Her High Hopes

Councilwoman Judy Paul wants Davie to look like the Old West. Lobbyist Judy Stern is prodevelopment. Is the town big enough for the both of them?

"I'm a great believer in fate," Paul said. "Things happen if they are meant to be. All the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. I just felt I should seize the opportunity."

Entering the District 4 race, she pledged "to serve all the people equally and fairly and to be a protector of all the reasons Davie is in our hearts."

In the beginning she printed campaign fliers using her home computer, raised about $400 from friends, and went door to door. "I felt embarrassed having to tout myself," she remembered. "But only one person slammed the door in my face." At first she even campaigned without one of the fundamental weapons of local politics: a list of registered voters. Why waste time with people who weren't registered? said the pros. But Paul felt differently.

"I basically went against all the recommendations. Everyone said, 'You're crazy.' But how can you walk down the street, see people working in their yards, and not stop and say 'hi' just because they're not on a list?" She figured that by talking to everyone she'd find residents who hadn't voted before but were attracted to her message of change.

Initially Paul was the "stealth" candidate, less well-known than Alexander or the third District 4 candidate John Pisula, an insurance reinspector being groomed by the county Republican Party for a long-term political future. An early voter survey by pollster Jim Kane -- a big-league county power close to Judy Stern -- showed Paul with little support. "They more or less discounted me," she said. "They left me alone. Early on it was a grassroots campaign. I was not getting any backing from big money, the major groups. I said, 'I don't ever want to be a politician.' I told my friends if they see me waving my arms up there on the council to give me a swift kick.

"Of course, there are certain things you do for survival purposes."
With that said, the conversation turned toward a less-inspiring subject: Was Judy Paul's election a victory for the common people or, like politicians everywhere, did she sell out to a special interest group -- in this case, Davie's powerful firefighters?

During the council campaign, the most volatile issue facing candidates was whether emergency medical service (EMS) should continue to be provided by a private company -- and Judy Stern client -- American Medical Response, which won a $684,000-a-year contract in 1996. Although the previous council argued that contracting with American Medical saved money, angry Davie firefighters have fought to regain control, and Weiner, the firefighters'-union lawyer, campaigned heavily in support of their position.

Early in the campaign Paul was noncommittal on the EMS issue. But in mid-February, she suddenly became a strong advocate for the firefighters' position, won the union's endorsement, and immediately received campaign help, including more than $1800 in firefighter-related contributions. Together Paul and Weiner campaigned on reform -- but with an organization dominated by firefighters.

"Their endorsement turned everything around for me," Paul said after her victory. "It's like getting an entire family behind me."

Around Davie the question was whether Paul was now in the pocket of the firefighters' union, and political cynics would have noted with glee that the bend-the-rules expediency common to Chicago City Hall, and the Broward County Commission, was alive and well at the May 6 Davie council meeting.

On that night the issue was whether to begin the process of returning EMS to the firefighters by letting them take over one of the town's three stations, the Flamingo Road facility in western Davie, on October 1. The takeover meant an extra unbudgeted five-month cost to the town of $192,000 to hire two paramedics and buy two used ambulances.

As firefighters looked on from the back of the council chambers, Paul and Weiner faced their first crisis: Whether to honor a campaign pledge to require competitive bidding on major contracts and purchases, such as spending $130,000 on two used ambulances. Buying the ambulances through the normal process would take several weeks -- too long, warned the ambulance representative, swearing they were "hot commodities" that would be lost to another buyer if Davie didn't act immediately.

Surely, good-government purists might expect, the new leaders of Davie -- mindful of their "competitive bid" position -- would wait, would explain to the firefighters that principle was more important than self-interest.

Oops. Suddenly the "reformers" discovered an "emergency."
Under Weiner's prodding the town attorney determined the ambulances could be purchased immediately if Town Administrator Robert F. Flatley declared an emergency affecting "life, health, property, or the public peace" -- a legal provision meant to be used during such crises as hurricanes, floods, and riots.

More mindful of election results than legalities, Flatley, although a former Catholic priest, displayed the integrity of a Brooklyn precinct captain, decreeing, "For the sake of 'public peace' I think we could declare an 'emergency.'"

After that, Weiner moved to waive competitive bidding, and reformer Paul, adopting of the age-old logic of political expediency, chimed in: "The fact that they're hot commodities, that satisfies the aspect of the bidding process."

All this brought objections of "being railroaded" from council member Kathy Cox, who won reelection with the campaign help of Stern. To Paul and Weiner, Cox declared, "I know the firefighters are anxious to take over stations, but I think you're rushing forward and bringing on a lot of costs.... We all know the firefighters helped get you elected. I consider firefighters a special-interest group."

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