All About the Benjamin

It looks like Ben Graber is selling out the public for a high-rolling developer. He says he's making sausage.

As it happened, Property Appraiser Lori Parrish was pining for a new building at the same time. Well, the more the merrier as far as the vice mayor was concerned. Soon, the official plan was to build a $45 million complex that included offices for both the property appraiser and the supervisor of elections.

And county staff found only two viable sites: Rahael's property and a parcel on Oakland Park Boulevard owned by a national development firm called Tarragon.

The commission was expected to vote on the idea at the October 11 meeting, but then the Sun-Sentinel broke a story about the deal that focused on Ladd's role in it. The gist: Ladd was chairman of the Downtown Development Authority, and now he was peddling land that was outside of downtown.

Money Graber: Ben says he's just giving the other commissioners a head fake.
Colby Katz
Money Graber: Ben says he's just giving the other commissioners a head fake.

That slowed things down a bit, but Graber's crusade was far from over. During the October 18 commission meeting, he urged his colleagues to get going on the project. "I'd like to make a motion that we direct staff... to move forward on identifying locations for supervisor of elections along the Broward Boulevard corridor," he said.

Well, everybody in the room knew there was only one site on the "Broward Boulevard corridor": the land owned by Graber's biggest campaign contributor. Graber told the commission he wanted the other potential site, on Oakland Park, excluded from consideration.

Commissioner Lois Wexler, who is also in favor of building a brand new SOE office, pointed out that Graber was basically killing the county's chance of negotiating a decent price. She asked that the Oakland Park property be included to give the county some bargaining power.

Graber balked: "I can't incorporate that."

Then Commissioner Jim Scott let Graber have it.

"It's not a good way to do business," he said. "I don't think we should sit here and say, effectively, there's only one site that we want when we don't have any prices."

Forced into a corner, Graber relented and the commission voted to include the Oakland Park site as a possibility. But that happened only after the vice mayor had revealed where his loyalty lies.

Or so it seems. Graber says he has been engaged in a months-long ruse to make it appear that he was steering the deal to Rahael and Ladd. He says his real goal is only to abandon the 64th Street plan and put the SOE building outside of downtown and in a minority neighborhood where it will spur development.

The time to bring that up, however, was two years ago, when the original plan was formulated, county staff worked hundreds of hours to make it happen, and the building was purchased for $3.2 million.

What about Graber's insistence on October 18 that the county put the SOE building on the Rahael and Ladd land?

"I was making an unreasonable request to get [the other commissioners] to negotiate," he said.

Trudging forward with his tortured explanation, Graber said it was an example of political "sausage-making." Sounds more like one of the most ridiculous examples of doublespeak in recent political history.

But he made an intriguing promise:

"I will never support putting the supervisor of elections building on the land owned by Ladd and Rahael," he told me.

We'll see.

The whole sordid saga raises serious questions about whether Graber is fit to be mayor of this county. But his fellow commissioners will almost surely choose him to replace outgoing Kristin Jacobs at next week's meeting. It's Graber's turn, after all.

Here's an idea for how he can save face. As soon as he's sworn in, apologize to the people of Broward County and promise that he will save them that $10 million. How can he do that? By abandoning the greedy developers and going with the original plan.

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