Best Of :: People & Places
The Florida Research Institute for Equine Nurturing, Development and Safety Inc. ranch is just a good place — for birds, for raccoons, for pigs and goats and donkeys, for a family of very happy old farm cats, and especially for the 40 horses rescued by the ranch. The horses are available for sponsorship, but their full-time caretaker and custodian is 60-year-old woman Lynne Mandry: a no-shit-taking kind of chick who most every morning loads 40 horses' worth of hay and alfalfa onto a tractor, distributes it to the horses, brings the animals in from pasture, loads and distributes a bunch of feed, checks the horses for wounds or signs of illness, gives them their meds, tops off their water, and then preps their feed trays for the next day. She moves tons of grain, gives lime dips and baths, tends to the pigs and goats, and generally keeps the ranch's animal populations alive and healthy. It's a lot for a lady to do, and she's always grateful for help. Those who decide to offer it wind up grateful too — for the opportunity to get out in the air, befriend some fantastic creatures, and do good for their fellow mammals.
It was a banner year for white-collar criminals, and it seems that every single one of 'em had Boca Raton stomping grounds. Bernard Madoff suckered Boca members of the Palm Beach Country Club. Alleged mini-Madoffs R. Allen Stanford of the Stanford Group and $700 million man Marc Dreier both kept Boca Raton offices, presumably to tap into a vein of wealthy, miserly retirees liable to look credulously at fairly incredulous investment returns. So by the time the feds busted Boca accountant Steven Rubinstein in early April, the financial-fraud superstar trope had run its course. And that's a shame, because if the case against him is any indication, Rubinstein deserves his place on the region's Mount Rushmore of fraudsters. Where his cohorts were flamboyant and reckless in their greed, Rubinstein was modest, punctilious even — his alleged crimes swimming in a sea with those of hundreds, maybe thousands of other filthy-rich Americans who relied upon the secrecy of Swiss bank accounts to swindle the U.S. of A. out of tax dollars. In Rubinstein's case, it meant the alleged failure to report millions of dollars held in UBS accounts. But after the U.S. Justice Department and IRS caught the Swiss bank in its cheat, UBS had to pay a $780 million settlement and betray the confidences of its wealthy clientele. The first sacrificial lamb to be offered: the suddenly luckless Steven Rubenstein, a 55-year-old with a pristine legal history who probably never imagined he'd see the inside of a jail cell. Surely, as the feds pry open this massive can of worms, there will be many more Rubinsteins. But if Swiss tax shelters were a Garden of Eden to the nation's most affluent, then Rubenstein is Adam, alleged committer of the original sin whose exile may stand as a lesson to all who come hence.
Of all the people who ought to have learned an object lesson from the dramatic fall from grace of Palm Beach area Congressman Mark Foley, it is Tim Mahoney. After all, he owed his ascendancy to Congress entirely to Foley's sex scandal. Once elected, Mahoney could campaign for reelection in 2008 with all the advantages of incumbency — provided he could keep his pecker out of the news. But that proved too tough a task. Mahoney allegedly paid a former mistress more than $121,000 so she wouldn't go public with their affair. Soon, another paramour surfaced, Mahoney's wife filed for divorce, and judging by her legal filings, she's intent on making her ex's 15th minute of fame as embarrassing as possible. By this time next year, Mahoney will no longer even be a "notorious" sleazebag — just a sleazebag, period.
"At night it gets darker out here than in other places," he begins. "It's a yawning, special kind of dark, deepened by acres of cane so still and quiet they can keep secrets." It's a story about Pahokee, the sugarcane town torn by gang violence—and the death of the captain of the football team. It was one of the best Palm Beach Post stories of 2008. And it was written by Michael LaForgia. He might not win those in-depth reporting or public service awards, but the young police reporter does something even more impressive: He manages to sprinkle a bit of the art and craft of storytelling into everything he writes. Whether it's a telling detail in a brief about a murder or a poetic lead like the Pahokee story, he does the things that help readers connect to stories. In a culture in which reporters are asked to do more with less and editors speak only in inches, LaForgia seems to actually care about the quality of his prose. If more writers did that, the newspaper industry wouldn't be as dark and bleak as those acres of cane.
In this era of media staff cuts, a midsized city like Lake Worth is liable to slip through the news cracks — unless a tenacious, tireless someone hustles for the skinny at City Hall. That's Wes Blackman. His blog
is required reading for the conscientious citizen of central Palm Beach County. A Michigan native who moved to Lake Worth in 1989, Blackman is an urban planner with particular interest in historic structures. He serves on numerous planning and landmark preservation boards, but that doesn't stop him from castigating city officials. Commissioners Suzanne Mulvehill and Cara Jennings are his favorite targets. This blog ain't one for fancy graphics. Blackman's idea of an exciting image is a scanned item from the commission agenda. But Blackman's enthusiasm for his subject is as infectious as it is admirable. He pores through the agenda and backup material in advance of commission meetings, pulling out the most interesting items and adding the context one needs to understand an issue. It's a fascinating, meticulously detailed study of one city's political theater. Blackman, who lost a bid for the commission in a March 2007 runoff by fewer than 200 votes, has still found a way to have his perspective shape city policy, and Lake Worth is better for it.
Yeah, we'll have to go with Jack on this one after he crushed his opponents to become mayor of Fort Lauderdale. The former state legislator has the common man's touch. He's an old jock with a big family. And he looks, in a certain light, just like a Neanderthal. How much more common can you get? But under that heavy brow is a shrewd operator, sort of the caveman lawyer of Broward County. He plays all the angles just right, and while he's no angel, he always manages somehow to keep his hands clean. And now he's won this great honor — but watch out, it comes with a cautionary note. During the past few years, we've endorsed Ken Keechl (recently disgraced in the Mutual Benefits scandal), Ben Graber (sold out and washed up), and Steve Gonot (criminally charged and removed from office). Seiler will surely have a bright future — so long as he can survive the "Best Of" curse.
If and when our country degenerates into a Hobbesian nightmare where the poor and hungry have revolted against the rich in a swift, brutal redistribution of wealth, the first audacious target for the angry proletariat with discerning taste will be the new Trump International Hotel & Tower. A monolith of ostentation at the center of Fort Lauderdale beach, the local Trump Tower symbolizes everything about the indulgent high-end development boom that helped America into the worst economic quagmire in generations and earned South Florida the moniker the Repo Riviera. But damn, that building is gorgeous! Designed by architect Michael Graves, the blue and yellow, 24-story curvilinear structure — which occupies no less than two acres of beachfront property — sets a new standard for luxury while still paying tribute to the region's art deco roots. The building itself features a 5,000-square-foot spa, an ultra-high-tech gym, a sixth-floor roof deck with a mosaic-tiled pool (replete with cabanas), and almost 300 rooms and suites with marble baths, oversized windows looking out at the ocean, and some of the most expensive beds you can buy. So when the weak social contract that binds society fails, look for the beautiful blue edifice by the sparking sea, where life will be anything but nasty, brutish, and short.