By Chris Joseph
By Chris Joseph
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Chris Joseph
By Chris Joseph
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
On the morning of January 19, exactly 85 hours after declaring his candidacy for mayor of Hollywood, John Coleman arrives at the Gray Man's office for a meeting. An irrepressible chatterbox, Coleman shuts up for 90 minutes and sits at a conference table. By the time he leaves the Gray Man's office, Coleman has been offered the following lessons in municipal political science:
1. Campaign finance laws don't really exist.
2. Newspapers don't really matter.
3. Voters are mainly clueless.
4. Democracy is alive and well.
"I'll tell you the secret of winning," says the Gray Man, leaning back in his chair. "The secret of winning is that most people don't give a rat's ass about issues. They don't care about anything except liking and trusting you. That's all they do, OK?
"A voter who says, 'Well what do you stand for?' probably isn't going to vote for you. A voter where you walk up and say, 'Hi, I'm John, and gee, are you as tired as I am about what's going on?' They say, 'You bet,' and then you shut up! They'll talk to you! The more you listen to a voter, the more they like you. It's a lesson some people never learn because they're too busy preaching to everybody."
"Here's the reality of the situation as I understand it," he says, blowing on some herbal tea. "You probably have a populist momentum that you can create, and it can be energized. You have no money, but you need to get your message out, so you need to do two things. You use people, and lots of 'em, and you have to use the phones, which are free. You have to talk to a gazillion people, dawn to dusk. Another thing. You're gonna have to do some signs."
The Gray Man gets up and leaves the room. Estelle Loewenstein has arrived late. Like Coleman, Loewenstein is a first-time candidate. She, Coleman, and a third contender, former Hollywood Mayor Sal Oliveri, are attempting to unseat the current mayor, Mara Giulianti, and two commissioners, Eleanor Sobel and Dick Blattner, who are up for reelection.
Loewenstein leans toward Coleman: "Who is he, actually?" she whispers, meaning the Gray Man. Before Coleman can answer, the Gray Man jumps back into the room waving a set of campaign signs from a recent race he puppeteered.
"These are done on a color printer," The Gray Man explains. "Eight-and-a-half-by-eleven sheets. You put the enamel on it, that's it. Great signs. You don't have to have expensive, slick signs. You don't have to have them on every street. Printed on color paper!"
Loewenstein asks: "What, now, ah, what's the, ah, sealed in ah... they're all homemade?"
"Yeah!" The Gray Man shrieks with excitement. "You go to Sam's [Club] and you get a little enameler, and you can make these every day. You have somebody in your group who has a color printer and you do this -- boom, boom! You have somebody to lay it out and it's done! It's not hard!
"The point I'm trying to make here," he continues, "is to get off this idea you have to raise a bunch of money, cause you aren't going to, OK? I wouldn't spend ten minutes trying to raise money. Just put that in abeyance. You have to tell the people that this is their campaign. You cannot internalize it. It's not about either one of you individually. It's not a cult of personality. So let me tell you how you contact people."
Coleman scratches his head. Loewenstein, who is prone to frowning, frowns.
"You'll find that insiders amount to a small handful of people," the Gray Man says. "And you'll find that the majority of voters never read a paper. If they read a paper, like me they'll read the funny pages, or they're gonna read the sports section, or they'll read the financial news, and they'll never, never read the local section. They will never, ever look at a political article. Most people one day before the election won't have an idea or clue that there's even an election, let alone who to vote for."
The Gray Man throws the signs in the corner of the conference room and sits down. Coleman leans forward and starts to ask a question. The Gray Man leaps out of his chair. A memory has him under arrest.
"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?"
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.
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.
"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.
"The reasons for not running are very legitimate," Coleman notes. "How do you say to your husband or wife or partner in life that you're going to spend the next eight weeks running for a job that pays $15,000? But I'm in geezerland now. I have absolutely no need for money. I came here to sit on the beach, to read, to think, to be a father. But things never turn out quite like you plan."
Will he win?
"That's going to be up to the people," he says. "A candidate really has no idea what's going down. I've been a part of enough political campaigns to know how they get fast and they get strange. This one's gonna be both.
"The problem with Mara is the same problem Dukakis had. The guy never left the Northeast. He couldn't have told you where Montana was to save his life. Mara's a creature of Emerald Hills. She has no sense of city.
