For Love of God
I'd been told that Beverly Kennedy has a photographic memory, found the fountain of youth, and never told a lie. What I didn't know until she rested her hand on the small of my back and started whispering a prayer was that she was a healer too.
It was hard to make out what she said, though the word Christ was heard more than once. She prayed for a full minute before taking away her hand and saying that God listened.
For a moment, I almost believed her.
Beverly Kennedy can have that effect. The longtime Broward political player and radio-show host projects the rather messianic brand of energy that might be found in a religious zealot, a singularly driven political candidate, or a Chamber of Commerce maven.
As it happens, she's been all three of those things during her 32 years in Broward County, as well as playing first lady to husband Ed Kennedy, a veteran pol who has served as a county commissioner and as the Jeb Bush-appointed Broward Clerk of Court.
But now, at age 63, she wants to take over the airwaves with her evening drive-time show on WBZT-AM (1230).
First Broward, then the world. And it was in that pursuit that she contacted me a few months ago.
"Bob Norman, you have the ability to tell the truth, and that's what I do," she told me on the phone. "I separate fact from fiction. Together, we can change the country, the state, and Broward County."
I didn't know about that, but after five minutes on the phone, my head was reeling. With her story punctuated by sharp gales of laughter, she provided fragments of her life. Her time in Haiti doing a TV show. Her bout with hepatitis A. Her transformation from Democrat to Republican to Independent. Her epic battle with legendary land baron Hamilton Forman and his son Austin. Her guiding belief that Broward County is a judicial and political "hellhole."
This wasn't what I'd expected. I'd heard about her, read about her in newspapers, mainly because she was married to Ed Kennedy. But I'm not sure it's possible to expect Beverly Kennedy. She just happens. Like a tsunami.
After a few roller-coaster phone conversations, I met her last week at the high-rise condo — her office and radio studio — that she invested in with her father in downtown Fort Lauderdale. We met in the parking lot of her building, the large Waverly at Las Olas at the intersection of Broward Boulevard and Federal Highway.
She'd told me she could pass for 50, especially since she'd started taking what she said was a miracle vitamin supplement called Thymic Formula that she claimed saved her life and made her feel 20. Apparently, it's sort of the wonder pill of the Broward power set. She said she was introduced to the vitamin by Hamilton Forman, who swore by the stuff, and it's used by many local politicians.
I don't know if it's a miracle, but it's true that Kennedy, who emerged from her Saturn in a smart-looking business suit, could pass for 50. As we walked to the building, I began asking her about her legal and political battles. She stopped me in the elevator and leaned close to my face, her eyes almost glaring.
"I am going to tell you one thing, Bob Norman," she told me. "I don't give up, I don't give in, and I don't give out."
We rode to the fifth floor, and she let me into the condo, which was made up as an office, dominated by a large desk. She showed me her scrapbooks with newspaper articles about her and a few Woman of the Year awards she's won through the years. She showed me a picture taken in Haiti when she was in her 20s. In the photo, she has long black hair (her hair now is almost whitish) and a darkly tanned body.
"I was a hot mama," she said. "I was hot and exotic."
She was born, however, in decidedly unerotic Pennsylvania, the daughter of a fruit and vegetable wholesaler. She studied art at Penn State and, after graduation, lived for a time in San Francisco. Then she got married to her first husband and moved to Haiti, where she did a biweekly television show called Haitian Happenings.
"I did the only show on the island," she told me in her office. "I realize I'm a character. I realize I have a photographic memory, and I realize I can talk."
She points at her head.
"Today's show is already in there. Everything I've read today is in there."
Yes, the daily show. It's almost 5 p.m., so she's about to go on the air. She pays for the airtime and is always looking for sponsors. She leads me into the radio studio, the condo's lone bedroom, which has a table with three microphones and a phone hookup to the WBZT station in West Palm Beach. We sit, and she soon begins the show.
Though it was agreed I wasn't going to be on the show, she told her listeners I was there. "Either he's going to make me very happy or I will go after him the rest of his life," she told her listeners.
I don't think she was joking.
After talking about the presidential race for a time, she endorsed Mitt Romney on the Republican side and John Edwards on the Democratic side. She claims to be politically independent, but she clearly identifies more strongly with the GOP.
