The People's Republic of Area A

A group of neighborhood leaders prepares to declare independence and start Broward's first black-majority city

Every city likes to pretend to some kind of distinction, no matter how humble or how true. Fort Lauderdale has its picturesque waterways; Lauderdale-by-the-Sea its small beachfront hotels; Sunrise its economy-size mall; Dania Beach its antique district. Even Hallandale has a roadside Christmas light show that, though ghastly, is certainly unique.

In the central Broward County area, though, where an oblong 25-square-mile parcel of unincorporated no man's land sits wedged between Plantation and Fort Lauderdale, a different kind of distinction applies. This is -- as the area's 26,000 residents, most of whom are black, know full well -- the most undesired large section of unincorporated land in the county.

That's not mere opinion. At a time when cities across the county are battling it out for annexation rights on all other remaining unincorporated land, there's hardly a trace of competition for this chunk. Ten annexation bills have been introduced before the state delegation from Broward this year, representing every remaining major unincorporated section of the county -- except one.

"This has been the county's unwanted stepchild for years," says Jack Tobin, a retired Democratic state representative from Margate and 16-year veteran of the county's annexation wars.

It's a place without identity or status -- or even a name of which anyone would be proud. Some 75 years ago, when the Fort Lauderdale city fathers unloaded this burdensome territory, they designated it "Area A" in the legal paperwork. For some reason, the term has survived.

Folks who were born and raised here, men like Carlton Moore (who has since moved eastward and upward and is now a member of the Fort Lauderdale city commission), still can be heard to say things like, "I grew up in Area A. My mother lives in Area A."

But it's a moniker that many current residents hate. "It's always seemed sort of an insulting kind of name," says Ed Simmons, who prefers "central county" himself. So last year a small group of schoolteachers, retirees, and homeowners association presidents set out to change the name of their blighted home. "We'll have a contest," explains long-time resident Joe Major, a schoolteacher at Lauderhill Middle School. "We'll let the people name themselves."

As yet, a new name remains but a dream. Before they can name their town, they're going to have to create it. And that won't be easy. Major and his fiery band of activists are fighting to create something unprecedented in Broward County: a black-majority city. A municipality that will give them an identity, independence, and political power.

The campaign is still in its infancy. The process of incorporation is long and arduous (as residents of Weston learned when they succeeded in creating their city three years ago; the incorporation-feasibility study alone was more than an inch thick).

And the political road to cityhood will be just as arduous, if not more. Though just getting started, the campaign to incorporate Area A has already drawn criticism from two of the county's most important black political leaders, Carlton Moore and Josephus Eggelletion, each of whom (for different reasons) would rather see the parcel divided up and assigned to surrounding cities.

Despite the inherent problems, however, the campaign is moving forward. Spurred by a sense of community pride and a desire to build a lasting base of black political power, a coalition of neighborhood groups has been pushing for incorporation.

They call themselves the Broward County Civic Coalition (BCCC), and last year they pushed the county to commission an economic study from Nova Southeastern University on the viability of incorporation, which is due to be completed this month.

Meanwhile a campaign is being orchestrated with a two-pronged strategy: building door-to-door grassroots support and applying pressure to members of the Broward state delegation who have the power to make the idea happen -- or to kill it.

Being the center of controversy and political struggle is something of a novelty for Area A. For most of the past 20 years, it has served as little more than a throughway for motorists driving west to Sawgrass Mills and the suburbs or east to the business district and beach.

Bordered roughly by Davie Boulevard to the south, NW 19th Street to the north, U.S. Highway 441 to the west, and NW 24th Avenue to the east, the area consists of eight relatively small residential neighborhoods with names such as Broward Estates, Boulevard Gardens, Washington Park, and St. George.

A recent study shows it has a population that's 90 percent black and 30 percent below the poverty line. It has never been a hotbed of political activity. As of last year, the Broward County supervisor of elections counted only 738 residents living in the area's ten precincts who had even registered to vote. (Those who do vote are solidly and reliably Democratic; in 1996, Clinton took 95 percent of the total count.) Maybe that's why none of the area's elected state or county representatives even live within its boundaries. For such an apolitical area, though, the politics of incorporation are becoming surprisingly complex.

In matters of annexation or incorporation, the most important players are the members of the state legislative delegation, the body that must approve any plan that involves a change of municipal boundaries. Inevitably, each member of the delegation has conflicting constituencies, loyalties, and interests. Democratic state representative Josephus Eggelletion's district, for example, includes parts of both Plantation and Area A.

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