A Fine Romance

Pay for Play

Hersh: Well, I'm not sure I'm ready to promote those kinds of things.

Tailpipe: Another one was that all the seats could also serve as toilets.

Hersh: It sounds like good satire, not necessarily good politics... [He assumes the gravity of a man who routinely juggles big-time street-sweeping and tree-trimming contracts.] Hopefully, this goes beyond satire and something will happen.

So much for the spirit of public-service kinship from Weston politicians. But the 'Pipe still has hopes for a big fraternal abrazo from Gov. Jeb. There's a rumor that the guv is seriously considering the arena/shelter idea, which state officials have dubbed NEW TIMEStadium. The 'Pipe just loves the ring of that.

Very Merry Housing

Nothing persists like a bad idea that has the support of politicians and developers. A cadre of West Palm Beach officials gathered last week under the shade of a banyan tree in a vacant lot that was once the city's first African-American neighborhood to announce big news for the 'hood. Plans for a low-income housing development that's been on the books for a decade would go forward after all. It was a glorious day for the city officials -- though residents of the area seemed considerably less ecstatic.

The big announcement stemmed from the Housing Authority's having secured state tax credits that would save $12.6 million on the price of what's been cheerily dubbed MerryPlace (though the feds stubbornly resist signing on). The city has promised to break ground in about six months, building 128 rentals and 115 affordable homes.

In a news release sent out before they gathered behind a wooden podium for a photo op, the city promised that residents would be there to discuss "how they expect MerryPlace to improve the blight conditions in their neighborhood." It didn't exactly work out that way. Residents have never been ecstatic about MerryPlace, a plan that's been continually shot down for government funding and roundly criticized as a land grab by whites. Yes, a couple of folks stumbled in, offering grudging support for MerryPlace. Julia Smith, a church secretary who grew up just a block from where the podium stood, said: "I guess I can say this will be better because it can't get worse." Not the kind of ringing endorsement you're looking for when you're about to send the construction crews in.

City leaders wouldn't have had to walk far to hear what residents really think of the plan. Two dozen of them were sitting in folding chairs and on top of coolers under the shade of a ficus tree behind a convenience store across the street. They said they hadn't been invited to the photo op. When asked about MerryPlace, there was no shortage of opinions.

"It's just another land-taking," said Bill Holland Jr. , a paralegal whose father was the first black lawyer in Palm Beach County. "They take it from the black man and give it to the white man. Simple as that."

Across from him, George Hall, a 77-year-old retired Marine, got fired up. "You want me to tell you what this is about? Do you? It's a bunch of pirates taking our land. They don't have skull and bones on their hats, but they're pirates."

A third man, who was handing out bottles of Bud, declined to give his name but was ready with answers. "They took this from us," he says, "and they ain't going to give us nothing."

Holland's theory for MerryPlace's refusal to go away: City officials are tired of commuting. "They're just moving the poor people out. They're sick of driving an hour and a half from the suburbs, so they'll make us do it."

Across the street, officials were packing up their displays and loading into SUVs and sedans. Staring grimly ahead, they passed the locals under the ficus tree on their way back to City Hall.

They Blew Up the Levees

Ever since rogue artist "Master" Jeffrey Holmes left Fort Lauderdale after 9/11, black helicopter sightings have dropped dramatically. But they're way, way up in New Orleans, where Holmes relocated. After his move to the Bywater neighborhood, he regularly contributed to New Times' letters section, keeping us updated about various conspiracies via e-mail. After evacuating the city before Katrina, Holmes and his wife, Andrea Garland, returned to secure their battered home. "THEY are trying to take our city from us!" last week's report said. "Thousands of poor mostly African-American citizens of New Orleans were murdered. Those levee breaks? Dynamite. Don't ask me for proof yet -- give us some time, we will get it to you." Holmes and Garland say they're fighting to retain the unique flavor of the town they love in the face of a challenge from the moneyed mojo of Halliburton: "Developers are salivating at the 'new' New Orleans they will build... and all the dead people in its attics will be bulldozed so the land can be turned into a barrier reef to protect the city. Ain't this lovely?" Paranoid blather, right? Let's see now. Thousands of New Orleans residents are penned in during a huge hurricane and flood catastrophe as would-be rescuers are kept out by federal authorities -- and we're shocked that the survivors have some way-out explanations? Tailpipe is withholding judgment until he gets the report from the blast site.

-- As told to Edmund Newton

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