By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Jim Naugle began his political life in elementary school, when he campaigned for Barry Goldwater for President. Today the Fort Lauderdale mayor is aligned with the Christian right. He's ultraconservative on the death penalty, abortion, affirmative action, and gun control. Although the city's gay population is both large and politically active, Naugle calls homosexuality a crime. Last month he voiced his support for the Boy Scouts' exclusion of gays and then cast the lone vote in favor of allowing them to use city facilities.
The tall, bookish 46-year-old espouses a hypermasculine world view. He carries a concealed Smith & Wesson pistol and counts Clint Eastwood, once the mayor of Carmel, California, as his favorite actor. Indeed, like Dirty Harry, Naugle always seems to be itching for a fight.
Although he supplies perhaps the most powerful conservative voice in Fort Lauderdale, Naugle has been a Democrat since he registered to vote, but he mockingly calls the ACLU the "Atheists and Criminal Lobbying Union." His status as a Democrat not only helps his career in Fort Lauderdale (where voter rolls show 40,000 Democrats and 30,000 Republicans), it has vaulted him onto the national stage. He co-chairs George W. Bush's presidential campaign in Broward. (He fulfilled the same role for Jeb Bush's 1998 gubernatorial bid.) Newspapers and magazines around the nation -- including The Washington Post and The Weekly Standard -- have named Naugle a renegade Bush Democrat. "I vote for the man or woman and not just the party," he told Paula Zahn during an October 13 interview on the Fox News network. Unfortunately neither Zahn nor any other reporter who covered Naugle's apparent conversion bothered to discover that it is hooey. In national elections Naugle always votes Republican. Before George W., he supported Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr., and Bob Dole.
Naugle has a knack for skating through political contradictions. In Fort Lauderdale he's been extremely popular since winning a seat on the city commission in 1985, then six years later becoming mayor (albeit a so-called weak mayor, who is forbidden from mixing in the city's day-to-day business). The key to his success is simple: Naugle has been, in many ways, an outstanding leader. He's never been a shill for lobbyists or touched by scandal. A muckraker at heart, he doesn't engage in conflicts of interest, instead exposing others' ethical lapses. He's shepherded in spectacular growth but has worked hard to keep developers in check. Above all, the Broward native, who earns about $16,000 per year as mayor, truly seems to care about Fort Lauderdale.
During the past few weeks, New Times interviewed Naugle in his office, in his sport-utility vehicle, walking along downtown streets, and over beans and rice at Creolina's restaurant.
Shortly after the interview commences in Naugle's office on the eighth floor of city hall, his two-year-old daughter, Rachel, runs from the mayor's office screaming for a pretzel. The mayor hurries after her and consoles her. Is it tough to be mayor and also care for your daughter?
It's a challenge, but if I didn't bring her here, I wouldn't get to see her grow up. So I bring her in every day. Sometimes I can do some mail work and I can use the speakerphone; otherwise she'll grab the receiver. I drop her off at 1 p.m. with my mother-in-law and then I'm back here alone until 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
It doesn't disrupt city business?
My pastor said, "Twenty years from now, they won't remember what kind of mayor you were, but they'll remember what kind of father you were." I put more time in working here than most. I'm in this building more than any other city employee.
When you were Rachel's age, your family moved from Fort Lauderdale to Plantation, which was the boondocks. Your first business experience was selling fruitcakes for the Cub Scouts, right?
In the whole county, I sold more fruitcakes than anybody else. It's tough to sell those things. Nobody ever eats them. There was a joke that it was the same fruitcake going from person to person to person. I sold 400 of them. I sold some of them at my dad's paint shop in Fort Lauderdale. I went to work with my dad, and he would drop me off at the Lutheran school down the street, and after school I'd spend my days with my dad at work. I was very much in awe of my father.
What did you do for fun as a kid?
I got into racing go-karts in my teens and ended up in national competition. I would get out of school to travel around the country. I was good at building engines. I could break up an engine blindfolded. It was something I did with my dad a lot. I finally just gave it up when I got into college and into real estate. When I was at Broward Community College, I took a real-estate course. I had a painting business then. At my father's paint store, we had a lot of contractors coming in, and I did jobs for them. I was the youngest licensed contractor in the city. The day I got the real-estate license, I went out and sold a commercial building and I thought, This beats painting.
Do you remember how much money you made?
I think it was $4000. It was 1974. I spent the rest of college selling real estate. When I was 22, I bought my first house. Pay attention, young people who are reading this: Buy a house. Don't wait. I scraped up $2000 for a down payment and bought an old house for $20,000. The owner was in a nursing home. It was rat-infested, with cobwebs and junk piled up to the ceiling, and it had a little cottage behind it. I fixed it up, lived in the main house, and rented the cottage to pay my mortgage.... The attorney who sold it to me was this wonderful man named Carl Hiaasen [grandfather of the Herald columnist and novelist]. This house was in a neighborhood called Rio Vista. [Laughs.] Later on I bought the fire chief's old house in Tarpon River. I figured I could rent my Rio Vista house out for a lot more money and buy this other house and fix it up. The house I have today was paid for completely with profits from buying and selling homes. I sold the original house in 1979 for $90,000, and the buyers kept getting behind on payments, so I foreclosed on them and kept the $30,000 down payment. I sold it in the 1990s for $140,000. I paid $55,000 for the Tarpon River house and sold it for $130,000.
You made $200,000 profit on those two houses?
Right. Then in 1989 I was able to talk a couple of people into selling me a piece of land on the river in Sailboat Bend, and I built my house there. It had no air conditioning and a four-car garage with one big screened-in room on top. It was like a tree house. When I got married [to attorney Carol-Lisa Phillips in 1993], she said, "OK, I'll live here. I'll give it a try." And after a year she said, "Let's air-condition the house." I put $160,000 in that house and sold it for $400,000. Real estate has been very good to me. We have some apartments and the house and rental properties and some commercial properties.
You're a millionaire, correct?
Yeah. In Fort Lauderdale I think it's hard not to be a millionaire, if you buy and hold.
When did you start in politics?
In elementary school I was campaign manager for Barry Goldwater at Peters Elementary [in Plantation]. It was just cutting out elephants and things like that. We won the class, but we couldn't carry the nation. I think on my 18th birthday I registered as a Democrat. Back then things were decided in the Democratic primary, and there wouldn't be Republicans running.
So it was just practical to become a Democrat?
What did you think of Jack Kennedy?
In my household, I think because of Cuba, those were very tense times during the missile crisis. I remember talking about bomb shelters and storing food in the closet and seeing all the military hardware going up the road when things were going bad. We weren't really fond of the Kennedys.
Have you considered becoming a Republican?
I'm in a nonpartisan office, and we're not allowed to use party affiliation when we run. I guess if I ever decide to run for a partisan office, then I would need to do some soul-searching. But I think Ted Kennedy once said: When we come to that bridge, we'll come to it. [Laughs.]
Who's your favorite President?
George W. Bush is going to be my favorite President.
And you're working to make that happen. Your uncle Tex trained [former President] George Bush for World War II. When did your own political affiliation with the Bush family begin?
My relationship with the family started with Jeb, after he lost the election for governor in 1994. He called me, met with me, and I got involved in his campaign.