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It's approaching 8 p.m. on March 18. About 400 people are crowded together elbow-to-elbow outside Brasserie Las Olas in Fort Lauderdale. A cool breeze off the Atlantic Ocean whistles through the downtown skyscrapers as everyone waits. Then comes the music. The clapping follows. "Jimmy! Jimmy! Jimmy!" the crowd chants.
Jim Stork appears in the rear. The crowd parts, providing him with the entrance of a champion pugilist. "Jimmy! Jimmy! Jimmy!" they continue.
Dressed in a crisp, white oxford shirt with a light-blue silk tie, the candidate waves to his fans, his pink lips parting to expose two perfectly straight rows of white teeth. Stork's svelte, six-foot-three, 185-pound frame moves forward as he extends his right arm, shaking hand after hand. Near the stage, an elderly woman with white hair done up in a tight perm nudges her way to the front. "Jim!" she cries, waving her right hand. "Jim!"
Stork turns and poses, his short-cropped brown hair unmoved in the evening breeze. He smiles expectantly, as if he knows his looks are sure to please. Stork takes the woman's right hand in both of his. "Hi, Fanny," he says gently. "Thank you so much for coming." He releases the grasp and walks toward the stage.
"He's such a doll!" Fanny proclaims.
Stork steps on-stage and stands behind a brown podium, his back to Las Olas Boulevard. In front of him, a yellow and green sign reads: "Stork for Congress." An image of the graceful bird rests on the t.
"We are allowed to dream, and we are allowed to turn our dreams into reality," Stork begins his speech. "That's what my story has been, following my dream and turning it into reality. Today, those opportunities are diminishing... I know what it's like to eat government cheese. We had grits and cheese for breakfast, grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch, and macaroni and cheese for dinner. So if I ever go to your house for dinner and I don't eat the cheese..."
The crowd erupts in laughter. Stork then takes a few minutes to discuss his background: business school in North Carolina, buying his first home with a government-backed loan, opening a successful bakery in Wilton Manors. "People thought I was crazy," Stork explains. "They said, 'You can't open an upscale bakery a mile away from two trailer parks in Wilton Manors, off the beaten path. No, it'll never work.' And I said, 'Trust my vision. '"
Stork's speech moves from thanking his bakery customers to discussing the 2001 terrorist attacks to recapping his successes as mayor of Wilton Manors, the town of about 13,000 people northeast of Fort Lauderdale.
Finally, after about ten minutes, Stork brings his oration to a close: "My strength and my vision come from the power of those who believe in me. That's where it comes from; it's that simple. The time has come for change, and I'm asking you to trust my vision and believe in me. Join me tonight as I am proud to officially announce that I am running for United States Congress in District 22."
The crowd, filled overwhelmingly with same-sex couples, cheers. It's the type of reaction Stork has grown to expect. The 37-year-old has become the face of Broward's affluent gay community. The former mayor of one of the gayest cities in the United States, Stork has built a political identity around his penniless childhood and his openly gay lifestyle. It's an identity strong enough, Stork believes, to oust former Fort Lauderdale mayor and long-time GOP U.S. Rep. E. Clay Shaw from office.
It is no easy challenge. After Shaw nearly lost his seat in 2000, the Florida Legislature gerrymandered District 22 into a Republican stronghold.
Stork is running on a solidly liberal platform, hoping that the rising national deficit and the increasingly bloody war in the Middle East will fuel discontent among even Republicans. He stands against the war, for gay marriage and abortion rights, and for policies that will benefit small-business owners. Ranking Democrats and news media are taking Stork's candidacy seriously, pointing to his sex appeal and his astounding ability to raise money. During the first fundraising quarter, Stork garnered $330,678, twice as much as Shaw. At the same time, a poll by the website Politics1.com named him one of the sexiest men in U.S. politics.
Yet there's more to Stork than his recent successes. While the candidate is quick to criticize his opponent, asserting that Shaw has used his previous two terms in office to become a Bush administration sycophant, the young Democrat is apprehensive about discussing his past. In 1996, Stork allegedly threatened to kill an ex-boyfriend. That same year, the future mayor was forced out of his executive position at Campbell Laboratories in Pompano Beach after a legal scuffle. And 18 months ago, Stork began dating a wealthy political donor, Ronald M. Ansin, whose clout has helped him gain credibility and cash.
Stork's South Florida campaign and his future in politics may hinge on how well he addresses these issues between now and November.
Jim Stork was born in Gainesville, then a small college town, in 1967. The younger of two boys, he didn't stay in the Sunshine State for long. When he was 4 years old, the family moved to Greensboro, North Carolina.