Florida Is Cleaner

No sale!

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who represents much of west Broward, is an increasingly high-profile operative in the national Democratic Party. During crunch time in the presidential election this year, Wasserman Schultz was a much-sought-after talking head, particularly with regard to the meandering assertions of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. The party recently made Wasserman Schultz a chief strategist in its 2010 congressional reelection campaign.

Last week, New Times' Thomas Francis sat down with her for lunch at Jaxson's Ice Cream Parlor in Dania Beach. Foremost burning question? What about the soon-to-be-vacant U.S. Senate seat of Republican Mel Martinez, who has announced he will not seek reelection in 2010? Wasserman Schultz has been on the short list of possible Democratic contenders in the senatorial sweepstakes, which has been given a certain perverse spin because of revelations of the way a certain Midwestern governor allegedly put another U.S. Senate seat on the auction block.

NT: Has anyone offered to sell you Mel Martinez's Senate seat?

Wasserman Schultz: (laughs) Well, the answer is no.

That's a relief.

But keep in mind that Mel Martinez's Senate seat in not currently open. He's occupying it until the next election, at which time it will be filled — by an election. I really don't think we'll have to deal with that kind of problem here. But no, it's not for sale, and I haven't been trying to buy it.

Jeb Bush is considering a campaign.

I don't think Jeb Bush is a good fit for the U.S. Senate. I don't think he's a good fit for public office in general. His style is quite dictatorial. It's his way or the highway. Jeb Bush doesn't understand give and take. He did more to destroy the quality of life in Florida then perhaps anyone in history.

During any political function, have you been tempted to throw a shoe?

(laughs) Particularly because my shoes are high-heeled, I most definitely have been tempted to throw shoes at various politicians during the course of my career, but I have shown restraint.

Being a mother of three, it seems you'd have a good perspective on the challenges that the Obamas face. They've said they want their children to have as normal a life as possible. Is that possible?

It's really the responsibility of the Obamas to make sure they teach their kids they're just like everybody else; they're not better than anybody else. And I think the Obamas have those kinds of values. I'm not worried about their kids becoming bratty, which is what you worry about when your kids are exposed to a lot of the privileges that come with being in the First Family.

Obama Campaign Manager David Plouffe said recently that had Florida's votes counted in its January primary, Hillary Rodham Clinton would have won and would likely have gone on to win the nomination. You were a cochair of Clinton's campaign in Florida. Is Plouffe right?

I think that's probably accurate. On January 29, when Hillary Clinton won the Florida primary, that was a pivotal moment. [Had those Florida delegates counted,] she would have roared into Super Tuesday, having won the fourth-largest state. I believe she would have won the primary and the general election and that right now we would be preparing for her inauguration as president.

I imagine everybody in Washington is talking about the inauguration. Are you going, or have you sold your tickets on eBay for a million dollars?

(Again, laughs) That's illegal. So I didn't do that. My husband and I are going up to the inauguration. We're going to the Florida State Society Ball that Monday night. I'm hosting a reception for all of my constituents — an open house — at the Library of Congress, in the members room, which is a beautiful, beautiful room.

Outta the Way, Fatso

A researcher at Florida Atlantic University says that motoring slowly through designated manatee protection habitats — as required by state Fish and Wildlife law — may put the meandering sea cows at greater risk of getting hacked up by your boat's motor. Says Dr. Edmund Gerstein, the university's director of marine mammal behavioral research: "In turbid waters, where there is no visibility, slow speeds actually exacerbate the risks of collisions by making these boats inaudible to manatees and increasing the time it takes for a boat to now travel through manatee habitats." 

Unlike dolphins — which use sonar to navigate — manatees rely on their passive listening skills to get around, Gerstein says. But boats mostly emit low-frequency sounds that manatees have trouble hearing. That explains why, despite being hit once (and in some cases 50 times), the animal doesn't have the sense to get out of the way the next time. They can't see or hear our boats. Last year, boats killed 73 manatees in Florida bays and inland waterways.  

Gerstein has a solution for this. He has been testing an alarm that emits a high-frequency signal at a NASA wildlife refuge. And he's happy to report that, every time a boat approaches a manatee with the alarm sounding, the manatee scoots away. Without the alarm, the manatees tried to avoid the boat only 3 percent of the time. Ouch!

If Gerstein is right, 30 years of state laws establishing no-wake zones in manatee habitats in more than 20 counties might have done more harm than good. Back to the drawing board?

Tailpipe has determined that there's absolutely no truth to reports that Gerstein's research was funded by the Florida Eat-My-Wake Canal Surfing and High-Speed Excursion Society.

