Raising Kane

How Jim Kane transformed himself from a special-interest lobbyist into a lobbyist who's also Florida's best-known political pollster

Kane and his wife took aggressive steps to block New Times' inquiries into his political and business affiliations. And Kane, who makes himself widely available to the news media for interviews, made himself remarkably unavailable to this newspaper.

After New Times published critical articles earlier this year about Hamilton Forman and Hvide Marine, for which Kane also lobbies, he stopped returning phone calls from this newspaper. Over a period of a few months, New Times left at least six phone messages for him, e-mailed him twice, and stopped by his office twice to talk to him, with no response. Finally this reporter knocked on the door of his Fort Lauderdale home one evening last month. His wife, Pam, answered and said her husband wasn't home. She then asked if the visitor were a reporter. He handed her a New Times business card and asked that her husband call him back. "Get out," she snapped. "I'm going to call the police."

Stranahan House board member Dick Dickinson faces an uphill battle against Jim Kane and his developer-client, who wants to put a high-rise on the supermarket site (left) next to the historic house
Melissa Jones
Stranahan House board member Dick Dickinson faces an uphill battle against Jim Kane and his developer-client, who wants to put a high-rise on the supermarket site (left) next to the historic house

The next day Kane called the managing editor of New Times, alleging that the reporter had trespassed and frightened his wife, who was alone with their young child. He said that he was too busy talking to other reporters to return calls from this newspaper. A day later this reporter was having lunch at Charcuterie Too, the cafeteria at the downtown Broward library in Fort Lauderdale, which is just down the street from New Times' office, when he saw Pam Kane walk by his table. No words were exchanged, but the next day Jim Kane called the editor again, warning that his wife was thinking about filing a complaint accusing the reporter of "stalking."

Kane finally agreed to a phone interview but only to discuss politics in general. He was genial and expansive, boasting that he was the first pollster to predict that Clinton would carry Florida in 1996. He criticized the media and his fellow pollsters for focusing too much on who's winning and who's losing and not enough on important issues like affirmative action. But when asked who owns Florida Voter and whether he should disclose his potential conflicts of interest, his affable tone vanished. "Since we're talking about disclosure, I think it's only fair to tell you that my wife thinks you're a stalker and has reported you to the Broward Sheriff's Office. Before you write anything, you should know that." He abruptly ended the interview.

Later that week this reporter was standing in the food line at Charcuterie Too with a fellow reporter when he saw Pam Kane again and said hello to her. "Get away from me," she said angrily. "I don't want you talking to me. When I get back to my office, I'm calling [Sheriff Ken] Jenne."

This may not have been the first time the Kanes appealed to higher political authorities for protection. Last month Alexander Cocalis, the former chief of litigation for the Broward County Attorney's Office, filed suit against the county in federal district court, charging that he was fired last December because he criticized Pam Kane, who works as an assistant county attorney. The 67-year-old Cocalis, who worked for the county for 26 years, wrote a scathing memo to his superiors, which, according to court records, accused Ms. Kane of incompetence and urged that she be removed from important litigation. Less than two months after he wrote the memo, he was fired without explanation by newly appointed county attorney Russell Morrison. He alleges in his lawsuit that the firing violated his constitutional free-speech rights.

Cocalis had consistently received outstanding performance ratings, and commissioner Scott Cowan wrote a memo after Cocalis' firing stating that Morrison dismissed Cocalis "without cause." Pam Kane has also received strong performance reviews. She started working in the county attorney's office in late 1992, while living with Jim Kane before they were married, according to court records. Since then her salary has soared from $48,000 to $85,230.

When he complained to his superiors about Ms. Kane, Cocalis says, they told him that they couldn't do anything because she was protected by Commissioner Parrish -- an allegation Parrish vehemently denies. But on her job application, Ms. Kane listed Parrish as her lead reference, along with Austin Forman and William Scherer. Scherer, her husband's investment partner and a strong Parrish ally, helped arrange for Morrison to be appointed as the new county attorney. Cocalis says Jim Kane's influence with the county commissioners will be a central issue in his lawsuit.

But Parrish denies that she had any role in Cocalis' firing. "Jim wouldn't come to me to protect Pam's job," she says. "He's a great guy. He's not like that."

Sitting in a coffeehouse last month, freshman city commissioner Gloria Katz readily admitted that she's naive about politics. "I wish I could just focus on the issues and learning the job," said Katz, who lacks the self-assurance of a professional politician. "But people keep telling me I have to prepare for the election, because unless I get elected, I can't do any of the good things for the community that I want to do."

Soon after she was appointed to the commission in March, her friends suggested that she contact Jim Kane. "I never heard of him before, but I called him, and he's been advising me on what to do and not to do, on a volunteer basis. He's a nice man." Then she frowned. "I found out later that he's a lobbyist."

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