Gunz for Hire
Reports of the death of South Florida's top political website, Politics1.com, were greatly exaggerated.
Both the Miami Herald and the Sun-Sentinel published stories back in January 2005 stating that Ron Gunzburger, the lawyer and political animal who runs Politics1, was killing the massive site. They reported the news based on a reliable source: Gunzburger.
Gunzburger wrote at the time: "When what was once 'fun' has become dreaded now as hours of 'work' each week, it is time for me to move on."
In parentheses, he added, "Remember, my publishing of Politics1 comes in addition to holding down a very full-time job as General Counsel & Director of Administration of a government agency."
He was referring to the Broward County Property Appraiser's Office, of course, where he works for Lori Parrish. That office pays Gunzburger $119,000 a year to run things on both the legal and administrative ends.
But the 42-year-old Gunzburger, a consummate political survivor and rolling stone, couldn't stay away from Politics1, which at its peak drew about 100,000 visitors a month. He's an Internet and public-sector junkie, after all, the son of Broward County Commissioner Sue Gunzburger. He's been rubbing shoulders with elected officials since he was a tot and began his low-down and dirty career as a campaign consultant before he graduated from college. In the two decades since, he's worked on dozens of local political campaigns.
And now he was going to be a full-time bureaucrat? Bah. By May of last year, Gunzburger had fallen completely off the wagon, and he's been feeding his site ever since. You gotta keep an eye on the man. He moves through the political landscape like a manic lizard. He's the namesake of what I call the "Gunzburger Shift" a darting movement by a political player that comes without expectation.
And he's brought his website back up to about 50,000 visitors and more than 200,000 page views a week. That's actually a huge number. There are only about 100 blogs in existence that average more than 15,000 page views a day, according to reputable studies. Then there's the B-list of 2,000 blogs that get an average of at least 1,000 page views a day. Lurking even lower are 18,000 C-listers, who get 150 a day.
Then there's, oh, more than 5 million bloggers toiling in almost complete obscurity.
For big-timers like Gunzburger, there's cash to be made. He acknowledges that he'll pull in anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000 on advertising for the site this year. "Yeah, I'm probably earning about 50 cents an hour for the time I put into it," he says.
He was only half-joking. Gunzburger not only posts news about five times a day but he also keeps one of the most comprehensive lists of campaign information from all 50 states.
It's a swell gig and it smells like a good example of a political insider getting a sweet deal on the public dime. How can he possibly run a giant political website single-handedly while also running the property appraiser's office?
"I'm in the office from 9:30, and the office is open until 7," he insists. "It's not unusual for me to get home at 8."
And he says that once he's back home in upscale Victoria Park (where he owns a house assessed at $900,000 and worth far more), it's all business.
"I walk in the door, feed the cats, my significant other makes dinner, and I settle in with my laptop and a glass of wine," Gunzburger says. "I start writing, eat dinner, and then finish writing."
He says he often works four hours a night or more on the website. Last week, he told me he didn't get finished with one set of the postings until 2 a.m. Let's see, if he's putting in 50 hours at the appraiser's office and 20 hours at home, we're talking about 70 hours a week.
I called Bob Wolfe, spokesman for the property appraiser's office, for some confirmation.
"He comes in at about 10 and stays until 6, 6:30," Wolfe said. "Ron's not working on the website during office hours. Lori keeps us way too busy. Trust me. I work with Ron pretty closely. He's been doing the website for years, and I think he can handle it pretty easily now."
So except for some slight differences in the hours Gunzburger works, Wolfe backed up his claims. And so did his boss, Parrish.
"He's not as hyper as me, but he comes damned close," said Parrish, an admitted workaholic. "I'll leave between 7 and 8. He's at work most of the time until 9. He has more political information in his head I wouldn't want to play trivia with him. But he gets his work done. Trust me, they call me Attila."
I'm still skeptical, but if this is true, what drives Gunzburger to keep Politics1 going? Well, there are obvious reasons, including the dough and the attention. Gunzburger and his site have been lauded by publications around the country, including Newsweek, Congressional Quarterly, and the Wall Street Journal.
But most of those accolades came when Gunzburger proudly called Politics1 a non-partisan site. Since it came back to life last year, the blog has not only leaned but also fallen down at times on the left side. Another Gunzburger Shift.
Gunzburger is promoting progressive U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold for president and aligning himself with A-list liberal blogs like Daily Kos, Eschaton, and MyDD. He's fond of quoting his latest political hero, Howard Dean, whom he worked for in New Hampshire during the last presidential campaign: "When you trade your values for the hope of winning, you end up losing and having no values."
Values? Ron Gunzburger is talking about values?
Remember, this is a man who has gone from being a Democrat to Republican to Independent back to Republican before returning to the Democratic Party. He's worked for die-hard Democrats (Richard Gephardt) and old-school Republicans (Clay Shaw). An openly gay man, Gunzburger says he's worked on issues of all stripes and believed in none of them.
He was a staunch supporter of the invasion of Iraq, so much so that he compiled a blacklist of public figures on Politics1 who opposed the war (like Walter Cronkite, George Clooney, and the Beastie Boys).
Now, the amoral campaign consultant says he belongs on that list himself. He claims to have had an almost religious political conversion. You might even call him a born-again leftist.
"No one knows the evils of politics better than I because I was part of it," says Gunzburger, paraphrasing former California Gov. Jerry Brown, another political chameleon. "To put it in the vernacular of the religious right, I was the biggest sinner of all."
But hey, it's still about numbers. During one recent afternoon interview, Gunzburger pulled up the latest site stats at the property appraiser's office.
"Let's see, last week we had 212,000 page views," he said. "And there were a hair under 50,000 unique visitors. The average time each user spent on the home page was six and a half minutes. That's good stickiness, to use Internet lingo."
To generate income, he uses a national ad service called Blogads, which charges firms $195 a week to advertise on the site. Last week, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson's 2006 reelection campaign had an ad up. Gunzburger also sells some ads on his own to put on the dozens of site pages.
Though he's bringing in some cash, it's peanuts compared to what he made on Politics1 in the past. In 2000, he sold the site to a group of former members of Congress who'd formed a firm called LobbyForMe. He moved to Washington and ran Politics1 and other Capitol Hill-aimed sites for LobbyForMe for two years, making $150,000 a year, before the operation went bust.
Not long after he returned to Fort Lauderdale, former Property Appraiser Bill Markham hired the down-and-out Gunzburger, who'd helped Markham campaign for office. When Markham died of a heart attack in 2004, his son, J.R., ran against Parrish in his father's place.
Then came another Gunzburger Shift: He joined forces with Parrish.
"I would have supported J.R., but when I met with him, I felt that he was and is a very nice and sincere person, but what he wanted to do was in essence freeze the office in a point in time as his father had it," he explains. "It would have only exacerbated the problems."
He says the Markham family likely still considers him a traitor for it. It's dramatic stuff but just business as usual for Gunzburger. You have to keep an eye on him, after all.
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