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Best Of 2002

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Best Of :: People & Places

Best Centenarian

In 1917, Brooklyn-born Al Ross decided to join the U.S. Navy when he was barely 16 years old. As a seaman first class during World War I, he patrolled the Atlantic coast from Norfolk, Virginia, to Jacksonville, Florida. When the war ended, he worked as circulation manager for a publishing company. After the stock market crash of 1929, he started the Albatross Chemical Co. in Long Island, New York, which is now headed by his daughter and other family. As a member of the Jewish War Veterans, he worked in 1938 to break up street-corner meetings of Nazi, Communist, and fascist teen organizations. A few years later, as the United States entered World War II, he cracked down on draft dodgers as an investigator for the Selective Service. Ross had been coming to Florida since 1927 and moved to the Sunshine State in the '40s with his wife, Edie, with whom he would share his life for more than 70 years. She succumbed to Alzheimer's disease four years ago. "She's a lovely girl," he sighs. Now an even 100 years old, the five-foot-tall, small-framed veteran still wears his original medal-covered uniform, giving speeches all over South Florida championing patriotism and educating the public about the importance of war veterans. Refusing to retire, he continues to work in public relations for the Palm Beach Daily News, a position he's held for 14 years. Ross has dedicated his life to patriotic causes and frequently dresses in red, white, and blue. "Veterans Day, by the way, is every day of the week, not just November 11," he stresses. "It saddens me that people don't ever think to say 'thank you' to a veteran. But the average person does not honor the veteran properly. If it wasn't for them, they wouldn't have freedom of speech or freedom of the press." The walls of Ross's Palm Beach condo are covered in accolades he's received from George W. Bush, U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, former President Ronald Reagan, and veterans groups. Among them: a certificate that the American flag was flown over the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., in recognition for his courage and bravery in WWI, a piece of wood from the USS Constitution during its restoration in 1974, and a letter from the Town of Palm Beach designating him as the town's first "Legendary Living Landmark." Ross, the last surviving member of Barracks 507 West Palm Beach WWI veterans group, starts reciting one of his speeches, which he says brings people to tears and has earned him a medal from the Navy. There are "172 veteran hospitals overloaded with veterans who are blind, deaf, and in wheelchairs. If you look them over, you'd think they were panhandlers. This is because they served and went through hell. That's why you never hear what veterans' duties were in the wars. When they go to bed at night, they have nightmares," he says. "You know what it is to lay on the ground trying to kill the man in front of you or avoid being killed yourself." He shares with his audiences the origin of the song "Taps" and the meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance. So how does Ross feel about reaching his age milestone? "It isn't so good to get into your 100s. It's good that you can reach 100, but it's bad, because you have to give up golf, swimming, biking, and tap dancing -- all the things that I love." He doesn't necessarily give away his secret to longevity. "Oh, I'm happy. I don't have any enemies. I have loads and loads of friends. It all comes out in the work I do," he says. The only thing he regrets is not buying Florida land when it was $1 an acre. Even with a lifetime of achievements, medals, and honors, he still remains modest. "I've been asked to write a book. I say, 'Who's interested in just a little guy from Brooklyn?' But they could make a movie," he suggests.

Best Political Battle

In Broward County, at least, all politicians lie about annexation. They say they want to grow their city. They say they want to be inclusive. But the fact of the matter is that none of 'em want to touch the county's poorest unincorporated areas, which include less than 6 percent of the 1.7 million population. The so-called "Area A" west of Fort Lauderdale is particularly unwanted. This year, State Rep. Stacy Ritter, a Coral Springs Democrat, tried to change the way things are done. She wanted to transfer power to approve annexations from the state legislature to the counties. But heck, commissioners -- including new chairwoman Lori Parrish -- as well as Swap Shop owner and political heavyweight Preston Henn didn't want that hot potato. So Democratic Sen. Mandy Dawson of Fort Lauderdale killed the plan. And though a self-imposed deadline of 2005 is fast approaching, no one's in a hurry to take on any of these areas. Meanwhile, area residents' taxes are going through the roof. So if you like wonk politics -- or if you just enjoy seeing politicians walk all over one another -- ask about this and watch 'em squirm.

