In 1969, "gonzo" journalist Hunter S. Thompson ran for sheriff of Aspen, Colorado, on a platform he dubbed "freak power." He called on outcasts, misfits, and the disenfranchised to support him and collectively topple the usual powers-that-be. Some of his points were surprisingly prescient. In his six-point platform, he vowed to crack down on officer-involved shootings ("Every urban riot, shootout and bloodbath involving guns in recent memory has been set off by some trigger-happy cop in a fear frenzy") and fight for the environment. ("Rip up all city streets with jackhammers" and "sod the streets at once... All public movement would be by foot and a fleet of bicycles.")
Today, Fort Lauderdale mayoral candidate Chris Brennan says he's modeling his campaign after Thompson's. Brennan became locally famous in 2013, after he made a series of YouTube videos called "Florida Fidelity," in which the Fort Lauderdale native explored his favorite places. In one video, he ranted about a proposed development, Marina Lofts, that would require moving a six-story-tall, 90-year-old tree. Because the developer of Marina Lofts also leased land to the Water Taxi, where Brennan worked, he was fired from his job. That only emboldened him, and he went on to lead marches and public protests against the development, which was approved by the City Commission but has yet to be constructed.
Three candidates -- Brennan, incumbent mayor Jack Seiler, and challenger Earl Rynerson -- are running for mayor in the election Tuesday, February 10. If any candidate gets 50 percent of the vote or more, he wins. If not, then a runoff will be held March 10 between the two candidates who fare best next week.
We talked to Brennan about his candidacy and issues facing the city. Here are some of his thoughts:
On his expectations for the race: Brennan says Hunter S. Thompson "lost, of course, but he knew he was going to lose. I hate to admit this, but I know I am going to lose. If a candidate gets 50 percent or more, they win. Seiler is expected to win by a landslide. But if I bring a new voter base to the ballot, I could cost him, and that would be a huge win for me. It would send a message to Seiler: We're not happy -- the general population, real people who care about this city but aren't looking to profit. Let's make Fort Lauderdale the cool place it can be. Let's put the fun back in Fort Lauderdale. They've done a lot to suck the fun out of this place."
On his background: "I'm a native of Fort Lauderdale. I was born at Broward General. My dad raised me on the waterways of Fort Lauderdale -- I was always on the water. We've lost a lot of fishing holes due to irresponsible development. I graduated from Northeast High School and went to Broward Communtiy College for journalism -- but I didn't finish because I got a job as a park ranger. I did that for ten years until they dissolved the ranger program and brought in Wackenhut -- which failed miserably and led to a federal corruption probe. I was on the forefront of that. Then I worked for the water taxi for seven years, until I got canned because of the rain tree fiasco. I've been bartending at Big Dog Station. I'm always looking for the next big thing."
On why he decided to run: "The rain tree was a big loss for me -- it devastated me... Then [more recently], I met with [City Commissioner] Dean Trantalis about the homeless hate laws. I met with him as a friend, to show how the city could save face [and suggested] that they work with Food Not Bombs, not against them. Jack Seiler completely ignored my pleas. This was two weeks before it went national -- I begged him to back down and take a different route. If their heart was in the right place, the execution was poor. Any good government should work with people to better the situation, and Fort Lauderdale did not do that. After that, a good friend of mine got a court summons for having engaged in public distribution of food. [Mysteriously, she wasn't personally cited]; it was delivered to her roommate. That was the final straw. The day before my birthday, on a complete whim, I put on a cowboy hat and went and told all the city clerks I was there to run for mayor. I've never seen city officials run frantically around the office before."
On the big issues facing the city:
-- Beach erosion: "We have literally built a seawall along A1A -- we need to build jetties. If I were mayor, I'd be on the forefront begging for federal aid to build jetties so sand would shoal up and repair the beach. Tourism is our bread and butter. Condo developers don't like sea oats because they block the view, but those are integral to maintain the beach and stop erosion. Trucking in sand is a mistake and more costly than building a jetty."
-- The building of the Icon Tower: "[Defenders of the] Stranahan House have been trying to stop that for a decade. The disregard for the preservation of the Stranahan House -- that's deplorable." -- Homeless: "Dissolve all the ordinances and start from scratch. They knew for ten months they were [going to develop ordinances to deal with the homeless population], and no one from the city approached any one group that was feeding the homeless [for input.] I would say, 'How can we better help you feed them?' Maybe use vacant city parks -- a rotating program... never keep it in one place or else you'd end up with a Tent City scenario -- but have and army of social workers there, people willing to help pro bono, who would do good -- that's what government is for."
