Face Off

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

"I had a mailman tell me he doesn't know how Mara got elected, because everyone he talks to says they didn't vote for her," says Bob Mikes, the mayor of adjacent Dania. "What they're really saying is that they didn't vote. Coleman doesn't need to sell himself. He simply needs to get people to the polls who feel disenfranchised by her, which is a big chunk of Hollywood."

Former Hollywood Police Chief Richard Witt, who is currently suing the city for wrongful termination, notes that "Mara has a vision, and that is something that you can both like and dislike about her. That vision is a combination of things: She sees downtown as a sort of cross between Las Olas Boulevard and Coconut Grove. She sees the beach as sort of an extension of South Beach, all very active, glitzy, upscale. She's committed to do whatever it takes to bring that to fruition; and the fact that that vision isn't shared by others in the city doesn't bother her a bit."

Both Witt and Mikes agree that one major stumbling block for Coleman and his unofficial slate is the fact that there are several other candidates in the race, including commission candidates Peter Bober and Julie Sweeten, and the rather mysterious Philip Martin, another mayoral candidate. Because Hollywood has no primary or runoff, just a one-shot, winner-take-all election day, numerous opposition candidates increase the odds of a split vote -- and the reelection of incumbents.

"In my history in Hollywood, it seemed that any time an incumbent had a viable opposition, someone who no one had ever heard of would jump in the race and split the vote," says Witt. "I prided myself that I knew people in the community, but then these unknowns would materialize at election time. You were always left with that quandary -- is this person a kook or is he a spoiler, a stealth candidate, brought in and paid off by an incumbent?"

This time around, opposition candidates are raising their eyebrows at Philip Martin. Martin lives in a battered bungalow in west Hollywood. A brand-new Ford Mustang sits in the driveway next to a child's tree house bearing the spray-painted words "Kick Ass!" State records list two marriages and two divorces, show he has a concealed-weapons permit, and suggest that the source of his income is a telecommunications company with directors based in Tulsa and Dallas. For a mayoral candidate, Martin seems reticent: He didn't return phone calls to his home or campaign treasurer.

None of these things seems to bother Coleman as he finishes a strategy session at Sal Oliveri's house, leaves his fellow candidates and campaign manager behind, and pilots a battered station wagon toward Key Largo. By his own admission, it's the worst possible use of his time right now -- a date at the thirteenth annual Everglades Coalition conference. On the other hand, he'll pick up a few checks from friends in the bunny-hugging world, among them a donation from Col. "Rock" Salt, a former regional chief of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Salt isn't the only high-level federal official Coleman has recruited into his campaign. In a few days, a former campaign advisor to Hugh Rodham's U.S. Senate race will be flying into town to survey the Hollywood election and perhaps lend a hand. Coleman is pals with Hugh and Tony Rodham, the First Lady's brothers; he gets invited to White House fundraisers; and he recently squired Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt around South Florida in his car.

Coleman's links to the top brass and his interest in politics date back to 1962 when he arrived in Florida as chief of an Army detachment charged with planning the invasion of Cuba on the eve of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The invasion never took place, and Coleman returned home to Providence, Rhode Island. During the next two decades, he worked as a schoolteacher, a sales rep for Lipton Tea, and finally as the president of his own consulting firm, the Technical Assistance and Training Corporation.

According to Coleman, he made a lot of money; flew almost constantly among offices in Boston, Washington, New York, Dallas, and Chicago; and lived mainly on steak, scotch and adrenaline. Among other things, the firm advised the Congressional Budget Office on its computers, the state of New Jersey on its vocational education system, and the National Alliance of Business on its management strategies. Six years ago, with two marriages, eight kids, and one heart operation behind him, Coleman took up residence in a rental apartment in the high-rise Presidential Towers on Hollywood beach, intent on lounging around the rest of his life.

Instead he began to run afoul of Giulianti. There was the morning four years ago when he looked out his window and saw a bulldozer illegally rearranging the sand per orders of the city. Later on he embroiled himself in a lawsuit against the city to block its acquisition of North Shore Park from the county. More recently he fought a new strip-mall Burger King on the beach. For weeks leading up to the filing deadline for this election, Coleman, as president of an activist group called Coalition of Hollywood Citizens, tried to recruit an opposition candidate. When none emerged, he says, he drafted himself.

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