruitment efforts, public disclosure of negotiations will scare away potential investors who might otherwise move to Hollywood and build hotels or renovate shabby downtown storefronts.

Virtually all of the funding for the "public-private" corporation comes from public funds, though; and its board members have at times included the city manager; the mayor; the CEO of HIP Insurance, the city's health insurer; and Michael Swerdlow, the biggest developer Hollywood does business with. Superficially at least the HEGC seems indistinguishable from a tea party made up of elected officials and developers cutting deals behind closed doors. The latest result: a snazzy, high-rise hotel to be built by Boulis along Hollywood's oceanfront.

In a press release kicking off their campaign, Coleman and his confreres say they're "tired of City Hall ignoring neighborhood concerns, listening only to lawyers and lobbyists." As a counterpoint to this alleged elitism, Coleman says he wants to reprioritize government services to address the needs of neighborhoods and families; develop a "knowledge-based" work force instead of relying wholly on the tourist trade; establish better oversight and accountability for city spending, and "preserve our natural heritage, especially our scarce oceanfront land." At the heart of the Colemanite campaign is a belief in Mara Giulianti's souring electability.

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