"I'll tell you," Coleman adds, "economic development isn't just about restaurants that serve basil and pesto. And the good communities in Florida are no longer building high-rises on the beach."
A few days after Coleman wasted precious time -- but had a lot of fun -- driving to Key Largo, he's out on the street "kissing babies and asking for money," as his campaign manager calls it. Oliveri and Loewenstein are with him in spirit, though they're working other parts of town.
Meanwhile, Mayor Giulianti is wasting her time and not having much fun doing it. She's sitting in her third-floor office at city hall enduring an interview. She thinks the questions are stupid and suspects the result will be unfair, negative press.
"This is tilting at windmills!" she yells, unconsciously tearing at a purple scarf knotted around her neck. "I'm establishment to you! I know it! I know it! I don't know why I bothered with this!"
But rather than walk out, the mayor keeps talking, and the talk invariably turns to Coleman, an avid environmentalist who lives in a high-rise and runs the air conditioning 24 hours a day; a former globe-trotting business consultant who owns no property; a candidate who espouses family values while living with his girlfriend.
The world is full of paradox, but Coleman's paradoxes amount to rank hypocrisy, Giulianti charges. She accuses Coleman of being a tax cheat because he failed to change his out-of-state license plate in a timely fashion; of harboring a secret agenda in which Mother Nature will return Hollywood beach to barren, barrier-island status.
"They don't deserve John Coleman's vision!" she intones, speaking of the people. "Mara's vision is the right one. It's the one that's going to save Hollywood!"
Issues in Hollywood are maddeningly parochial. They're not just local, they're superlocal: one neighborhood gets exercised over storm drains or sidewalks; another cares only about the widening of U.S. 1 where it cuts through the city; another part of town wants nothing more than to stop paying a new surcharge on paramedic services.
The one issue that crosses neighborhood boundaries is the issue of Giulianti herself. The mayor knows that, rightly or wrongly, the March 10 election is largely a referendum on her management style, her personality, and the way the city has changed in recent years -- which in turn is linked inextricably to her.
So what about her image? What about this idea that she and her elected comrades are too cozy with the country club set? The mayor is establishment. But the upside of incumbency is that she, Eleanor Sobel, and Dick Blattner had already raised more than $100,000 for their campaigns by January 1. A lot of that money comes from lawyers, lobbyists, construction firms, and others who do business before the commission. So campaign contributions would seem a reasonable point of departure for a discussion of public image.
Q:That image of you is not restricted to your political opponents. It's out there, it's abroad, and how it got created is something I'd like you to talk about if you care to. But why perpetuate that image by accepting campaign contributions from Swerdlow, from Becker & Poliakoff, from HIP Insurance, from --
A:Wait a minute, wait a minute, everyone accepts campaign contributions! From the President to the governor to every legislator. That's why you have campaign reporting laws. I think what scares me about people like John, and I thought about how he could say that I put some guy that I never heard of -- Martin Philips or Philip Martin or whatever he is -- in there, I thought, it's people that would do those things who usually think someone else would too. I think that John probably -- maybe it's because he's never been a financial success, and maybe that's what causes him, or maybe it's --
Q:Wait a minute. What are you basing that on? You just told me on the phone the other day that you think his past and his background are a black hole, that it's sketchy.
A:I think anyone who's been a financial success has a credit rating. I've been told that he has no credit rating.
Q:Well, you've not only been told that, you saw that on a credit report. You testified under oath to that.
A:No, I -- I'm not sure what it was I saw. I don't know that it was a credit report. I do not know what was shown to me.
Q:And you don't remember who showed it to you.
A:I do not remember who showed it to me. I think I remember, but I don't want to get -- I think it might have been somebody, but I would not want to get her in trouble if -- if she wasn't the one.
Hmm. Whew. The discussion of Giulianti's public image has derailed. Maybe it's worth a second try.
Q:We were starting to talk about campaign contributions a minute ago. Campaign contributions as they relate to your public image. Anybody can contribute to a campaign as long as they follow the campaign contribution guidelines. But that's not the same thing as saying you have to accept them. Given this image of you that some people have as elitist, arrogant, surrounded by developers whose pockets you're helping to line, why do you continue to do business with people like --
A:Because I don't think they're dirty.
