Jim Naugle began his political life in elementary school, when he campaigned for Barry Goldwater for President. Today the Fort Lauderdale mayor is aligned with the Christian right. He's ultraconservative on the death penalty, abortion, affirmative action, and gun control. Although the city's gay population is both large and politically active, Naugle calls homosexuality a crime. Last month he voiced his support for the Boy Scouts' exclusion of gays and then cast the lone vote in favor of allowing them to use city facilities.
The tall, bookish 46-year-old espouses a hypermasculine world view. He carries a concealed Smith & Wesson pistol and counts Clint Eastwood, once the mayor of Carmel, California, as his favorite actor. Indeed, like Dirty Harry, Naugle always seems to be itching for a fight.
Although he supplies perhaps the most powerful conservative voice in Fort Lauderdale, Naugle has been a Democrat since he registered to vote, but he mockingly calls the ACLU the "Atheists and Criminal Lobbying Union." His status as a Democrat not only helps his career in Fort Lauderdale (where voter rolls show 40,000 Democrats and 30,000 Republicans), it has vaulted him onto the national stage. He co-chairs George W. Bush's presidential campaign in Broward. (He fulfilled the same role for Jeb Bush's 1998 gubernatorial bid.) Newspapers and magazines around the nation -- including The Washington Post and The Weekly Standard -- have named Naugle a renegade Bush Democrat. "I vote for the man or woman and not just the party," he told Paula Zahn during an October 13 interview on the Fox News network. Unfortunately neither Zahn nor any other reporter who covered Naugle's apparent conversion bothered to discover that it is hooey. In national elections Naugle always votes Republican. Before George W., he supported Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr., and Bob Dole.
e-mail Jim Naugle: email@example.com
Naugle has a knack for skating through political contradictions. In Fort Lauderdale he's been extremely popular since winning a seat on the city commission in 1985, then six years later becoming mayor (albeit a so-called weak mayor, who is forbidden from mixing in the city's day-to-day business). The key to his success is simple: Naugle has been, in many ways, an outstanding leader. He's never been a shill for lobbyists or touched by scandal. A muckraker at heart, he doesn't engage in conflicts of interest, instead exposing others' ethical lapses. He's shepherded in spectacular growth but has worked hard to keep developers in check. Above all, the Broward native, who earns about $16,000 per year as mayor, truly seems to care about Fort Lauderdale.
During the past few weeks, New Times interviewed Naugle in his office, in his sport-utility vehicle, walking along downtown streets, and over beans and rice at Creolina's restaurant.
Shortly after the interview commences in Naugle's office on the eighth floor of city hall, his two-year-old daughter, Rachel, runs from the mayor's office screaming for a pretzel. The mayor hurries after her and consoles her.
Is it tough to be mayor and also care for your daughter?
It's a challenge, but if I didn't bring her here, I wouldn't get to see her grow up. So I bring her in every day. Sometimes I can do some mail work and I can use the speakerphone; otherwise she'll grab the receiver. I drop her off at 1 p.m. with my mother-in-law and then I'm back here alone until 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
It doesn't disrupt city business?
My pastor said, "Twenty years from now, they won't remember what kind of mayor you were, but they'll remember what kind of father you were." I put more time in working here than most. I'm in this building more than any other city employee.
When you were Rachel's age, your family moved from Fort Lauderdale to Plantation, which was the boondocks. Your first business experience was selling fruitcakes for the Cub Scouts, right?
In the whole county, I sold more fruitcakes than anybody else. It's tough to sell those things. Nobody ever eats them. There was a joke that it was the same fruitcake going from person to person to person. I sold 400 of them. I sold some of them at my dad's paint shop in Fort Lauderdale. I went to work with my dad, and he would drop me off at the Lutheran school down the street, and after school I'd spend my days with my dad at work. I was very much in awe of my father.
What did you do for fun as a kid?
I got into racing go-karts in my teens and ended up in national competition. I would get out of school to travel around the country. I was good at building engines. I could break up an engine blindfolded. It was something I did with my dad a lot. I finally just gave it up when I got into college and into real estate. When I was at Broward Community College, I took a real-estate course. I had a painting business then. At my father's paint store, we had a lot of contractors coming in, and I did jobs for them. I was the youngest licensed contractor in the city. The day I got the real-estate license, I went out and sold a commercial building and I thought, This beats painting.
Do you remember how much money you made?
I think it was $4000. It was 1974. I spent the rest of college selling real estate. When I was 22, I bought my first house. Pay attention, young people who are reading this: Buy a house. Don't wait. I scraped up $2000 for a down payment and bought an old house for $20,000. The owner was in a nursing home. It was rat-infested, with cobwebs and junk piled up to the ceiling, and it had a little cottage behind it. I fixed it up, lived in the main house, and rented the cottage to pay my mortgage.... The attorney who sold it to me was this wonderful man named Carl Hiaasen [grandfather of the Herald columnist and novelist]. This house was in a neighborhood called Rio Vista. [Laughs.] Later on I bought the fire chief's old house in Tarpon River. I figured I could rent my Rio Vista house out for a lot more money and buy this other house and fix it up. The house I have today was paid for completely with profits from buying and selling homes. I sold the original house in 1979 for $90,000, and the buyers kept getting behind on payments, so I foreclosed on them and kept the $30,000 down payment. I sold it in the 1990s for $140,000. I paid $55,000 for the Tarpon River house and sold it for $130,000.
