By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Frank Owen
When John Kerry stumped in West Palm Beach last week, the pro-Bush sign-wavers were out. One young couple jiggled a banner that read "Florida Is Bush Country" beside the life-sized bronze elephants that freeze-frolic in the median of Okeechobee Boulevard. And a man in a white cowboy hat demanded that passersby "Dump Dan Rather now!"
But inside the Palm Beach Convention Center, at a lectern planted in the middle of hundreds of dignitaries and hoi polloi alike, Democratic attack dogs were revving up with fully matured tirades, including this statement from State Sen. Ron Klein: "We know Republicans have a deeeevious plan. They want to intimidate our voters."
Then the candidate bounded into the room, and the crowd welcomed him with a chant of "KER-RY! KER-RY!" that sounded eerily like the opening moments of The Jerry Springer Show. Ol' Ironcheeks, with a throat infection, could barely speak above a seductive whisper. "George Bush has a real problem with the truth," he murmured. The crowd responded like a Greek chorus. Shouts of "Liar! Liar!" rained down, followed by widespread shushing.
As the candidate worked the joint with his patented stump speech, the auditorium became a frothy sea of Bush bile. At the back, Melinda Clark of West Palm Beach bounced and hollered Beatlemaniacally in a homemade T-shirt with "Women for Kerry" written in red marker on the front. She had whipped up the shirt, she said, because the authorities at CityPlace, across the street, wouldn't let her hold a sign. "Women are the best weapons we have," she said during the Q&A, demanding that 50 percent of the cabinet be women. Hey, don't worry, Kerry replied. Les femmes will be represented.
The press was mostly unimpressed. The traveling media, reporters from larger newsgathering organizations who could afford to send their scribes on the road, remained in a partitioned bunker, out of view of the speakers or the crowd, tack-tack-tacking at laptops atop white-clothed tables, checking their Hotmail accounts while -- yaaaaawwwn -- elected officials waxed wary about democracy. Sheesh. How many times are you supposed to listen to the very same speeches?
After the rally, a wax-skinned, 88-year-old, Boca Raton man named Matt Klasfeld lingered. His main gripe against the incumbent president? "He's killing kids every day," Klasfeld said. His T-shirt too was ammunition for his walk outside, past the anti-abortion protesters and the retirees brandishing cardboard flip-flops. It read, in white block letters on a black background: "BUCK FUSH." Go Ahead. Inhale.
Speaking of voting: As Tailpipe trudged along Fort Lauderdale Beach on a recent weekend, encouraging people to register, a shirtless, muscular, scraggly haired Brazilian fellow asked, "Can you smoke pot and still become president?" The 'Pipe recalled leaders current and recent and offered that, yeah, in this great country, you can smoke a heaping grocery sack of bud or snort snow off a high school cheerleader's bare midriff, just so long as you keep your fool mouth shut about it.
At that, the man draped a purple bath towel over his head and sparked a bowl underneath, content that he wasn't sabotaging his ambitions. Mum's the word. In the 2020 or 2024 presidential sweepstakes, look for a bristly, heavy-lidded Brazilian to throw his hat into the ring.
Sea turtle eggs aren't the only thing buried on the shores of Hillsboro Beach. The town's commissioners have buried their heads there too. While virtually every other coastline town in Florida has complied with federal regulations and approved ordinances restricting lights on beaches, which disorient the endangered hatchlings as they make their way to the sea, the leaders of this small, northern Broward burg won't budge. During a recent commission meeting, a concerned resident proposed, once again, that the city get legal by adopting an ordinance. "Too much government is not good," intoned Mayor Howard "Chuck" Sussman. Hizzoner has no qualms, however, about accepting government cash for hurricane cleanup and for replenishing beach sand beside private homes and businesses along the sea.
"We love our turtles," Sussman professed. "We love our residents. But people pay taxes and own property; turtles don't. These are people who've paid a fortune to have beach access." That includes the mayor himself. "I have 100 feet of windows facing the beach," he said. "It would cost me $20,000 to cover them."
Meghan Conti, a sea turtle expert with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, suggested that sooner or later, federal or county officials would enforce the rules if the town doesn't.
"Let the feds come and enforce them," sneered Vice Mayor Richard McCarty. A Ton of Bricks Awaits Us
So you were expecting the general election to run flawlessly in South Florida, eh? A little word from the lawyers who monitor these sorts of things: Prepare to wince.
Fineman spent August 31 in the tenth-floor, downtown Fort Lauderdale offices of Gordon, Hargrove, and James, in a conference room about the size of a Dodge Neon (an auto this tube is particularly fond of), where data lines dropped like stalactites from the ceiling down to laptops. She and other lawyers fielded about 90 calls of complaint from roving volunteers and disgruntled voters at ten of Broward's 769 precincts.