Snake Bit

John Coleman's dance with developers lost him popular support. But will that stop him from spoiling the mayoral race?

You need some powerful fog lights to navigate the political landscape in Hollywood these days. Direction is fleeting, and suspicion reigns among those who want to unseat Mayor Mara Giulianti in the March election. The would-be usurpers of the crown seem to trust one another less than they do Giulianti, especially since their long-time trusted leader has seemingly defected to the wrong side.

At stake are the past and future of Broward County's second-largest city, along with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of controversial developments. The opposition has a built-in rallying point: saving the Great Southern Hotel, built by city founder Joseph Young in 1924. The mayor's gang intends to put a 15-story condo on top of the historic inn. The anti-Giulianti crowd is also focusing on the giveaway of tens of millions of tax dollars to developers and the mayor's reliance on omnipresent lobbyists Alan Koslow and Bernie Friedman.

So far, the only candidate running against Giulianti is Jerry Mintz. Mintz, however, doesn't have the trust of the trustless natives yet, especially since he's a major developer in Hollywood himself and a former Giulianti supporter. Some wonder if he's a straw candidate, propped up by the incumbent to dilute the vote. Others question whether Mintz, who owns much of Harrison Street in downtown and has benefited from millions of dollars in incentives from the city, could serve without conflicts of interest. It's dangerous to trust either a developer or a political candidate, and Mintz happens to be a hazardous hybrid of the two. Yet I believe he's generally on the up-and-up and wrote as much a couple of weeks ago [see "Mayor Mintz," July 17]. Shortly after that column was published, word reached me that Mintz was talking about dropping out of the race.

I called him.

"I'm currently in the race and have made no decision," Mintz told me rather wanly.

Mintz, a hard-driving businessman who seems passionate about the city, was faltering. The former Israeli paratrooper wouldn't tell me why his political feet had cooled, but the rumor -- and so much in Hollywood is communicated only in rumors and their echoes -- is that Mintz suspects that John Coleman, a former city commissioner who has been the standard-bearer of the anti-Giulianti crowd for the past half-dozen years, will enter the race at a late date.

I asked Coleman, a director of the environmental group Save Our Shoreline (SOS), about that possibility. "Jerry says that to me all the time -- he says I'm going to step in the race and mess it up for everybody," Coleman said. "I just laugh at him and say, 'That's funny -- I heard the same rumor.' In Hollywood, people are always whispering paranoia in your ear. Jerry is new at this business, so he has to sort it out."

Coleman, who won 40 percent of the vote when he lost to Giulianti in 1998 and 2000, said he had no plans to enter the race. But he wouldn't rule it out. "I want to work on other things now," intoned Coleman, who has publicly supported Mintz's candidacy. "It's not my intention to run, and I've told everybody that Jerry Mintz is a good guy. I gave Jerry all my names, addresses, and phone numbers, and he has called them. If I was going to do what people are afraid I'm going to do, would I have given him that?"

Mintz and Coleman make strange political mates. In 1998, Mintz campaigned heartily against Coleman when he ran against Giulianti, and the pair have publicly feuded about a number of issues in the past. Now, almost poetically, the two men have traded places. The developer, Mintz, is now courting the activists, while the activist, Coleman, has been courting developers. And that has transformed the former commissioner, who served from 1998 through 2000, into political poison.

Listen:

"John Coleman shot hisself in the foot," says Southern-fried Pete Brewer, a long-time activist and City Hall fixture who has enthusiastically campaigned for Coleman in the past. "I have lost all respect for the man."

"I think he's lost his base of support," adds Estelle Lowenstein, an official with the Hollywood Historical Society who allied herself with Coleman when she ran for commissioner in 1998.

"I don't think John is a viable candidate anymore," chimes in fellow beach activist Steve Welsch, who served until a couple of months ago on the SOS board with Coleman. "I think he's burned his own bridges. He's made some mistakes, and people don't forget in this city."

Novelist Pete Dexter wrote that "one thing is true, when a poison snake bites you, you're poison too." The viper that got Coleman was controversial developer Michael Swerdlow, who is best-known for selling a piece of land to Broward County at $60 million over the appraised value.

Several county commissioners lost their jobs thanks to Swerdlow -- and Coleman is also paying a steep price for the association. Coleman is the dark priest responsible for the unholy marriage between International Swimming Hall of Fame Director Sam Freas and Swerdlow. Coleman introduced the pair in 2001 and then began pushing to bring the hall to Hollywood. The idea of an Olympic-sized swimming pool didn't really bother anyone too much, but the accompanying two high-rise condos that Swerdlow planned to build on the beach caused a bit of an uproar.

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