Q:With people like Bernie Friedman, Alan Koslow.... In a sense these people are a liability, aren't they?
A:OK, well, then that's really pretty sad, because you know what? I don't make a value judgment on human beings. I think this happens to be a capitalistic country. People have an opportunity to earn a living, and business is not a dirty word. And if you're going to build buildings probably a developer or a builder is going to build them.
Q:Sure. What do you think Gus Boulis hopes to get out of you in exchange for his campaign contributions?
A:I think it's a little bit just the opposite. I think that Gus Boulis, before he ever contributed, was already awarded the contract to do Diamond on the Beach. Uh, I think it's probably not unusual for somebody who's been awarded a contract like that to make a contribution. So what does he need to get? He already has a 49-year lease to build something that we desperately need on that beach. It will be Hollywood's only four-star hotel. And unlike, well, Miami Beach had to pay [in incentives] a fortune to get a hotel done. They contributed millions of dollars. We didn't even have to do that.
Q:Since we're jumping around --
A:But your premise is so scary! It is! It's that the people who built America are dirty!
Q:No, no. That's not what I'm saying. I'm talking about these campaign contributions and the way that this city administration does business with people like Alan Koslow as it relates to --
A:Tell me about people like Alan Koslow. Has he been to prison? Has he done something I don't know of? We have a President of the United States who right now has a bunch of sexual allegations against him. Well, I don't care. You know what I do care about? If he lied under oath, he's lost me forever. But you know what? I think it's between him and Hillary if he had affairs, and I do think it shows poor judgment if it was somebody that was only 21 years old, but frankly you've got Strom Thurmond who must have married a gal who's 19 years old. I mean, give me a break! If they did that with three-quarters of the Presidents -- and how about the popes that we've had who have had illegitimate children? And you know what, they weren't even defrocked by the Church! So what I'm saying is that Alan Koslow has some very good clients. He has done a very good job. I mean I'm the one who asked for his resignation, and I asked for his resignation because he hadn't upheld the standards that you need in government.
Q:Then why on earth would you turn around and do business with him the way you do?
A:You know what? When I go into Macy's to buy something, frankly, I do not ask to have a check on the lady who's waiting on me. To be perfectly honest, I probably buy clothes, maybe a few of the kids in the sweatshops sew them because I haven't been diligent enough to check and see if that was the case.... Anybody who knows me knows I vote my conscience and let the chips fall where they may. Nobody can buy me! What do I need this for -- $16,000, a $20,000 total with my car allowance? I'm married to somebody who was a brain surgeon. I don't need this for the income.
It's something else that Giulianti needs, that keeps her running for office every two years. Partly, she says, it's the satisfaction of public service. More to the point, it's the thrill of approval and validation. Giulianti calls Hollywood "a 50-50 city," a place where almost any given issue polarizes and divides the populace down the middle. The phenomenon holds true of the city's attitude toward her. Giulianti's brusque, unapologetic, hard-charging personality rubs a lot of people the wrong way, but so far more voters seem to like those qualities than not.
"I've come up with some good ideas, and because I'm a forceful person that's how they've been implemented," Giulianti says. "You look at the cities where you don't even know who the mayor is, and those cities may be very good at having the wheels turn, but if they need to change direction, to chart a new course, they can't do it."
As twilight falls on Hollywood, talk-radio hosts are making dates with candidates, campaign literature is on its way to the printers, and incumbents and challengers alike are plotting their public appearances for the evening. A fortnight into the eight-week election sprint, Coleman optimistically likens his campaign to a rocket and claims that "the rocket is taking off." He acknowledges that he and his fellow status-quo shakers have raised only a fraction of the money Giulianti has. With four contenders for the mayor's seat, Coleman faces an uphill fight against a split vote.
Late last week, in an effort to narrow the pack, Coleman's camp sent an emissary to Philip Martin's house to persuade the mystery candidate to drop out of the fray. The effort was unsuccessful. A second meeting with Martin took place at the home of attorney and Coleman-supporter Ken Barnett. The result: further exasperation. Martin refused to budge, despite acknowledging he had virtually no chance of winning. "Unfortunate and illogical," notes Coleman, "and suspicious.