By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
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By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Restlessly pacing near the door was Kane, who looked out of place among the businessmen and attorneys in the room. Clutching a large coffee cup and wearing a gray houndstooth jacket, open-neck white shirt, and baggy black slacks bunched up over his clunky rubber-soled shoes, he looked like a professor who'd walked into the wrong lecture hall. But his job wasn't to impress anyone or even to speak at the meeting. His presence alone was sufficient, because the DDA board is packed with his close friends and business associates, with whom Kane has a long history of swapping favors.
Board member Jack Loos is a boyhood pal and investment partner. Kane, Loos, and another board member, William Scherer, jointly own a building on NE Fourth Street in Fort Lauderdale, which is leased to the county for $149,534 a year, according to county records. Yet another board member, Walter Morgan, is the trustee for the property. Norman Tripp, the DDA's vice chairman, also has close ties to the lobbyist. Kane provided Tripp with crucial polling assistance that helped the vice chairman get this year's $139 million Broward County Library bond referendum passed.
Kane's friends on the board came through for him. One by one they voiced support for Kane's project and misgivings about the Stranahan House's park plan. "You've done a very nice job," Loos told the developer. "I'm not in favor of condemnation," said Morgan. "The voters didn't approve that bond issue so we could spend $20 million for a park," added Tripp.
After the meeting Dick Dickinson, a member of the Stranahan House board, looked mystified. "Clearly, something has happened that has changed the DDA's position," said Dickinson, who has been attending its meetings and schmoozing the board all year. "Several months ago the board members were talking with some enthusiasm about using the bond money to acquire the site. What changed? I don't know. I don't know if the lobbyists made a difference." Loos later insisted, however, that he'd always felt that if the Stranahan House and the city want a park, they -- not the DDA -- should put up the money.
But Dickinson had the upper hand one week later, when he spoke to the Rio Vista Civic Association, which represents residents who live across the New River from the proposed tower. After his pitch for a park, three of the developer's representatives (Kane was not present) tried to explain the advantages of their project. But they were heckled by residents, who complained that the tower would increase traffic and obscure the city's most important historic site. "Why not just tear the Stranahan House down and get rid of what little history that we have here?" jeered Georgette Sosa Douglass of SE Ninth Street.
The community group's hostility foreshadows problems for Kane and his clients, who will seek approval for the project at next week's meeting of the city's development review committee. Although the developer needs only the OK of city planners to proceed, public opposition could force the city commission to get involved. "I'll bet my bottom dollar that it goes to the commission for a decision," says Joseph Millsaps, a Stranahan board member and an experienced developer himself.
If it does go to the commission, the outcome could be iffy. Three of the five members, Mayor Jim Naugle and commissioners Gloria Katz and Jack Latona, all worry that the high-rise is too tall for the site. Naugle has frequently voted against downtown high-rises, while Latona, who represents the downtown district, has wavered. Katz, who was appointed to fill a vacant seat earlier this year, is an unknown factor. She says she wants to be a voice for neighborhood groups, not "downtown types."
But the developers have a not-so-secret weapon. Like the DDA board, the city commission is packed with Kane's friends. Katz says he is currently advising her and raising money to help her get elected in March. In June, according to city records, Kane helped her pull in at least $2200 from Austin Forman and other Kane business associates, plus $1100 from the developer and attorneys for the proposed high-rise. In Latona's last campaign two years ago, he raised at least $8800 from people and companies with which Kane works, and he hired Kane as his pollster. Mayor Naugle and Commissioner Carlton Moore received smaller amounts of money from Kane associates during their last campaigns.
Katz stresses that Kane hasn't spoken to her about the proposed high-rise. "Maybe he doesn't want to put me in an awkward position," she explains. But others say she's already there. "It's clearly a huge problem that Kane is consulting with Katz and lobbying on the Stranahan tower," says a veteran Broward political consultant, who didn't want to be identified. "We often forget ethics around here."
By all accounts Jim Kane is a smart, funny, likable guy. He grew up in the Coral Ridge section of Fort Lauderdale, according to articles in the Sun-Sentinel and The Herald. From grade school on, he was best buddies with Austin Forman, whose powerful father Hamilton Forman, the preeminent Broward land developer, taught him all about politics. Forman senior put Kane to work slipping campaign fliers under windshield wipers. The nuts and bolts of politics was a natural fit for young Kane. "Jim was always the bookwormy one of us," says county commissioner Lori Parrish, another old pal and Forman ally. "He loved obscure statistical stuff that the rest of us hated."