Hollywood's True Colors
The mission of the people who fought for district government in Hollywood was noble. The goal was to seat a minority on the city commission for the first time in the city's 75-year history. The districting proponents also wanted to give residents the opportunity to elect a representative from their own neighborhood, one who understands their issues and problems and would fight to get them a piece of the budgetary pie.
But as the first-ever district election looms, it's quite possible that neither of those goals may be realized. Indeed the alluring promises of districting may turn out to be, like nearly everything else in this southeast Broward city, muddied by questionable politics.
The results will become clear on February 8, when Hollywood voters elect a completely new city commission made up of six commissioners and a mayor. Voters in each of the six districts will elect their own commissioner and vote for the mayor at large.
Single-member districting is becoming increasingly popular throughout the nation. Huntsville, Alabama, was forced to adopt it in 1988 after activists filed a federal lawsuit -- and a black city commissioner has been chosen in one of the districts in every election since then. Fort Lauderdale instituted districting in 1988 and has had a black commissioner ever since. The Broward School Board adopted it in 1997, and voters will decide March 14 whether to adopt single-member districting for the Broward County Commission.
Yet in Hollywood it nearly didn't happen. The current power structure -- including Mayor Mara Giulianti and the police and fire unions -- battled districting furiously, even setting up a political action committee, "Know to Vote No." The pro-districting forces also formed a PAC called "10,000 Friends of Hollywood" and campaigned heavily. Voters approved the districting measure in March by a slim margin of just 1 percent.
A consultant from Florida Atlantic University worked to carve out a district with the best chance of electing a minority. Thus minorities, while just 28 percent of the city's population, comprise 38 percent of the voters in District 2.
That district is one of the most neglected in the city, according to candidate Beam Furr (who is white). It includes south central Hollywood, north central Hollywood, and Liberia, a heavily black, blighted area frequented by drug dealers. It also includes Federal Highway, an area well-known for prostitution.
The district includes unsightly arteries like Fletcher Street. Between 22nd and 25th avenues this thoroughfare is an entranceway to the city, but its expansive swales were littered with sand, dirt, broken bottles, and abandoned shopping carts -- until a few months ago. Furr and members of the civic association United Neighbors received a matching grant from Broward Beautiful and enlisted the help of 75 neighbors to clean it up.
"You wouldn't see that kind of neglect in Emerald Hills," fumed Furr. Emerald Hills is one of the wealthiest areas of the city and, before Commissioner John Coleman and Vice Mayor Sal Oliveri were elected, was home to the majority of city commissioners, including Giulianti.
Of all the districts, District 2 has attracted the most candidates -- six -- partially because no incumbent is running there. But ironically, it turns out the so-called minority district may not elect a minority after all. And voters there may wind up electing someone who currently resides outside the district.
Joy Mack is waging a tireless campaign in District 2, knocking on hundreds of doors and handing out voter registration forms. Mack, who is black, unsuccessfully ran for citywide commissioner in 1992, winning 42 percent of the vote. A leading activist in the area for most of the 20 years she has lived there, Mack cofounded United Neighbors, the local civic association, in 1990 and served as president until 1994. She was instrumental in bringing a middle school -- McNicol Middle -- to the area, talked the police chief into appointing the first beat cops to patrol neighborhoods, and helped establish the first city pickup of old furniture and other "hard junk" that now occurs in every neighborhood.
Mack faces a challenge from two other black candidates -- Willie Anderson, a 20-year-old youth minister, and Horace Martin, a corrections officer and vice president of the Liberia Neighborhood Association. Mack contends that Giulianti and her crew put up the two candidates to split the black vote and strengthen the chances of her candidate, widely considered to be Furr. Mack says she approached both Anderson and Martin to ask why they were running for office. According to Mack, Anderson said, "You made the mayor mad." She says Martin said, "The mayor needs Liberia."
Both Martin and Anderson deny making those comments to Mack. Martin says he decided to run for commission after being "nominated by a member of the Liberia community." He would not say who "nominated" him but says Giulianti did not ask him to run.
Anderson also says the mayor didn't ask him to run. He does say, however, that he's long been a fan of the mayor and, as a student activist, would call Giulianti to inform her about neighborhood meetings. "I remember the first time I met the mayor it was at a PAL (Police Athletic League) carnival, and I was in middle school," he says. "Someone said, 'The mayor of Hollywood is here,' and I said, 'You mean the mayor of Hollywood is coming to Liberia? Wow!'"
Giulianti did not return calls from New Times.
Jonathan Anderson, a prominent, well-respected Liberia activist who is supporting Mack, says he has also heard rumors that a move is afoot to divide the black vote. "That's the word that's been going around," he says. "It sure looks that way."
In fact, districting has done more to tear apart the black community than to unify it. Willie Anderson complains that Mack has stolen away some of his campaign committee members and blasts her for "being pro-black, pro-black, pro-black and having had two white husbands."
Mack refuses to talk about personal issues but counters that Anderson showed up uninvited at a meeting she held in the Crystal Lake area and "ate my food." It was at that meeting, says Anderson, that Mack publicly enjoined him to quit the race and join up with her.
"I wish the black community would get together and decide which one black candidate to support and put their strength behind that candidate," says Coleman.
Furr, Mack, and Anderson are also concerned that one of the candidates, Peter Hernandez, just moved into the district (he lived three houses away) and another, Pete Brewer, lives a block outside the district. Brewer says he will lease a place in District 2 before the election. Neither wanted to run in their own district, District 3, where two popular incumbents are facing off.
"It's the Hillary syndrome," says Furr. "I'm surprised by this. I don't think that's what districting was all about. Especially in district[s] 2 and 5 -- districts that have been severely neglected and are crying out for representation." (Candidate Jose "Pepe" Lopez moved to west Hollywood's District 5 from Emerald Hills.)
Hernandez defends his action, saying moving three houses' distance is far different from moving across town. And Brewer says he didn't agree with the way the boundaries were drawn and feels more aligned with District 2 residents than the more upscale Hollywood Hills residents with whom he was lumped. "I've lived in central Hollywood for 31 years, and I want it to look as nice as Emerald Hills and Hollywood Hills," Brewer says.
On February 8, voters will also consider a charter amendment requiring candidates to live in a district for at least six months before the election.
Districting supporters are comforted by one measure they say will prevent anti-districting forces from completely contaminating the process: runoff elections. Hollywood voters approved runoffs along with districting. With runoffs the dirty political trick of "stacking" an election by putting in a spoiler, a candidate whose purpose is to siphon votes away from the opponent, no longer works. Now, with or without a spoiler, a winning candidate still needs more than 50 percent of the vote -- or else a second, runoff election is held a month later between the two highest vote-getters.
"It's the best we can do," says John Lundin, one of the group that fought for districting. "People can stack elections any way they want. And Hollywood has a tradition of stacking elections. There's only so much you can do -- after all, an election is a democratic process."
And Commissioner Coleman, who was instrumental in pushing through districting, is still happy that it has arrived in Hollywood.
"We now have 22 people running for office in Hollywood, and three years ago you couldn't find anyone to run," he says. "Three years ago you needed $80,000 to wage a citywide campaign. Now almost anyone can run."
Contact Julie Kay at her e-mail address:
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