By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
As Cox defended the existing ambulance contract, Stern, attired in blue jacket and turquoise blouse, while not exactly pulling puppet strings, nodded her head in vigorous approval. Behind her the firefighters chorus on the back row cheered on Paul, who, holding up a copy of the town's contract with American Medical, responded to Cox by saying, "It says the firefighters could take over the stations when ready."
"Give it to her, Judy," sang the firefighters. "Give it to her."
In an office interview several weeks later, Paul was asked about her sudden campaign tilt toward the firefighters and acknowledged, "A lot of my detractors thought that was a last-minute thing that happened."
By then a visitor had noted that on Paul's council desk stood a model of an old horse-drawn fire engine, and on the wall hung a large painting of nineteenth-century firefighters battling a barn fire by drawing water from a pond, as the fire horses watch. Was this a blatant attempt to curry favor with both the horse people and the firefighters?
Pointing to another portrait, a commanding presence in a turn-of-the-century firefighter's uniform, Paul said it was her grandfather, Chief Charles Weinberg, who started the fire department in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey. "I've always been around firefighters," she announced. She remembered that, as a girl in Teaneck, she'd watch firefighters stand on the corner and raise money for the Jerry Lewis muscular dystrophy telethon. One year she got her own bucket, collected $32, and, with pride, handed it over to the firefighters.
"People have always trusted firefighters," Paul said. "They're our lifeline. They save us if our house catches fire or we have a heart attack. They help a child stung by a bee, a cat caught in a tree. Ooh, I made a poem." Given this background her support of the firefighters' EMS takeover was natural, she said. "When there's a safety and fire threat, the public needs to be in control, so the government can be accountable."
Why then did it take her so long during the campaign to back the firefighters?
"I started out with fluff," she confessed, with her first fliers addressing nothing more than what a nice person she was. "I was told by certain persons to stay away from EMS.... But I took notes as I walked door to door, and that's what people were talking to me about. I decided if I'm the candidate of the people I have to address the issues they're concerned about."
Those who favor Davie firefighters handling EMS argue that the firefighters are closer to the people of the town, care more about them, so will be more responsive in an emergency. They're also more accountable to the public than a private contractor. In mid-February, in an article in Davie's weekly paper, the Community News, Paul took this position and came out in support of the firefighters. She later commented, "I was moving into the fray as far as EMS was concerned." The article spurred in-depth discussions with the firefighters, who then offered their campaign support.
From that article also rose the "Judy Stern issue."
Prior to the campaign, Paul and Stern had a "professional relationship" built around the Fort Lauderdale High public-affairs program. As Paul remembers it, about two years ago she met Stern, talked about lobbying, and asked Stern to address her class because "I never had a lobbyist speak to the kids before." After the talk Stern joined the magnet program's adult advisory board, which mentors and helps find job opportunities. "She did nice things to help the kids," Paul said. "They got to meet influential people. I hoped to keep the school and the campaign separate. I don't agree with what she's done in the town, but she knows a lot of very important people."
According to Paul, everything changed during a showdown at Robbins Lodge, a park facility in western Davie. After the Community News article appeared, Paul said, she was working at the lodge on a charity ride-a-thon for the Davie Boys and Girls Club when Stern walked in and brought up Paul's criticism of her EMS client.
"She confronted me," Paul recalled. "She said, 'I take it very personally.' She is a very strong person. She can be intimidating."
This led to Paul's campaign crisis of the soul: "I wrestled with myself, whether to go full forward with the EMS issue. I didn't want to hurt the kids at school; that's my job, and Judy Stern is such a formidable person."
Paul claimed that, because of the stress caused by the Stern incident, and because she wasn't sleeping or eating properly during the campaign, she started to have heart palpitations. So she checked herself into Memorial Hospital for four days, then rested for another week at home as she contemplated abandoning her campaign or at least scaling back. Instead, "I decided if I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it the right way. I didn't like sitting on the fence. What I don't like about politicians is they never give you a straight answer."
She returned to walking the neighborhoods, as a result losing 34 pounds, and expressed total support for the firefighters. Stern meanwhile left the school advisory board, saying, according to Paul, that she was too busy with other things.