By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
Political animal Doug Guetzloe measures his success on the Internet.
In Google search hits, to be precise.
"You Google me and I'm up to the 700 or 800 category," says the Orlando conservative radio show host and Bill O'Reilly acolyte. "If I'm not up to 700, I'm not doing my job."
According to a search conducted last week, Guetzloe needs to get moving. Entering his name at the site yielded only 624 results. Not exactly O'Reilly territory (6 million), but oh, what hits Guetzloe has strung together!
He made news around the state last week for his effort to put the Confederate flag on Florida's license plates. He's also still operating his notorious Ax the Tax political action committee, battling to keep Florida governments from levying new taxes for roads and schools. In the 1990s, Guetzloe led an infamous charge to ban illegal immigrants from all public services, including public education.
He brawls with both Democrats and fellow Republicans. After initially backing Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Guetzloe turned against him last year and played a key role in the Democrat's indictment on state elections law charges (which were later dropped). He's also fought Orange County Republican Executive Committee attempts to boot him from their ranks. He's been fined for elections law violations, claims he's received numerous death threats, and had the window of his car shot out.
But none of it bothered Guetzloe. After all, it was good for a bunch of new Google hits.
"Hell, let's not get along," Guetzloe said last week, summing up his life in politics. "Compromise didn't build America. Conflict built America beginning with a revolution bathed in the blood of patriots. These guys died for us to have battles."
Today, Guetzloe has a new battlefield: Deerfield Beach. He's bringing his might to bear in the north Broward seaside town with a vengeance. His mission: To remove City Commissioner Steve Gonot from office.
Guetzloe is now anchoring an effort to recall Gonot that's led by supporters of controversial Deerfield City Manager Larry Deetjen. Volunteers with the new Ax the Tax Deerfield Beach are already gathering signatures and need about 1,100 names, or 10 percent of Deerfield's registered voters, to complete the first step in making a recall election happen.
The feud between Gonot and Deetjen dates back two years, when Gonot opposed the manager's bid to let Boca Raton businessman Pete Boinis build a restaurant on the city-owned pier. Deetjen and his close ally Mayor Al Capellini backed a candidate against Gonot in the following election, creating more animosity. Last year, Gonot led an unsuccessful attempt to have Deetjen fired.
And now it has morphed into an absurd, almost Kafkaesque bid to send Gonot, who was reelected by a wide margin last year, packing from public life. What, though, does an opportunistic, right-wing loose cannon from Orlando have against Gonot?
"My position is pretty simple: If citizens want to recall a politician, I'm all for it," Guetzloe says. "If a group has a particular complaint, I don't pass judgment on who is right and who is wrong."
It might seem implausible the oldest axiom in politics is that everything happens for a reason but Guetzloe seems to be telling the truth. The man is becoming the Johnny Appleseed of recall elections in Florida. Even as he sets his sights on Gonot, he's also assisting an ongoing attempt to oust four Polk County commissioners. At the same time, he's helping with a move to recall Orlando Mayor Dyer. Last year, he helped throw Winter Garden Councilman Bill Thompson out of office. And back in 1999, he was unsuccessful in an attempt to jettison then-Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood from her elected post.
Gonot suspects that Guetzloe is tied to Deetjen or Capellini. But the radio host says he's never spoken to either. Especially the mayor. "I hear he's too busy trying to pick up lifeguards," Guetzloe says of Capellini.
Guetzloe is referring, of course, to recent allegations that the 58-year-old mayor had the Deerfield Beach deputy recreation director help him get a few dates with a 36-year-old city lifeguard.
The ordeal has left Gonot feeling like he's landed in the twilight zone. The petition for recall must include legal grounds for removing an official from office, and in this case, Guetzloe is accusing Gonot of violating the Sunshine Law.
Basically, the charge is that Gonot and fellow Commissioner Marty Popelsky made a secret deal to engineer appointments on two city boards.
The rub is that the Broward State Attorney's Office, after receiving a complaint from a Deetjen supporter, has already cleared Gonot of wrongdoing in the case. "They say there was a secret meeting, but it never occurred," Gonot says. "They are making up these totally fabricated allegations, and you're put in a position to prove your innocence."
Chris Tauber, leader of the recall effort and former Deetjen neighbor, says he's just adhering to Florida law, which allows unconfirmed allegations to be used as grounds for recall petitions.
In fact, the group is following the same pattern used to oust Thompson in Winter Garden last year (during which Guetzloe claims some of those death threats occurred, along with the shooting of his car).
"The state Legislature agreed to the language in the law, so they must think there's a place for it," says Tauber, a pool hall owner who calls Guetzloe a freedom fighter. "We're following the law of the land that we live in. If there's a problem with the law, then people can do something about that."
Gonot says it's not so much the law that he has a problem with it's the fact that the opportunistic Guetzloe and his detractors in Deerfield Beach are abusing the statutes to exact revenge. "So they recall, and then what am I supposed to do? Turn around and recall somebody else?" the commissioner asks. "Where does it end?"
You get the sense that Guetzloe doesn't really care what happens in Deerfield Beach. He certainly doesn't seem to understand the nature of the conflict between Gonot and Deetjen. But then again, freedom fighters don't normally concern themselves with such pettiness.
"This is citizens taking governments back into their hands," Guetzloe pronounces. "Governments should serve at the will of the people. Sometimes that will changes. This is the purest form of democracy."
And even if that isn't true, it sure doesn't hurt that it'll be good for a few more Guetzloe Google hits.