Down For the Recount

Ride with us through a subtropical wonderland where troops rally for a new ballot

The 24 hours after Election Day 2000 were perhaps the most chaotic time in South Florida history since Hurricane Andrew struck. So, in the interest of history, Hurricane New Times hit the streets.

It's 2 p.m., and the Palm Beach County government center is the only place that matters in American politics. Two television sets in the spacious lobby are tuned to CNN and MSNBC. Sheriff's deputies watch the media swarm with slack-jawed interest while a few protestors outside raise signs: "Recount," reads one. "Watch the absentee ballots," warns another.

W. Kelley Lucas

Twelve television crews pace restlessly. Their cameramen tape microphones to a podium where Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore is slated to appear. It was she who designed the now-infamous butterfly ballot that has become the center of the Gore-Bush maelstrom.

Everyone here wears a uniform. TV reporters are slicked up and manicured, and their crews are dressed in scruffy T-shirts and jeans. Dozens of print reporters fall into a fashion purgatory, universally low-tech, carrying six-inch­by­three-inch No. 200 notebooks and ballpoint pens; men wear loosened ties, and women carry big shoulder bags. Their photographers look like overweight refugees from a homeless shelter.

Watching the watchers is veteran political consultant Linda Hennessee, the point woman for U.S. Congressional candidate Elaine Bloom. Sitting cross-legged on a bench outside the supervisor's office, she wears gray trousers and a jacket, both wrinkled. She holds back a cough and describes LePore. "Arrogant," she mutters. "Arrogant, disorganized... She should come out here and talk to people; that's her job. If there's a problem, she should admit it. I'm worried about her ability to be forthright."

Then The Washington Post's emissary arrives. Sue Anne Pressley, the paper's Miami bureau chief, moseys up and introduces herself to Hennessee. After asking some questions, she makes a startling admission. "So I don't usually do this," she shrugs and smiles disarmingly. "I usually do pets and children...." Hennessee doesn't say much until both Pressley and the Sun-Sentinel reporter leave. Then she gets on a cell phone and tells someone that she's advising Bloom to file a court challenge if the recount shows her to be within a few hundred votes of her Republican opponent, Clay Shaw.

"If it's more than 1000 or something like that, we won't challenge it," Hennessee says quietly of her candidate's second-place finish after a recount. "But this is ridiculous" -- she nods at the swarm of confused activity -- "and if it's within a few hundred, we will definitely go to court."

Around 2:30 p.m., all along Sunrise Boulevard from Andrews Avenue to Flamingo Road, people are waiting for the real Slim Shady, Dubya or Al, to stand up as Prez. From gold-toothed cabbies to gold-card­carrying business execs, lots of folks are making similar comments about the election. "This is making Florida look bad, but it's not our fault," people say. Still, somebody pulled a fast one. Tossed ballots? Misaligned holes? Pro-choice Democrats for Buchanan for God's sake? C'mon. Fagedaboudit.

"The whole thing isn't fair because first they said Gore had Florida, then Bush, then nobody," comments Alana, an eighth grader at Plantation Middle School, whose parents, she sheepishly admits, voted for Bush. "You know Jeb is up to something."

"I'm telling you, it was a setup," says Malika, a 19-year-old nail artist. "The Republicans got word that blacks were coming out [to vote] like roaches running from a burning building!"

Only 30 feet of concrete separate the Shop-N-Save Mini Mart from Saint Pierre's Haitian botánica down the street. That's just enough space for five or six people to park their cars and run to pick up a quick love potion or a cold beer. At 2:30 p.m. Law Dog has opted for the latter. Teetering slightly to the left (it wasn't his first beer of the day; he's "in between" jobs), Law Dog stands in the parking lot, his red-rimmed eyes roaming to follow women's derrières as they move in and out of the store. He didn't vote but says it probably wouldn't have mattered anyway.

"You see the way they do," the 26-year-old Fort Lauderdale native explains. "No matter what people in this country want, the powers that be gonna work it to their advantage. That's why I ain't even registered." He sidles up to a Yellow Cab where Levelt Fontaine, a 39-year-old Haitian cabbie, sits in the driver's seat with the door open, shaking his head at his friend's remarks.

"How can you not get involved?" Fontaine asks, looking not at his friend but at the pavement. Twenty years ago Fontaine was stuck working on a fruit farm in Port-au-Prince. Now Fontaine's fingers rake through his 'fro. Though disheartened by Law Dog's take on the American political system (which, he acknowledges, is within his young friend's rights as an American citizen), Fontaine says immigrants such as he "come to this country believing things will be different here. Everybody says Americans have life good. In Haiti you see the corrupt leaders, the fixed elections. Now things are being fixed here.... I wasted my vote."

A few hours later at the Palm Beach government center, a television news reporter is doing repeated takes in front of a camera -- one for a station in San Diego, another for a New York channel, and a third for Bloomberg News. He's tiny, only about five feet tall, so his producer has given him a suitcase on which to stand.

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