Best Political Battle

In Broward County, at least, all politicians lie about annexation. They say they want to grow their city. They say they want to be inclusive. But the fact of the matter is that none of 'em want to touch the county's poorest unincorporated areas, which include less than 6 percent of the 1.7 million population. The so-called "Area A" west of Fort Lauderdale is particularly unwanted. This year, State Rep. Stacy Ritter, a Coral Springs Democrat, tried to change the way things are done. She wanted to transfer power to approve annexations from the state legislature to the counties. But heck, commissioners -- including new chairwoman Lori Parrish -- as well as Swap Shop owner and political heavyweight Preston Henn didn't want that hot potato. So Democratic Sen. Mandy Dawson of Fort Lauderdale killed the plan. And though a self-imposed deadline of 2005 is fast approaching, no one's in a hurry to take on any of these areas. Meanwhile, area residents' taxes are going through the roof. So if you like wonk politics -- or if you just enjoy seeing politicians walk all over one another -- ask about this and watch 'em squirm.

Best Scandal

Back in 1999, this newspaper discovered a startling fact about Josephus Eggelletion, who was then a state representative. Eggelletion had a cushy little job at the Broward County School Board, which paid him nearly $48,000 a year. The problem: He worked only 18 weeks but still collected his full paycheck. For the remaining 21 weeks of the school year, he was paid by both the school board, where he wasn't, and by the state in Tallahassee, where he presumably was. When we interviewed him, he was busy on a weekday afternoon -- lounging at the Inverrary Golf Club. So it didn't surprise us when it broke that he'd been caught flaunting his credit card at his new job on the Broward County Commission. On our credit, Eggelletion charged lavish meals, drinks, a $659 leather briefcase, hundreds in dry-cleaning bills, and, of course, golf games. Then it was discovered that while he was in Brazil on county business (where he spent plenty of our money in a putative attempt to lure the Black Film Festival to Broward), he was listed as "sick" at his old job at the school board, which now pays him $58,000 (in addition to the commission salary of $80,000). It may be time to send him to the links full-time, where his heart is. It obviously isn't with the public.

Best Scandal

Back in 1999, this newspaper discovered a startling fact about Josephus Eggelletion, who was then a state representative. Eggelletion had a cushy little job at the Broward County School Board, which paid him nearly $48,000 a year. The problem: He worked only 18 weeks but still collected his full paycheck. For the remaining 21 weeks of the school year, he was paid by both the school board, where he wasn't, and by the state in Tallahassee, where he presumably was. When we interviewed him, he was busy on a weekday afternoon -- lounging at the Inverrary Golf Club. So it didn't surprise us when it broke that he'd been caught flaunting his credit card at his new job on the Broward County Commission. On our credit, Eggelletion charged lavish meals, drinks, a $659 leather briefcase, hundreds in dry-cleaning bills, and, of course, golf games. Then it was discovered that while he was in Brazil on county business (where he spent plenty of our money in a putative attempt to lure the Black Film Festival to Broward), he was listed as "sick" at his old job at the school board, which now pays him $58,000 (in addition to the commission salary of $80,000). It may be time to send him to the links full-time, where his heart is. It obviously isn't with the public.

Best Intentions

Lois Frankel is a Democrat, pro-choice, a feminist, and Jewish; she supports gay rights and affirmative action, questions the efficiency of the FCAT, has tenaciously fought the tobacco industry, speaks her mind, and frequently criticizes Gov. Jeb Bush -- the man she called a "thief" repeatedly on national television during the 2000 presidential election. It only makes sense (ideologically if not practically) that Frankel, the Minority leader of the Florida House of Representatives, would file as a candidate for the highest public seat in the state. So what if Janet Reno crushes her in notoriety and fundraising potential? So what if attorney Bill McBride is regarded as the moderate-to-conservative "safe" vote? So what if the current governor's brother is George W., an American president with higher approval ratings than anyone in history? Lois Frankel believes that she's the capable one. Well, as they say, more power to her. She's gonna need it.

Best Intentions

Lois Frankel is a Democrat, pro-choice, a feminist, and Jewish; she supports gay rights and affirmative action, questions the efficiency of the FCAT, has tenaciously fought the tobacco industry, speaks her mind, and frequently criticizes Gov. Jeb Bush -- the man she called a "thief" repeatedly on national television during the 2000 presidential election. It only makes sense (ideologically if not practically) that Frankel, the Minority leader of the Florida House of Representatives, would file as a candidate for the highest public seat in the state. So what if Janet Reno crushes her in notoriety and fundraising potential? So what if attorney Bill McBride is regarded as the moderate-to-conservative "safe" vote? So what if the current governor's brother is George W., an American president with higher approval ratings than anyone in history? Lois Frankel believes that she's the capable one. Well, as they say, more power to her. She's gonna need it.

