The Politics of Pop

Pepsi pays Jeff Koons big bucks to lobby for its causes. And the West Palm Beach city commissioner is worth every cent.

Koons says that isn't the case. In fact, he claims that, because he can't break into the trust, he's pretty much broke. "He doesn't have a quarter to buy a pop at the company," he father said in deposition.

The Koons' $850,000 home on the Intracoastal is in foreclosure, and Mary Louise Koons is living in a friend's house in southern West Palm Beach. Koons rents a house in his district. He has also looked for other jobs where he might be able to use his lobbying and public-policy skills. He interviewed with Daryl Glenney, the public relations expert who managed Nancy Graham's mayoral campaigns, and with his friend Don Mathis, whom he knows from the Economic Council of Palm Beach County, an exclusive private organization of some of the wealthiest businesspeople in Palm Beach and Broward counties. Mathis, a partner in the influential West Palm Beach public relations firm Sartory, Mathis and Beedle, said he has a standing offer for Koons to work with him on projects. Koons says he has not yet worked with either firm because "the right opportunity hasn't presented itself."

Koons compares the work he may do for those firms with what he's done for Pepsi. All three jobs consist mainly of "getting things under control, knowing what the outcomes are going to be, and then, you know, moving public policy to affect the right decisions for the client," he says.

Affecting public policy is something Koons may be doing for quite a while. Ever since the days of playing golf with Tip O'Neill, he's been intimately involved with the political process on the highest levels.

Koons claims that he has no interest in being the mayor of West Palm Beach, but his name inevitably comes up as a contender for 1999. Many feel that he'll inevitably shoot for a state-level office, perhaps the one that will be vacated by State Rep. Ed Healey (D-Palm Springs) when his term limit runs out in the year 2000.

"He's a serious candidate," says Greg Nicosia, the Palm Beach County Democratic Party chairman. "He has many business contacts and good name-recognition. He's a hard campaigner, and I'm sure he has a good record to stand on."

Without ruling out the possibility, Koons wouldn't comment on plans to run for a state office. Besides, he says, he still has big plans for West Palm Beach. "Right now," he asserted one afternoon, "I want to make West Palm Beach the best place in America for kids to grow up."

The plan will more than likely include Pepsi. During one of his interviews with New Times, Koons makes yet another sketch. He scribbles a rectangle on the page, saying that it represents the Pepsi bottling plant in Riviera Beach. Above it he draws a single line, which represents a proposed road called the Northlake Reliever, a short stretch of east-west thoroughfare that, if built, will connect Military Trail with Congress Avenue in Riviera Beach. The road, Koons explains, will make it easier for Pepsi trucks to move between the plant and I-95.

"The project had been stalled for years," he says. "I thought I would go to people and say, 'Look, this has to be done.'"

Some city officials in Riviera Beach, Lake Park, and Palm Beach Gardens worry that the road might increase traffic, rather than alleviate it, according to Palm Beach County Engineer George Webb. But Koons says that, as MPO chairperson, he's already done a lot of behind-the-scenes lobbying. He's met with city commissioners from Riviera Beach and Palm Beach Gardens and with William Wagner, the mayor of Lake Park. He's told them all the same thing: The road is in your best interest.

"You have to kind of push stuff," Koons explains.
What's ironic is that the MPO isn't even officially involved with the planned construction of the county-funded road. It only concerns itself with state and federally funded roads. Why, then, is a city commissioner in West Palm Beach so concerned about a tiny stretch of asphalt located several miles north of the city limits?

Koons explained in his deposition: "That road has been in limbo a little bit, so we were trying to facilitate that. And Pepsi is one of the prime beneficiaries, because all the vehicles won't get caught in traffic. It will save them ten, $15,000 a year. At least.

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