Polluted River

The J.P. Taravella High School Marching Band plays its biggest parade ever next month: the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Never have the Marching Trojans had the opportunity to participate in an event of this historical magnitude, says Neil Jenkins, the Coral Springs school's band director since 1990.

So what tune will the Marching Trojans play for our nation's first black president?

"It's going to be something generic to Florida," Jenkins says. The arrangement might include references to our longtime state song, "The Swanee River," cleansed of its offensive 1851 lyrics.

"The Swanee River," in its original incarnation, is sad and melancholy — and a musical racial stereotype. Composer Stephen Foster penned the meandering tune for a troupe called Christy's Minstrels, who performed in blackface. The minstrels mimicked the so-called dialect of Southern "darkies," singing about "longing for de old plantation."

Jenkins says he doesn't think piping out "Swanee River" will offend anyone. "If [the arranger] used it at all, it was going to be subtle. In fact, Florida A&M used part of it in the inauguration for the governor in 2007."

Not so. Noted white man Charlie Crist, in fact, had the song barred from his inauguration because of its racial undertones. A song by Pompano Beach music teacher Jan Hinton, titled "Where the Sawgrass Meets the Sky," supposedly will soon replace Foster's ditty as state song.

In fairness, there are updated versions of "Swanee River" (including Albert Ammons' "Swanee River Boogie" and "Swanee River Rock," by an awesome trio of Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, and Ray Charles). Many Floridians still consider the tune a memorable piece of history — though Stephen Foster, who was from Pittsburgh, never set foot in Florida.

Blanketing the U.S.

An infomercial for "The Snuggie — the Blanket With Sleeves!" has been invading television sets around the nation this past month like Asian flu. But why is Tailpipe telling you? If you've got a TV, you've seen it, with its peculiar, space-alien-looking Snuggie lovers and its infectious jingle: "Blankets are OK/But they can slip and slide/And when you need to reach for something/Your hands are trapped inside!"

A casual internet search, though, turns up the disturbing revelation that Snuggies marketers may actually be parasitic invention stealers who have piggy-backed on somebody else's idea. Not only have there been abundant horror stories of the Snuggies company overcharging customers for shipping charges that exceed the cost of the robe but the product itself was a rip-off of... the Slanket!

Tailpipe tracked down the inventor of the Slanket — an amiable 20-something kid from Maine named Gary Clegg. Unlike the phantoms behind the Snuggie (telephone and internet ordering is computer-automated, and the only other way to contact them is via snail mail), Clegg responded immediately.

"I am the inventor of The Slanket," he wrote in an email, "and the one responsible for spreading the warmth of this awesome product around the globe." He had just sealed a deal to distribute Slankets at a certain national chain of brick-and-mortar home-goods stores and was about to hop on a plane to peddle Slankets in Germany.

Clegg says he invented the Slanket four years ago. He has a design patent (though it wasn't foolproof enough to stop the makers of the Snuggie). However, "the term 'the blanket with sleeves' could possibly be grounds for some legal action," he warned. Slankets beat Snuggies any day, he says, because they're bigger and made of much thicker fleece. Plus, he has real live people handling customer service.

What about allegations that Snuggie/Slanket-wearers look like monks from some strange cult? "I don't think Snuggie wearers are like a cult," Clegg says, "because there is no sense of community there." How does he describe Slanket wearers? "Their only ideals are positive attitudes and lazy, cozy lounging around."

This just in: There's also something called a Cuddle Wrap. More on that later. This blanket with sleeves is so comfy, Tailpipe... doesn't... want... to... move...

P.S.

The folks at the Broward Sheriff's Office put a big-time emphasis on prevention and safety — and Tailpipe loves 'em for that. But sometimes, your local Deputy Do-Right can be a dreary killjoy. Tailpipe recently overdosed on dark messages of holiday danger (from BSO and elsewhere), from exploding turkeys to ball-of-fire Christmas trees.

The boys and girls at BSO were probably concerned that the 'Pipe might be relaxing his vigilance, because this came in last week:

"Homemade Decorations Can Be Fun But Dangerous." All right, some of their pointers — like "remember to water your Christmas tree" and "turn the Christmas lights off when you go to sleep" — are sensible fire-prevention tips.

But then: "Only use lights and decorations listed by a testing laboratory." What, the Pipe can't stick a candy cane on his tree? Or: "Never use lit candles as tree decorations"? Does anyone actually do that?

The 'Pipe is already imagining the warnings to come: St. Patrick's Day: "Don't Smoke the Shamrocks." Easter: "Bunnies Turn Vicious When Trapped." Fourth of July: "Putting Sparklers Up Your Nose Can Be Fun But Dangerous!"

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