By Francisco Alvarado
By Trevor Bach
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
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His father, Bob Stork, soon moved out, reappearing for visits only about once a month. Stork's mother, Annette, worked in a textile factory, carving out a subsistence living for herself and her two young boys. "There was a time when [my mother] couldn't find steady employment for 18 months," Stork explains regularly on the campaign trail. "I know what it's like to use food stamps. I know what it's like to be on welfare."
Through public school, Stork participated in track and field and weightlifting. He graduated from Greensboro's Northwest Guilford High School in 1985. "And they did not know, if that's your question," Stork offers in an interview, referring to his homosexuality. He put himself through the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with grants, student loans, and scholarships. At the time, his mother was suffering from cancer. She died his sophomore year. Stork then transferred to the more prestigious campus at Chapel Hill to finish his bachelor's degree in marketing. He graduated in 1990.
New York City immediately followed. While renting a closet-sized apartment for $1,000 per month, Stork met Richard Campbell Zahn, then a 60-year-old doctor who had invented a topical medicine to treat lip blisters caused by herpes simplex. "Zahn went door to door to pharmacies and said, 'Hey, I've got something better for cold sores,'" recalls Fred R. MacLean, a Pompano Beach attorney who represented the doctor. Herpecin-L became the sole money producer for Zahn's company, Campbell Laboratories.
Stork, who started with the company as a sales manager earning $25,000 per year, quickly improved his lot. He began traveling the United States, trying to sell Herpecin-L to Wal-Mart. After two years of hustling, he landed the lip medication on all of the retail giant's shelves. "That's what made my career," Stork explains. Campbell Laboratories, which had $3.5 million in annual sales, moved from New York to Pompano Beach in 1992. By then, Stork was Zahn's right-hand man. Two years later, at just 25 years old, Stork became vice president and chief operating officer, earning about $85,000 per year. "I handled marketing and the FDA stuff but also had to travel and handle customer service," Stork says.
However, Campbell Laboratories, which had no more than a dozen (mostly gay) employees at one time, was simply an incorporated extension of its founder. Without Zahn, there was no company. And despite the founder's research ability, he couldn't create a remedy for his own disease. On January 17, 1995, at age 65, Zahn died from complications of AIDS. Stork became the interim head of Campbell Laboratories.
MacLean became personal representative for Zahn's estate and followed the founder's wishes: Sell the company. Stork, whose hefty salary was at stake, objected to the sale and filed a lawsuit alleging that MacLean was artificially devaluing Campbell Laboratories by keeping "houseboys" on the payroll to care for Zahn's estate and dogs. The lawsuit was later dismissed. "We did work it out," Stork explains hesitantly. "It was just communication problems."
MacLean disagrees. The young chief operating officer simply wanted to stall, he alleges. "Jim wasn't as enthusiastic about selling the company as we were," MacLean says. "He probably would have been better off financially if we didn't sell."
But sell they did. Chattem, a pharmaceutical company in Chattanooga, Tennessee, bought Campbell Laboratories for $5.6 million. Most of the money went to the late Zahn's Fort Lauderdale-based Campbell Foundation, which funds HIV/AIDS research. Stork left the firm with a severance. He refers to the money as his "golden parachute." Citing a nondisclosure agreement, the candidate would not say how much money he received.
Whatever the total, he used that cash to open Stork's Café and Bakery in 1997 in Wilton Manors, which at the time was beginning a renaissance. Georgie's Alibi, a gay bar, had just opened in a strip mall along Wilton Drive. New businesses and residents followed. Property prices began to rise, and by 2000, the gay community had established firm control over the city. That year, voters elected an out-of-the-closet mayor, John Fiore, and a majority-gay city commission, the nation's second. (West Hollywood, California, elected the first in 1997.)
By 2002, Stork's Café had become trendy, serving roughly 175,000 people per year and garnering best-of awards from local newspapers, including this one. By then a popular businessman and chairman of the Oakland Park and Wilton Manors Chamber of Commerce, Stork was considering a part-time job in politics. "Jim wanted me to run for mayor," recalls Gary Resnick, then vice mayor of Wilton Manors. "But I didn't want to be mayor, so somehow I convinced Jim to run instead."
Stork remembers it differently. "The people in the city were asking me to run," he says, noting that organizing post-9/11 commemorative activities in Wilton Manors raised his profile as a civic activist.
In January 2002, Stork announced his candidacy at a time of strife on the commission. "People were frustrated with the bickering and the arguing," remembers Wilton Manors City Commissioner Ted Galatis, who was elected with Stork that year. In his first race, Stork brought in nearly $40,000 in campaign contributions -- more than both of his opponents combined.
In the March 2002 election, Stork won 53 percent of the vote in a three-way race, beating Fiore as well as City Commissioner and former Sun-Sentinel reporter Joanne Fanizza. It marked the first time in American history that an openly gay mayor succeeded another openly gay mayor.