You made $200,000 profit on those two houses?
Right. Then in 1989 I was able to talk a couple of people into selling me a piece of land on the river in Sailboat Bend, and I built my house there. It had no air conditioning and a four-car garage with one big screened-in room on top. It was like a tree house. When I got married [to attorney Carol-Lisa Phillips in 1993], she said, "OK, I'll live here. I'll give it a try." And after a year she said, "Let's air-condition the house." I put $160,000 in that house and sold it for $400,000. Real estate has been very good to me. We have some apartments and the house and rental properties and some commercial properties.
You're a millionaire, correct?
Yeah. In Fort Lauderdale I think it's hard not to be a millionaire, if you buy and hold.
When did you start in politics?
In elementary school I was campaign manager for Barry Goldwater at Peters Elementary [in Plantation]. It was just cutting out elephants and things like that. We won the class, but we couldn't carry the nation. I think on my 18th birthday I registered as a Democrat. Back then things were decided in the Democratic primary, and there wouldn't be Republicans running.
So it was just practical to become a Democrat?
What did you think of Jack Kennedy?
In my household, I think because of Cuba, those were very tense times during the missile crisis. I remember talking about bomb shelters and storing food in the closet and seeing all the military hardware going up the road when things were going bad. We weren't really fond of the Kennedys.
Have you considered becoming a Republican?
I'm in a nonpartisan office, and we're not allowed to use party affiliation when we run. I guess if I ever decide to run for a partisan office, then I would need to do some soul-searching. But I think Ted Kennedy once said: When we come to that bridge, we'll come to it. [Laughs.]
Who's your favorite President?
George W. Bush is going to be my favorite President.
And you're working to make that happen. Your uncle Tex trained [former President] George Bush for World War II. When did your own political affiliation with the Bush family begin?
My relationship with the family started with Jeb, after he lost the election for governor in 1994. He called me, met with me, and I got involved in his campaign.
Rachel begins marking a pad of paper with a large permanent marker. The mayor walks over with a blue pen, which isn't permanent, and tries to convince Rachel to switch. She refuses. "We're negotiating here," Naugle says. "She's going to be a lawyer I think, like her mom." In the end Rachel wins and continues using the permanent marker.
How is George W. taking advantage of your support?
He had a press conference in Orlando with a group of Florida Democratic leaders supporting him, and I was one of them. I think my endorsement helps, because he's going to need Democrats.
But is it honest?
I am a lifelong Democrat. [Laughs.]
Isn't it a sham?
It's just what it is, that's all. I can tell you that if Al Gore wins, I won't be staying in the Lincoln Bedroom.
Naugle gets out a baby wipe and attempts to wipe the black marks off Rachel's face, while she screams. Then he enthusiastically reads her a book and resumes the interview a few minutes later.
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What are your thoughts on Bill Clinton?
Is there a statute of limitation on rape?
Do you think he's guilty of rape?
I think it should be investigated. He abuses women.
What do you think about Hillary Clinton running in New York?
[Laughs.] I thank God she didn't move to Florida. Really, I feel sorry for her. I think a lot of people don't leave abusive situations. They are trapped.
You think Bill abuses Hillary?
Mentally. He has sex with other women in her house. But she's way too liberal for me. I like some New York politicians, like Rudy Giuliani.
Are you cut from the same cloth as Rudy?
Yeah, in terms of cleaning up cities with law and order. And this [Rick] Lazio seems like a nice man too.
What did you think when the Monica story broke and the country came to Clinton's side and basically saved his presidency?
Those men -- [House prosecutors] Asa Hutchinson, Bill McCollum, and Lindsay Graham -- were heroes. I feel that history will not be kind to Clinton.... Everybody is saying they don't want personal attacks. But this office is personal. It's personal for all of us.
Did you make an issue out of Clinton using marijuana?
No. A lot of people I grew up with inhaled. It's a phase our country went through. I think it's very bad for young kids today, and I would tell them, "Just say no." I was very antismoking because I thought cigarettes were taking my father away from me. That's one reason I never tried pot, because I couldn't stand inhaling. He died at age 78 of heart failure. So I had this hatred toward inhaling to the point where I hold my breath when someone is smoking. I think that played a big part in why I didn't use marijuana.
What about George W.'s alleged cocaine and alcohol use?
I don't know if there is a cocaine issue or not. I'm told he used to drink a bit, but he quit. I respect and admire him for that. His comment was that was when he was young and reckless. Many people go through stages in life.
