The Wiz

Tom Johnston is Pompano's puppet-master. Squint at commission meetings and you can see the strings.

Forget about a touch of evil -- this courtship constitutes a smothering of the stuff. But they refuse to talk publicly about their relationship; both, despite repeated requests, refused to discuss it with New Times.

Johnston also woos Skolnick, who is widely considered to be the third man in the Griffin-Johnston power combo, but the vice mayor at least retains a semblance of independence. When Johnston and his family contributed $1500 to Skolnick's current campaign, the vice mayor returned the $1000 given by the lobbyist's children. "I sent the checks from the kids back and told them they were great kids and to consider it a gift from me," he says.

But Johnston knows how to find Skolnick's heart: It's in the large Palm-Aire community in southwest Pompano, where Skolnick lives -- and thrives politically. For the past 15 years, Skolnick's pet project has been to bring a large community center to his neighborhood. When Palm Aire's partnership with a private developer failed because residents didn't want to foot the bill, Skolnick asked the city for the $2 million to build it. He got the votes, and the commission moved to fund the center, but there was one hurdle: It needed a special zoning exception. Enter Johnston. The lobbyist represented the development on a pro bono basis last month before the city's zoning board of appeals. The exception was approved unanimously. Now Skolnick's neighborhood, with a special thanks to Johnston, gets a $2 million windfall from the city.

This way, boys
Michael McElroy
This way, boys

Skolnick swears he didn't even know about Johnston's little favor until after the lobbyist had done it. Asked why Johnston would volunteer for such a thing, Skolnick says he has no idea. "Nobody has influence over me except my wife," he insists.

Skolnick, however, usually votes Johnston's way (the vice mayor points out that he opposed the Enron power plant but could come up with no other examples). He acknowledges that the lawyer treats him to lunch on occasion but says he isn't a personal friend, and the 25-year elected official isn't afraid to speak ill of Johnston. "He can be somewhat pompous," the vice mayor says, bringing up Johnston's bullying ways at commission meetings. Skolnick says he'd never permit such behavior if he were running the meetings. "I'm not saying [Griffin's] doing anything wrong; I'm just saying I wouldn't allow it," he says.

Which leads us to the heart of the matter: The mayor doesn't resist the city's chief lobbyist at all but rather holds him close. Griffin has lost even the pretense of serving as a shepherd of the people. He not only lets the wolf run amok; he opens the gate for him. And that is why there is an ugly war of the worlds -- one of money-hungry developers, the other of outraged citizens -- raging in Pompano today.

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