This rusty but still literate cylinder recently had to put aside Against All Enemies by Richard Clarke and Plan of Attack by Bob Woodward to immerse himself in a book of real significance: former Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Tim Smith's Politics 101. Here, for the first time, in Smith's italicized Boy Scout prose, is an account of this self-described Maryland greenhorn's eye-opening dealings with big-city politicians.
Timmy, you may recall, ran unsuccessfully for mayor last year against eternal incumbent Jim Naugle. Now he's published a book he hopes will be a lesson plan for aspiring candidates. Given his dismal performance at the polls, that's a little like Elmer Fudd teaching us how to outsmart the wabbit.
The book (published at Smith's expense) recounts a late-night exchange between the commissioner and Naugle in which the mayor allegedly intimated a more-than-philosophical concern for his gay constituents. It was a few months before the mayoral election. Smith was working late in his City Hall office -- "when I looked up and saw Naugle standing in the doorway," Smith writes. The mayor, having heard rumors that Smith would run against him, had come to advise him, in a friendly way, to stay out of the race, Smith says. A conversation ensued about Naugle's leadership of the city, with Smith accusing the mayor of being rude to people, particularly Fort Lauderdale's gays and lesbians -- "after they have supported you and been so helpful to the city all these years."
Naugle suddenly switched tacks, talking in a quiet, sincere manner, Smith writes.
"'I've had an experience,' he said," Smith writes. "I didn't know what he meant, but I hoped it was not what I thought it was. I said nothing. He repeated himself. 'I love the gays and lesbians, I've had an experience myself,' he said."
Naugle scoffs at this tale. "It must have been one of his drug-induced episodes," Naugle said the other day. "It's a hallucination."
Smith, who nowadays runs a landscaping business, says he thinks now that Naugle was just trying to finagle some support from his gay constituents, concocting a sympathy scenario and trying to use Smith as an unwitting emissary. Naugle, who is on the record as believing that homosexuality is a sin, needed a way of reaching the substantial gay vote in town without abandoning his fundamentalist beliefs.
"I think he was just pulling what Naugle's always been known for -- a subterfuge," Smith said the other day. "It was just a kind of a ruse to take some of the heat off with the gay community."
Tailpipe has to hand it to Naugle. The "subterfuge" worked. Naugle dominated the February 2003 election, sucking up 61 percent of the vote, even carrying heavily gay neighborhoods.
Tailpipe enjoys the greasy caress of a mechanic as much as the next spare part, so it is watching with interest in May when service department employees at the CarMax in Boynton Beach vote on whether to unionize.
They want the usual stuff: cheaper health insurance, secure wages, job protection. But this vote is particularly significant because CarMax is the second-largest used-car dealer in the country (after Fort Lauderdale-based AutoNation), and it's the first union ballot there.
Two months ago, CarMax workers met with United Food and Commercial Workers representative Steve Marrs at the Boynton Beach Ale House to air grievances. A petition circulated. Then last week, the National Labor Relations Board recognized 23 store employees who have the right, in two weeks, to vote on whether to join UFCW, which represents 1.4 million workers worldwide.
If they opt to join, it would mark the first instance of CarMax employees' unionizing, to Marrs' knowledge.
The company, which has 50 used-car stores and trades publicly on the New York Stock Exchange, is unenthusiastic, naturally. A spokeswoman wrote to Tailpipe: "CarMax believes that none of our associates need union representation, including those at our Boynton Beach store."
The honchos haven't convinced the rank and file, though.
"They're coming up with anti-union campaigns, trying to feed us a bunch of bullshit," said one Boynton Beach mechanic who asked not to be named. "They basically said, 'We're here to listen,' this and that, but nothing has changed."
It seemed easy enough to judge the mood of the Broward Folk Club yearly picnic on April 17 when former board member Cheryl Valentine-Silberberg showed up in a bulletproof vest. Then another club member held up a sign offering to hand out pistols for duels. OK, the guns were loaded with water, but there seemed to be enough tension in the air for fisticuffs to break out over the chips and casseroles.
The fight had been brewing since the club's board voted to defend itself against a libel lawsuit filed by club founder Robby Greenberg. Greenberg had filed the suit after then-Treasurer Pete Rimmel allegedly accused her of accepting stolen tickets to a concert this past January. Many club members thought the group ought to make like Peter, Paul, and What's Her Name and simply apologize, but the board shelled out a $15,000 retainer to hire the high-priced law firm of Ruden McClosky.
Before the picnic, the dissenters ran an aggressive campaign to recruit new members -- recruits who would vote for their candidates, Valentine-Silberberg says. In the two weeks prior to the election, 40 new members had paid their membership fees -- $16 for one or $20 for a couple. "While it's not illegal to do it," Valentine-Silberberg sniffs, "it just doesn't seem proper."
Valentine-Silberberg served on the board last year but didn't run for re-election in order to stay out of the fray.
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Most of the group's members filed ballots via e-mail before the picnic, so the rebellion came and went peacefully. Instead, the two sides strummed guitars in Easterlin Park and shared a potluck.
The board, now full of the rebel-supported officers, will try to put the controversy behind it, says lawyer Steve Glickstein, the new treasurer. Ruden McClosky has already been told to stop spending its money, and the club will likely offer Greenberg an apology in hopes of ending the suit. "Peacemaking is what's going on here," Greenberg says. "Everyone is looking forward to making peace."
Ah, finally, folkies acting like folkies again.
-- As told to Edmund Newton