Blowing Smoke

Andre Fladell doesn't change his clothes much, but he's made quite a splash in the national media

Fladell has been politically active in Palm Beach County since 1979, when he arrived from New York. A veteran of anti­ Vietnam War protests in the late 1960s and a former leader of student activists at Hofstra University, he didn't waste any time seeking influence. One of the first things he did in South Florida was to run for mayor of Delray Beach. He lost that race and decided to work behind the scenes forever after. He shrewdly organized the condo associations in the southwestern part of the county, parlaying this fractious group into a cohesive voting bloc and making himself a player.

When he realized wealthy farmers in the western part of the county held considerable power, he courted them, too. Over the years he's groomed many a protégé, both Republican and Democrat, in the "election campaign business," which he distinguishes from candidacy. Asked whom he groomed in the business of "developing issues, teaching issues, developing candidates," he says none of the names is well known.

Fladell relishes the spotlight. His office is plastered with newspaper clips calling him everything from "Prince Andre" to "Power Broker in a T-shirt." (New Times wrote an extensive profile of Fladell in December 1999 titled "Politics as Blood Sport."The first page of that clip, which describes his volleyball victory over muscled twentysomethings, hangs there on his wall. The following pages of the story, some of which are less complimentary, do not.)

He helped oust Florida Rep. Barry Silver, a Democrat and former friend, from political office in 1997. Silver was adamant about opposing some new development, and that, the former representative says, upset Fladell's developer friends. "When I spoke out on environmental matters, he changed his opinion of me rather quickly. He was friends with the people paving over Palm Beach County."

Nonsense, replies Fladell. "I am on the record for 20 years taking the strongest stand against developers in the history of this county. The difference between us is I don't think every developer is a bad guy."

Last year Fladell convinced Palm Beach County's school board that superintendent Joan Kowal should be fired for her autocratic management style. And he had the guts to go after the first black ever to sit on the Palm Beach County Commission, Maude Ford Lee. He claimed she's a racist and explained his move simply: "I detest racism." He lost that fight, at least for now, but not a bigger one: Newly elected U.S. Senator Bill Nelson benefited from Fladell's counsel and support to win a close victory November 7 in Florida.

All of this political fire comes from a man who sometimes blows a lot of smoke.

Shortly after his CNN appearances, Fladell professed to New Times that he owns only "three shirts with buttons on them." And the one he's been wearing on TV lately, that blue-and-white­checked number still out in the back of his car, "is about to stand up on its own."

But if he's wearing the same shirt over and over, it's not for lack of choice. He has four closets full of clothes at his 6000-square-foot bachelor pad. Most of his wardrobe, he contends, isn't appropriate for TV. "I have some incredible stuff, but not the kind of thing you would wear to a normal function. I have sequined football jerseys, crushed-velvet stuff, really out-there stuff, entertainment clothing, leather patch vests with things hanging from them." He also has a collection of bowling shirts with other people's names sewn on the pockets, security guard getups, even women's apparel. "You can go out and be somebody different," he says. "You can be different things, be lost in the crowd."

On November 11's TalkBack Live, which was taped at Palm Beach Atlantic College, Fladell played the indignant Everyman. He quickly seized control of an interview with host Bobbie Battista when he whipped out a sample ballot and the instructions mailed to Palm Beach County voters before the election. Then he invited a surprised Battista to try to vote for Pat Buchanan.

"How did I get on trial here?" she stammered after having trouble with the ballot. "How did I get on trial?"

Fladell nailed her. "How does it feel to be called confused? You know, you must be confused, because you couldn't follow the instructions approved by both parties on the sample ballot." Playing to the delighted crowd, he added, "I agree. She doesn't have common sense, apparently."

His point: that Battista was just as confused as thousands of Palm Beach County voters, including the litigious Fladell, who claim to feel insulted by the Republican suggestion that they might not be too bright.

Palm Beach attorney J. Reeves Bright, a Republican who was also a guest on the show, is skeptical of Fladell's claimed screwup in the voting booth. "I've known Andre for 20 years," he told Battista and her CNN viewers. "It's the first time he's been confused. And I say to anybody who says, "I know I didn't vote for the right person': Why did you leave the voting booth?"

That's a good question.

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