The Plot To Depose King Jenne

Democrats and Republicans, blacks and whites, have banded together for one simple reason: to stop Ken Jenne from becoming Broward's first strong mayor.

Even Robin Rorapaugh, the chief of staff to U.S. Congressman Peter Deutsch, a Democrat, is flying in and out of Broward from Washington, D.C., to offer fundraising muscle and advice. If voters approve a strong mayor, she says, Deutsch "would have to think strongly about running for the office."

Committee members are amicable, but their alliances are delicate, crossing personal and party lines. They meet, after all, in the prominent Republican law firm of Conrad & Scherer, where Jenne, an influential Democrat, was once hired to bring the firm business from a county controlled by Democrats. He did. And then when he was appointed sheriff by Gov. Lawton Chiles in 1998, he asked Scherer for a $1 million buyout. Scherer firmly refused, and his now public falling-out with Jenne is at the heart of the antimayor committee, according to some observers. Scherer declines to comment, but he does host the clandestine meetings in his conference room.

But Scherer is not in attendance the day a reporter attends the meeting. So his fellow Republican, Bucknam, takes the head of a long table surrounded by plush leather chairs. The first to arrive is Dan Lewis. A paid political strategist who is volunteering to help stop Jenne in order to settle an old score, Lewis picks a seat about midway down the polished expanse of wood.

From that seat he will attempt to guide matters with quick, strong opinions about strategy. This is his chance to repay Jenne for resisting his bid to win a commission seat in Miramar a couple of years ago. A smiling Lewis tosses out charts, advertising copy, and scripted presentations from a heavy folder that hits the table with a thump when it arrives. The presentations will help committee members argue their case before community groups. But Lewis refuses to share with the news media any content or placement of paid ads that will run on radio or TV. "Jenne could use anything he gets wind of against us," he explains.

Across from Lewis is Ellyn Bogdanoff, the Republican who lost a bid to win a U.S. congressional seat in 1998 against U.S. Rep. Steve Geller. She is less cheerful. No love is lost between Bogdanoff and Democratic lobbyist Russ Klenet, and smiles are not exchanged when he arrives to sit with his back to the wall at the end of the table. Klenet guided Geller, whom he describes as "my best friend," through a U.S. congressional campaign against Bogdanoff that is still remembered as one of the roughest in Broward history.

A few feet from Klenet sits lawyer and lobbyist Bernie Friedman, who grew up near Jenne's Hollywood home and once worked as a Jenne adviser during his days in the state senate. Friedman is turning against Jenne now, he claims, because a Jenne-style strong mayor could limit the range of businesses that make money off the county. His business could be limited as well if Friedman has to lobby for such clients as the Pompano Race Track or the City of Hollywood in front of a Jenne-controlled commission.

Another kind of business, the business of winning commission seats for minorities, brings Earl Hall to the committee table. Both Hall and Sidney Calloway are lawyers who "have put their entire careers on the line to see elected black commissioners," says Bucknam. They say a strong mayor could render mute the influence of a minority commissioner, or for that matter any Republican fortunate enough to win a commission seat, by vetoing his or her proposals.

Coming from a speakerphone in the middle of the conference table is the voice of Rep. Stacy Ritter, a Coral Springs Democrat and Klenet's fiancée. She's standing by via phone when Klenet calls to her. "Stacy, you there? What happened with Campbell?"

Klenet is referring to Sen. Skip Campbell, a Democrat, a friend of Jenne's, and a reputable trial lawyer who had just opposed Ritter in a public debate on the strong-mayor issue a couple of nights earlier.

The committee grows silent while members listen to her disembodied voice. In gleeful tones that crackle through the speakerphone, she describes the reaction of about 200 condominium owners at a Democratic club in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. This is a revealing test case, committee members figure: Both Campbell and Ritter are Democrats, and Campbell, Jenne's friend, argued in favor of the strong mayor.

"They booed Skip, they actually booed him when he finished," Ritter reports. "Skip says he won't debate this in public anymore."

Sighs of relief and pleasure are heard. Self-congratulatory nods circle the table before someone finally gets the meeting under way by calling out, "OK, what have we got?"

"I'm speaking to a Republican Club," Bucknam announces, inspiring a snappy reply from the Democrat Klenet.

"We'll try not to be sick," Klenet says. The comment characterizes the sometimes stinging undercurrent in the room between members of the two parties.

The committee gets down to work: who is going to raise money (Friedman, Klenet, Bucknam, some others); who is going to organize the speakers bureau and keep members informed (Bogdanoff, who set up 167 speaking engagements, she said -- Republicans to Republican clubs, Democrats to Democratic clubs); who will help write television and radio adds (Bucknam, Klenet, and Lewis); who will decide where and when they run the ads and how to spend the money raised by the PAC (many others).

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