Best News for Gays

Progressive isn't a word often associated with South Florida, but the area certainly qualifies in one way: Wilton Manors is one of only two cities in the country to have an (openly) gay mayor and a gay-majority city council. (The other is West Hollywood, California.) And as far as anyone can tell, when Jim Stork succeeded John Fiore on March 12, he became the first gay mayor to assume office from another gay mayor -- ever. Chalk it up to the diminutive size of the "Island City" (about 13,000 in population) and the relatively high percentage of gays (about a third by some estimates). Can't we all just get along? Maybe here, we can. Better still, Stork promises to practice the politics of inclusiveness, reaching out not only to gays but to Haitians and other minority groups that call Wilton Manors home. Now let's just hope Stork delivers.

Best News for Gays

Progressive isn't a word often associated with South Florida, but the area certainly qualifies in one way: Wilton Manors is one of only two cities in the country to have an (openly) gay mayor and a gay-majority city council. (The other is West Hollywood, California.) And as far as anyone can tell, when Jim Stork succeeded John Fiore on March 12, he became the first gay mayor to assume office from another gay mayor -- ever. Chalk it up to the diminutive size of the "Island City" (about 13,000 in population) and the relatively high percentage of gays (about a third by some estimates). Can't we all just get along? Maybe here, we can. Better still, Stork promises to practice the politics of inclusiveness, reaching out not only to gays but to Haitians and other minority groups that call Wilton Manors home. Now let's just hope Stork delivers.

Best Bureaucrat

When it comes to longevity, Palm Beach County Administrator Bob Weisman has beaten all the odds. Having served as the county's top dog for ten years, he's not only survived far longer than the average four- to five-year tenure of most county administrators but is one of the longest-serving county chiefs in the state, according to Ken Small, who tracks such things for the Florida League of Cities. Weisman, 50, owes his longevity to no one but himself. The key to the one-time utility chief's success may be that he never wanted the job in the first place. He accepted it in the wake of the nasty ouster of his predecessor only on the condition that he could return to his deputy administrator post if he didn't like the rarified air at the top. With the goal only of being a good administrator, he's been able to resist the seductive urge to become involved in the always-petty and always-dangerous world of politics. He gives his publicity-conscious bosses straight answers -- whether they want to hear them or not. Wearing his trademark short-sleeve dress shirts, he was a calm voice during last year's post 9/11 anthrax scare, during the 2000 election debacle that put Palm Beach County on the national map, and during courthouse construction snafus, budget cuts, and lesser crises that erupt regularly in the county governmental center. Never heard of him? Don't worry. Bob likes it that way.

Best Bureaucrat

When it comes to longevity, Palm Beach County Administrator Bob Weisman has beaten all the odds. Having served as the county's top dog for ten years, he's not only survived far longer than the average four- to five-year tenure of most county administrators but is one of the longest-serving county chiefs in the state, according to Ken Small, who tracks such things for the Florida League of Cities. Weisman, 50, owes his longevity to no one but himself. The key to the one-time utility chief's success may be that he never wanted the job in the first place. He accepted it in the wake of the nasty ouster of his predecessor only on the condition that he could return to his deputy administrator post if he didn't like the rarified air at the top. With the goal only of being a good administrator, he's been able to resist the seductive urge to become involved in the always-petty and always-dangerous world of politics. He gives his publicity-conscious bosses straight answers -- whether they want to hear them or not. Wearing his trademark short-sleeve dress shirts, he was a calm voice during last year's post 9/11 anthrax scare, during the 2000 election debacle that put Palm Beach County on the national map, and during courthouse construction snafus, budget cuts, and lesser crises that erupt regularly in the county governmental center. Never heard of him? Don't worry. Bob likes it that way.

Best Local Website

Greed is both America's driving force and its incurable sickness. One particularly egregious symptom: the obsession with property values. The lust for high-end real estate reinforces old prejudices, creates paranoiac provincialism, and often leads to a stifling conformity that strangles the imagination -- but hey, it fattens the wallet. (Yes, Weston, we're talking about you). All of these facts conspire to make the property appraiser's Website a most delectable pleasure of the guilty variety. The site feeds that unhealthy instinct Veblen called "pecuniary emulation." You usually can't find out your coworkers' salaries, but, on Bill Markham's database, you can damn well learn how much they paid for their houses. Look up your boss and confirm once and for all that the nincompoop is making way too much money. Look up politicians, pastors, friends, neighbors. Find out their square footage and what they pay in taxes. You know you want to know, so get down off your high horse and log on. On a more practical note, somebody told us it can also help gauge the value of a home you are buying or selling. Just remember to follow the instructions: last name-comma-no space-first name, like say, Rodstrom,John (who has a house assessed at more than $700,000 on Nurmi Drive in Fort Lauderdale, if you're curious).

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Best Centenarian: Al Ross

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