Redoing the beach/marina: "They've got two plans -- one is excellent and includes a lot more green space and parking garage; absolutely do that 100 percent, parking and green space, and additional dockage. The other plan shows hotels with casino floors -- the developer is banking on future legalization of gambling in South Florida. That would end up [with] a lot of empty buildings with supposed retail on first floor -- but look at downtown, Rivverfront [where similar developments were proposed]; it's been 12 years, and that retail is still sitting empty. The beach is the prized possession; green is the way to go."
The Wave streetcar: "I think the Wave streetcar is a turd... The Sun Trolley is not carrying enough people to make it OK to build a streetcar. If it was running full seven days a week, but the Sun Trolley runs empty 60 percent of time. It supposedly comes every 20 minutes, but the last two times I tried to use it, I waited over half an hour and gave up. We should build an app [for that] and promote it. Once that builds up, let's talk about a streetcar. But they approved it, which is absurd."
Aquatic complex: "[One design had a] water park. Why bring water to the beach? The Swimming Hall of Fame as it stands is a historic landmark -- Johnny Weissmuller, Esther Williams -- it's a Fort Lauderdale icon, so why not preserve that? If you want to expand Bahia Mar, build as big as you want -- that's not going to upset too many people, but a water park on the beach? The beach is a water park."
City salaries: "I do feel that those in public office should not have any sense of entitlement. Anyone running for mayor, City Commission, or serving as a civil servant, which I was for ten years, should do it because they feel they are doing something good, even if they get a shitty salary."
Police: "Police are well worth paying for. The police force is great. We should keep [a city force] and not sell out to BSO. But that Seiler put them in a position where they had to escort a 90-year-old World War II veteran off property is deplorable -- that made national news and made us all look like jackasses. I've spoken to numerous cops about this. They feel as bad as the rest of us. They hate being put in that position."
Biking while black: "Police do a thankless job, and racial profiling -- to some degree, it happens. I don't think the majority of the police force is doing that. It's just a numbers game. We need more undercover units. You can't just pull people over -- you have to have a reason to do that... We need beat officers who talk with people, who know passersby on a name basis -- that's what [a lot of cities] lost [by hiring] BSO. In Oakland Park, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, you'd see the same officers, you were on a first-name basis, and it humanizes the person in a thankless job. BSO is more of a military force.
Affordable housing: "It's rich versus poor. Fort Lauderdale is in a class war right now. That's exactly what's going on here."
Riverwalk - "I rode my bike through there yesterday. It was sad... I'd have more weekend promenades, open some bays, bring a security presence, partner with the FAT Village community, give people a reason to come back there. Revive the retail, go to small vendors and people that have storefronts. My first act as mayor would be to shut traffic and rip up the pavement on Las Olas. It's useless -- there's no reason ever to drive down that street. Parking is almost useless -- it's got all the high-end places. The only reason to go there is to park your Bentley. And who needs to see another Bentley?
"We've overbuilt -- there are too many huge empty buildings in Fort Lauderdale. We're stuck with them. Let's give people a reason to move here and not drive -- a tax beak to move in -- first and security if they get around here without a regular vehicle and use public transportation, Uber, bicycle -- give them a free bicycle if they're without a registered vehicle. People will move here, dine here -- that'll create jobs. Density without congestion should be the goal."
Gun show at War Memorial? "We've never had an incident there. It brings people to town from all over the state. It's a shot in the arm for the local economy -- no pun intended."
Beach Place: "We need a Dalton from Road House to straighten it out. You can't have a Wackenhut enforcing that. A good old-fashioned bouncer at every bar in Beach Place would do a world of good."
Marine industry: "I'd support it with a lot of events -- like the Air & Sea show, the boat show, Tortuga..."
Are you qualified to handle complicated issues that would come before the mayor, like bonds, etc.? "I think I would surround myself with quality people. Humility is a virtue -- I consider myself a virtuous person."
What about terrorism? "Last time a terrorist tried to blow up a water taxi, I must have missed it. Fort Lauderdale is not a huge target."
Are you good at ribbon cutting? "Oh I can cut ribbons -- give me a golden shovel. I'll dig the first hole."
On his competition: Rynerson -- "I like that he is sitting up and opposing Jack Seiler, who by the way was against marriage equality [before last year]. Rynerson is an openly gay Republican. I applaud him -- standing up to an incumbent in a city where you're fairly unknown -- he's doing more than his fair share."
Seiler -- "I don't want to turn into a Seiler smear campaign -- that would be too easy and obscure the good he's done. He has done some good. But the popular opinion in the streets -- I'm where Seiler is not, on the streets, talking to people where they are -- is that he sold out to big money. I want to bring him back to Earth."
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