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Best Of 2011

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Best Of :: People & Places

Best Cure for Insomnia

Welcome back to Topical Currents. I'm your host, Joseph Cooper. Today's guest is, well, it actually doesn't matter who today's guest is, because he has long ago fallen asleep. Apparently he has listened to our show before, because he brought his own pillow. He's spooning with it now on the floor of the studio. Anyway, I'll be taking your calls for the rest of the hour. Hello, Pembroke Pines, you're on the air. Pembroke Pines? Asleep, I'm guessing. Seeing as that was our only caller, I'll be taking my own nap now. By now, I assume you are all asleep and nobody will notice. So stay tuned at the top of the hour for NPR News, or as we call it here on Topical Currents, our alarm clock.

Best Power Couple

Broward County power couples sure have been taking big hits lately. At one time, it looked like Broward County Commissioner Stacy Ritter and her lobbyist husband, Russ Klenet, were going to take over the world. Now she's the subject of multiple criminal investigations, and he's scooted off to D.C., as he lost a lot of his local business. Broward County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman was at one point Broward's queen of mean, and her husband was the legal czar out in Sunrise. Now she's as quiet as a mouse, and he's been booted from his cush government gig. But Drew and Dawn Meyers have the makings of a Broward-worthy power combo — and that means there are hints of a conflict of interest. Drew Meyers is an assistant county attorney. Dawn Meyers is a lobbyist with the law firm Berger Singerman, who, of course, lobbies the same Broward County commissioners for whom her husband works. When the County Attorney's Office produced a draft of the new ethics code that basically gutted it, there was some controversy for the Meyerses, but for the most part, they've been careful to separate their sometimes slightly intertwining jobs. The power duo took a hit when the hubby was passed over for the county attorney's job in favor of Joni Coffey, the wife of big-time lawyer and former U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey. Uh-oh — we may already have next year's winner.

Best Reality-Denying Campaign

When recently criminally charged Tamarac Mayor Beth Talabisco was running for her seat in 2006, she tried hard to pretend she wasn't under the thumb of dirty developers Bruce and Shawn Chait, who were trying to get government approvals to build a much-too-dense housing development on two golf courses in her city. She went so far as to inform the Sun-Sentinel that she had returned some $2,000 in campaign contributions tied to the Chaits and boasted about the distance she was keeping from the developers in her own campaign ads. It seemed that Talabisco was taking the high road, and voters promptly put her in the mayor's seat. But the reality was that Talabisco may have been in the Chaits' pockets more deeply than anyone realized. According to state prosecutors, she struck a deal with the Chaits for them to secretly fund an electioneering committee that would put out a barrage of negative ads against her opponents on the final weekend before the election. In fact, she met with Sean Chait to talk about forming the committee just before the father-and-son bribers put $21,000 in cash into the committee via two subcontractors who worked for them. In exchange for the dirty political money, Talabisco voted for the Chaits' controversial development just days after her election. It took five years, but when state prosecutors learned of Talabisco's lies and corruption, they slapped her with bribery, unlawful compensation, and official misconduct charges. She currently awaits trial.

Best Local Girl Gone Bad

People know Beverly Stracher's name these days as a key cooperating witness for the state in what is perhaps the biggest corruption cases in Broward County history. Or they know her as the husband of Les Stracher, who was a key partner of notorious Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein. But before the notoriety and political shenanigans, Beverly Stracher was just a Piper High grad and Broward Community College student who made her mark as a mediocre reporter for the mediocre Sun-Sentinel before becoming a government flack and, shortly thereafter, a Lauderhill city commissioner. She didn't last long in elected office, but she stayed in politics, becoming one of those shady behind-the-scenes "operatives." For years, she operated in relative obscurity before she struck a deal with Prestige Homes, owned by developers Bruce and Shawn Chait, to help them get influence with politicians with whom she worked — including Broward County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman and then-Tamarac Mayor Beth Talabisco. She took money from both sides — the influence peddlers and the politicians for whom she campaigned — in what was a sleazy arrangement. Now several of those politicians are awaiting trial, the Chaits have already pleaded guilty to bribery, and Stracher has become one of the county's chief canaries, giving one sworn statement after another to implicate her former friends. On top of that, her husband has filed for divorce. Don't cry too hard for Stracher, though; she's got a cush job at the county now, courtesy of Lieberman.

Best Political Coup

A vocal group of parents and teachers had been calling for Art Johnson's head for a year, blaming him for a new cookie-cutter curriculum many detested. Johnson canned his reviled chief academic officer, Jeffrey Hernandez, but he couldn't quell the uproar. Parents soon discovered that Hernandez had been moonlighting in Memphis while still on the payroll in Palm Beach County. They asked to see emails from Hernandez's last six months on the job and learned that the emails had disappeared. The possibility that Johnson sanctioned the moonlighting and/or had a hand in destroying the paper trail turned out to be the end of the superintendent's career. Before the board could publicly discuss firing him, he stealthily began crafting an exit plan that gave him a $428,000-plus golden parachute. It all happened so fast that even his worst enemies were surprised. Ordinary citizens ousting a powerful politician over a public records scandal? Only in the Sunshine State.

Best Young Guy
Ryan Alexander

This fair-haired son of a preacher man seems determined to save Fort Lauderdale from itself. Proving wrong the axiom that South Florida's native sons grow up to either chase money or leave, he taught himself to play guitar, and now he tours local bars and art venues with his one-man act, Alexander. When he's not making ladies' knees wobble with his wholesome serenades, Alexander takes on ambitious projects: He was an unofficial partner in the now-shuttered Collide Factory, where he helped build a recording studio inside a graffiti-clad shipping container. And you're right, you do recognize him from somewhere: As a co-owner of Brew Urban Cafe in Victoria Park, he may or may not have drawn a heart in your latte. [Photo credit: Janelle Proulx, via the Museum of Art|Fort Lauderdale]

638 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, 33304
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