Not always, though. After her first marriage broke up in Haiti, she came to Broward in 1976 with her daughter. Here, she founded a nonprofit arts organization. She became active in the Democratic Party, though she readily admits she did it only because it made it easier to persuade officials to support her nonprofit.
One of the officials she met, however, was a Republican named Ed Kennedy, who was then president of the West Broward Chamber of Commerce. She says it wasn't love at first sight.
"I liked him and wanted him to be on the board of directors," she said. "But I was too dedicated to what I was doing to think about love."
The relationship grew over those early years, though, and he proposed at the 1982 Governor's Ball for Bob Graham.
The following year, she was stricken with hepatitis A, the victim of a batch of bad clams. "I turned yellow and became deformed," she told me. "I could hardly get out of bed for a year."
But she overcame the illness in time to see her husband sworn into the County Commission in 1984, the year they married. Ed was the first Republican ever to win a seat on the commission. And Beverly herself soon switched over to the GOP.
After winning reelection in 1988, Ed was defeated in 1992, the same year Beverly gave politics a shot. She ran for Congress only to get trounced by Peter Deutsch. She challenged Deutsch a second time in 1994 and again was soundly beaten. In 1996, she tried a third run, prompting the Miami Herald to dub her the "Energizer Bunny of Broward politics."
Since then, Ed has served a stint as Broward Clerk of Court and Beverly has run for mayor of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. That was in 2004. Once again, she lost.
Now, she uses her radio show to vent on politics. Last week, one of the topics was state Sen. Steve Geller, who recently announced that he plans to run for County Commission against Sue Gunzburger. Kennedy pointed out that Geller has a day job as a lobbyist, and she advised him to stick to that.
Her husband, Ed, then called into the show from their home, and they talked on the air about local political issues. Solid banter, but the main attraction was a caller named "Jack." He talked of how he was going broke caring for his aging mother while an inheritance from an aunt is being held up in probate court and eaten away by lawyers.
"Jack, we are going to stand up on January 29," she said. "We are going to stand up for portability. We do want that extra $50,000 exemption."
Just like that, she'd switched from Jack's issue to her crusade for the property tax amendment, which is up for a vote later this month. It was a jarring transition — and typical Kennedy. She works as a financial planner, and her undying passion for making money (which clearly guides her more right-wing positions) rivals her fervor for religion.
"But what can I do?" Jack asked, the desperation building in his voice. "We don't have money."
Beverly assured him she'd talk to him off the air about it.
After the show, I asked Kennedy what exactly she would do for Jack. She told me she has contacts at the Department of Children and Families, including DCF Director Bob Butterworth, and would start there.
"I will not give up on this man," she said. "He is going to get his inheritance."
With her almost child-like single-mindedness, I thought she might actually pull it off. There is no doubt she is a fighter. And there is no better example of that side of her than her monumental court battle with Hamilton Forman, the multimillionaire who helped build and shape Broward during the past half century.
Understand that Forman and Kennedy were once close friends. The Broward patriarch even contributed to Kennedy's campaigns and helped fund Beverly's pet projects. But that all changed in 2003. Forman sued Kennedy, claiming that she'd reneged on paying him back $34,000 in loans. About the same time, a roofing company sued her, alleging she'd failed to pay for a new roof. The lawyer suing her on behalf of the roofing company was state Rep. Jack Seiler, who is close to the Formans.
Kennedy believes that the real force behind the $34,000 lawsuit wasn't Hamilton Forman but his son Austin. She claims it was done to stop her political efforts, though she doesn't pinpoint any specific issue that may have prompted the suit.
Whatever the truth, the legal battles consumed Kennedy for more than a year. She initially was ruled against in both lawsuits, though the Forman lawsuit was ultimately dismissed.
After she failed to pay a $35,000 judgment in the other lawsuit, the court sold her house on the courthouse steps in August 2004. Ultimately, with the help of her father, she paid the judgment. And with the help of Wayne Huizenga Jr., son of the business mogul and Miami Dolphins owner, she redeemed the house.
"If you are good, you will never be bad," she says. "Scar tissue only makes you stronger."
Then she told me that she walks with Christ.
"If you need a prayer, he listens from my lips," she said. "Why? Because I follow all Ten Commandments. I don't skip six, seven, and eight."
Soon, without my bidding, she was praying for my strained back.
Later that night, a little bit of the pain lifted. Could she really...? Nah.
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