By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
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In the early 1980s, Clayborne spent five years as a New York Times Company executive, overseeing the television stations and papers the conglomerate owned. But Clayborne quit at 31, convinced that he'd hit the glass ceiling. "I always wanted to run my own show," he says. "I told the right people at the New York Times, "Let me have one of those bad boys.' I was willing to take a pay cut. "Just let me try,' I said. But I don't think they was ready to let a brother run a division." Clayborne lived briefly in the Caribbean islands and moved to South Florida in 1986.
Staring up at the scaffolding that day, Clayborne had an idea. "Black people need to get angry, to want more of the economic pie," he says. "I went home and wrote a little essay about that." He made a couple of hundred copies and took them to black churches the following Sunday. "I figured I had nothing to lose," he says. "I started doing it every week, and then a whole year passed and I didn't miss one issue."
From its inception in 1989, the Broward Times advocated for blacks, particularly their financial advancement. In several "Off the Vine" columns, Clayborne urges blacks to support black-owned businesses, sometimes using what could be deemed racist language. For example, in a November 16 column called "We're Our Own Worst Enemy," he launches into a tirade about what he calls "White Banks" that "refuse to do business with black businesses like this one and others." He writes, "Why these White Banks take black dollars and invest them in white businesses and white communities while leaving the government program dollars (the nigger money -- that's what they call it) for the Black community." Lamenting that blacks are apathetic to this injustice, he continues, "But we hate ourselves so much that we can't even conceive of Black communities being filled up with thriving small black-owned businesses (we'd rather spend our money in a store opened by a guy just off the boat from Pakistan).... We'd rather go to a neighborhood food store that literally stinks than spend money with another black."
"Being politically correct has never been my thing," he says, crediting the fiery language with helping him bring attention to what he views as a Fort Lauderdale that has historically oppressed blacks. "I would go to a Fort Lauderdale city meeting and there would be a white board talking and blacks'd be looking down at the floor. I was coming from the North and couldn't believe this was happening at this date. There was definitely a white and a black side of town."
Clayborne sees the Times as a hand rocking politicians' comfortable public pedestals. He cites the controversial Wingate Landfill, which Clayborne and his reporters have often written about, mostly in the context of blaming city officials for dragging their feet in cleaning it up. The landfill is near a lower-income, black neighborhood.
When politicians, black or white, discuss the city's business in settings less formal than commission meetings, Clayborne says it's likely he helped arrange it. "When you see things going on in the community, I'm behind it. I might not have gone to the meeting, but I'm there. My presence is there," he asserts. "We [at the Times] created that meeting, made it happen. Out of advocacy and my personal involvement, we drive people to act. That's our job."
A November "Off the Vine" column about Broward County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion Jr. almost duplicates Clayborne's message to the Gazette's Bobby Henry, as the Times publisher vows to "kick to the curb" any politician he thinks isn't working hard enough for minorities.
Eggelletion, a Democrat who served four terms in the Florida House of Representatives before winning election to the County Commission in October 2000, has long been a Broward Times punching bag; his name appeared in more than a dozen "Off the Vine" columns last year.
In an August 31 "Off the Vine," Clayborne tells his readers that he's contemplating writing a "Joe Column." The declaration precedes a complaint that Eggelletion is more concerned with pleasing lobbyists than his constituents -- though no lobbyists or deals are referenced.
Three months later, Clayborne quotes unnamed "pundits" and calls Eggelletion a "one-timer" who is "too busy smoking cigars" with lobbyists. An unattributed quote reads, "Joe ran on a platform of "People First' but some are saying it's now "Joe First.'" In a December 7 column entitled "Say It Ain't So Joe!" Clayborne writes that the politician "will never win elective office again" but provides no evidence supporting his prediction.
In the midst of the voting-machine debate this past winter, Clayborne wrote that Eggelletion wanted Broward's $17.2 million voting-equipment contract to go to Election Systems and Software, based in Nebraska. Although the contract eventually went to ES&S, Eggelletion ranked another bidder, Global Election Systems of California, number one. The paper's mistake made it appear that Eggelletion did not question ES&S's failure to meet a county requirement to give 10 percent of the contract to minority and disadvantaged small business.
"It seems like I'm not for helping blacks and minorities," Eggelletion complains, adding that he frequently scans the crowds at public meetings for Clayborne. "I've been at more than one meeting that he's not been at, and then the next week I'll see that he's written about the meeting as if he were there. Keith just tells out-and-out lies in his newspaper. He hardly ever attributes quotes. I've not once been interviewed by Keith or any of his reporters."