The Ludicrous 12 of 2004

Sure, it was the year of Bush/Kerry. But here are South Florida's really big stories.

First Amended

During the buildup to the November presidential election, one reporter, it seemed, really stepped over the bounds of safety and propriety. James S. Henry, a tax lawyer and investigative journalist who has been published in the New York Times, the New Republic and Mother Jones, had the gall to snap photos of folks lined up for early voting. This was verboten in Palm Beach County; Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore had issued an edict that voters can't be approached by journalists while waiting in line. A deputy ordered Henry to stop taking the photos and, when he refused, chased him down, arrested him, and charged him with disorderly conduct. Witnesses say deputies jumped on the 54-year-old, punched him, and slammed him into a patrol car. The incident caused a national uproar, and the rule was revised a day later to conform to state law, which forbids voters from being solicited within 50 feet of a polling place.

Crime by Numbers

Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne took over county fire services on July 1, 2003, on a triumphal wave. County commissioners cooed that Jenne was quite possibly the most effective sheriff and the best public administrator in Broward's short history. Turns out that stellar reputation was, to put it charitably, fabricated. After media reports detailed how BSO improperly cleared hundreds of cases, even blaming some on people who were incarcerated during the times when crimes were committed, Jenne came clean. The result? During the first six months of 2004, violent crime in Broward skyrocketed 47 percent over the same period last year. Pompano Beach saw a 58.6 percent increase in crime, while posh Weston suffered an 88.8 percent increase over the same period last year. A countywide trend perhaps? No. In areas where BSO doesn't patrol, crime has actually decreased. In fact, budget-crunched Fort Lauderdale even reported a 3.1 percent decrease.

Cheese Cries

Hollywood woman grills cheese sandwich. Woman eats half sandwich. Then woman notices -- ¡Dios mio! -- Virgin Mary's image burned into bread. Woman sets sandwich half in plastic box on nightstand. Years pass. Genius invents eBay. Woman auctions sandwich. Word spreads: Virgin Mary cheese sandwich! Thousands of people view sandwich auction. Someone offers $22,000 for sandwich! eBay figures auction a joke. eBay unplugs auction. Woman says: Not a joke! Newspapers ballyhoo story. Auction returns. Millions of people view sandwich auction. Online casino bids $28,000. Casino wins auction on November 22. (House always wins.) Casino promises to send woman on world tour with sandwich! Woman says: "I've never even been on a vacation before." Casino flak says: "It's a magical sandwich." It's a Hollywood miracle!

Bye Bye, Bobo

The escape on July 12 of Bobo the tiger led to a 26-hour, nationally televised tiger hunt in Loxahatchee that ended when a state wildlife officer shot the charging cat. The tiger's owner, Steve Sipek, who once played Tarzan in B-movies, claimed that a disgruntled ex-girlfriend may have released the cat. The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission considered filing criminal charges against Sipek, but prosecutors in October declined to pursue the case because it couldn't be proven that somebody else released the cat. Sipek, whose film name was Steve Hawkes, starred as Tarzan in two films in the 1960s. He once said he fell in love with big cats when a lion saved him from a fire on a film set. He often displays a collection of photos of him cuddling Bobo in bed. No word as to whether Jane knew about Tarzan's bedroom activities.

Un-Scripp-ted

Though environmentalists and Loxahatchee homeowners are saying, "Hey! We don't want the Scripps biotech project built near the ecologically sensitive Corbett Wildlife Area with $700 million of public money!" the Scripps trustees, local real estate developers, and Jeb Bush have been deaf to their cries. This was particularly acute on November 8, when the mucketymucks were sequestered in the posh Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach. So community activists Veronica Robleto and Lynne Purvis, both 24, decided to put their message where it might actually get noticed: on their bare chests. The pair sailed into the Breakers like they owned the place, whipped off their shirts to reveal the words "Nature yes, Scripps no," and ran through the Seafood Bar shouting, "Nature yes, biotech no, Scripps Research has got to go." This elicited a mixed reaction from the crowd -- which included philanthropist Alex Dreyfoos and Scripps President Richard Lerner. Some dropped forkfuls of crab cakes; some giggled nervously; others shouted, "Encore, encore!" Caught on the way to their getaway car (they were delayed because they had to use the valet), the women were threatened with arrest for indecent exposure but ultimately let off with warnings never to return.

Hurricane Warning

Vying for top newsmaker of '04 was the man with the flowing robes and distant gaze. That's right, Jesus Christ himself. It was his battered corpus that helped to break box office records for Mel Gibson's study in masochism, Passion of the Christ. Then, the holy one started popping up in the Bush campaign. Was that a crown of thorns that briefly shone above the president's tormented visage when John Kerry started whomping him for his handling of Iraq? Maybe not. But the claim was certainly being made that, in Decision 2004, there was only one guy who had the Jesus endorsement, and it sure as hell wasn't Kerry. But wait. There's more. According to parishioners in Broward County evangelical churches, Jesus was a prophetic presence during our hurricane season. The cognoscenti laid it out for New Times, with the confidence of folks who are accustomed to weathering challenges to their faith, like this: Charlie Frances Ivan Jeanne. Scramble the first letters, figure out the hidden message, and out comes: "Jesus Is Finally Coming." Tah-dum (major Wagnerian chord). We mean, what else could it be? Of course, there were also some naysayers around who, assessing the piss-poor state of the world, said the message was really: "Jesus Is Finally Checking out."

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