The People's Republic of Area A

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

That's a problem. In order to be economically viable, any future city in this area is going to have to take back the valuable commercial corridor along Highway 441 that once did belong to Area A until it was annexed by Plantation in the mid-'60s. Joe Major and his supporters say the road was artfully cherry-picked -- some just say "stolen" -- from its rightful owner, Area A, and at least one Plantation city council member shares this view. Still, no Plantation city official has offered to return the annexed land.

Politically, this leaves Eggelletion caught between two factions. "I can't just represent one part of my district," he says. "I have to represent all of it." Unhappily for him, that isn't possible here.

Not that he doesn't try. Eggelletion brags about having inserted language into delegation pronouncements specifically mentioning "the possibility of de-annexation" of the Highway 441 corridor. At first glance this would seem designed to throw a scare into Plantation.

If Eggelletion were serious about this so-called threat of de-annexation, he would be talking up the importance of the 441 corridor to a newly revitalized city to the east. Instead he goes around lamenting that such a city would never work because the property tax base would be too small -- even with 441 included. It's basically the same point Plantation mayor Frank Veltri makes in regard to giving back the corridor.

Eggelletion's own preference would be to divide Area A into at least two sections, with surrounding cities annexing as much of the area as they feel they could absorb. "Lauderdale Lakes, Plantation, Fort Lauderdale, or Lauderhill -- any one of those four could step up to the plate, I don't care," he says.

But here's where the issue really gets tangled. The two major cities involved -- Fort Lauderdale and Plantation, without which Eggelletion's plan would have a tough time working -- don't seem to want any part of it. "I just don't see how that could happen," says Fort Lauderdale mayor Jim Naugle.

Naugle goes out of his way to stress his city's high tax rate and high service fees. In fact Naugle says he'd rather see his city de-annex everything west of Interstate 95 than take on more land in that direction. He would, he says, be happy to see a newly incorporated Area A annex some of the western portions of his city.

That would suit Major just fine. In fact Major considers much of west Fort Lauderdale as a natural extension of Area A. Both areas are historically black, and both share many of the same cultural landmarks, both positive (Dillard High School) and negative (the Wingate Superfund site).

Naugle's idea would have at least two interesting effects: First, it would add to the property tax base of the new city, making it that much more economically viable. Second, it would probably take away a block of voters from Fort Lauderdale city commissioner Carlton Moore, who now enjoys a comfortable and secure seat.

In Plantation, city officials have expressed the same sort of reluctance to annex any part of Area A. Only Plantation council member Lee Hillier, whose main base of support includes far eastern Plantation, expresses unreserved support for eastward expansion. Yet, as Hillier admits, his position leaves him the renegade of Plantation politics: "None of [his colleagues] care what happens to this area."

To all this Major responds with invective aimed mostly at Moore and Eggelletion. In community meetings and interviews, Major portrays Eggelletion as a sellout willing to sacrifice a poor black constituency for the sake of a rich white one. "All Joe Eggelletion is interested in is a safe seat," he says. "Joe Eggelletion hasn't done a damn thing for black people. It takes more than black skin to make a man black."

Joe Major promises revenge when the incorporation issue comes up for a vote. "We're going to take it to the streets. We're going to take it to the people, and see what happens. We'll see who are the ones who are really out there fighting for the interests of black people and who are the ones who are out there fighting for their own interests."

That's the kind of rhetoric that could cost Eggelletion votes, and he angrily denies any political motive in opposing incorporation. "This [incorporation] would raise taxes, and it would lower quality of life." He also responds in kind, with some fiery accusations of his own targeted against Major. "I question his ethics," Eggelletion says. "He misleads people, he tells untruths.... He goes behind your back."

For all their mutual loathing, however, the two men seem fated to work together. Major needs the support of the state delegation, and Eggelletion needs the votes of the community.

A decade ago Eggelletion might have been able to muscle a proposal such as splitting up Area A through the legislative delegation, and that would have been the end of it. In those days, "you could wake up and read in the newspaper that your neighborhood had been annexed," recalls Tobin. "But those days are gone."

Now, although the delegation does technically have the power to pass a bill that would coerce a city into annexing an area it may not want -- or, conversely, to force a city to de-annex an area that it does want -- power lies with the residents of the area to be annexed. Now any proposed change in city boundaries requires a referendum to pass. If residents vote down an annexation proposal, the proposal is dead. "The ultimate power is with the people," Tobin says.

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