Shades of Henry Hyde's "youthful indiscretions."
I would hope he stopped. I think he has a proven track record in business and in governing a pretty big state.
What's his track record in business?
He made a lot of money. [Laughs.] That's called being a success, bottom line. I don't think anybody argues that. I think people criticize him because he's not the best speaker in the world. But we know his dad wasn't, either. They called it "Bushspeak." But he was a great President.
Is there any part of the national Democratic platform that you agree with?
On national issues, I'm someone who is very conservative, and I believe in limiting government. I do support some forms of gun control, though. [He pretends to aim a pistol.] Use two hands. [Laughs.]
You have a concealed-weapons permit and carry a gun, right?
When I feel the need.
When was the last time you felt the need?
What kind of a gun do you have?
I have more than one gun. The handgun that I carry the most is a Smith & Wesson. The fact is that crime has gone down significantly in states where law-abiding citizens are allowed to carry a firearm. I think criminals fear the armed, law-abiding citizen more than the police. In areas where people are discouraged from carrying concealed weapons, crime goes up.
Are you an NRA member?
No, but I do belong to the Unified Sportsmen of Florida, which is based in Tallahassee. I used to hunt with my dad, but I'm not an active hunter now. I got my first gun when I was 12 years old.
Do you have any assault or automatic weapons?
No, but if someone wants to have one for target practice or hunting, I sure wouldn't judge them for that. AK-47s? I have no qualms about them. There are two reasons to have a gun. One is to go hunting, and the other is to protect life and property. I remember my dad going off during the riots we had and spending the night protecting his family. I think millions of crimes are prevented because law-abiding citizens are able to defend themselves. One of my best friends' life was threatened, and he had to shoot an intruder in his house.
Was the intruder armed?
I don't know all the details, but the police slapped my friend on the back, and said [feigning a Southern accent], "Damn, you got him, son." [Laughs.] "Damn, you got him, son."
What's your position on the death penalty?
In Florida it's an environmental issue.
I don't follow.
I think a strong rope and a stiff tree would be better than wasting all that electricity. [Laughs.] I think Old Sparky has had its time. We're headed for lethal injection.
Do you think executions should return to being public spectacles?
No. I think people would figure out ways to commercialize it and make money from it.
Isn't that the American way?
[Imitating an announcer's voice] This execution is brought to you by... Raid insect and roach killer.
Let's talk about your archnemesis real quickly, former city manager George Hanbury. You still hate his guts, don't you?
He betrayed the citizens of Fort Lauderdale. He got the votes on the city commission to privatize the cemeteries, and the company he got to do it was a bunch of crooks. It was a big betrayal. My dad is buried [in one of those cemeteries.] There are so many instances of dishonesty. In the end I found that he took money that didn't belong to him. He violated the laws of the city. And he even billed the taxpayers for a facelift. He had sagging eyebrows that a lot of us would attribute to old age, but he said it was a medical condition. He had his forehead cut open and eyebrows brought up, and maybe that's a good thing. Maybe he couldn't see the shadows from all the high-rises he was approving or something. But then, during the same procedure, he had incisions done on the side of his face and the wrinkles pulled back. Now that was cosmetic.
You've really investigated him.
I used up a lot of capital trying to expose him. He's finished. I told him, "For the rest of your life, if you ever try to work for a city again, I will follow you and tell how dishonest you've been." He took $20,000 that absolutely didn't belong to him [from his city-allotted] housing allowance. And I proved it. I have the documentation in my office anytime anybody wants to see it. It was beyond the statute of limitations, so we weren't able to get him charged.
You'd like to see him behind bars?
Oh yeah. He's up there with Cesar Odio and Donald Warshaw.
(Hanbury, now a top administrator at Nova Southeastern University, denies Naugle's accusations. "I've been gone two years, and he still seems to enjoy making false allegations against me," he says.)
You never shy away from a fight.
That's not true. I choose my fights. There are too many battles and not enough hours in the day.
Tell me about your mentor, Bob Cox.
Bob served in the city for 20-some years. In 1988 he became mayor, and he retired in 1991, which was when I ran for mayor. He was a person who would speak his mind regardless of the political consequences, and I think people respected him for that. And he said some things that were misunderstood. He was famous for some of his quotes.
He once told a fourth-grade class that all they needed to become mayor was to be "free, white, and 21."
Back in the old days, that was something common to say. As soon as he said it, he caught himself, and then he gave this beautiful speech about how any one of the kids, black or white, could be mayor or President of the United States some day.
He wanted to douse dumpsters with kerosene to keep homeless people from eating out of them.
He said kerosene, but he meant bleach. People say, "Oh poisoning garbage." He just meant Clorox or something like that. He said that Fort Lauderdale shouldn't be a mecca for gay tourists any more than it should be a mecca for vomiting college students. [Laughs.]
You were the lone vote on the Fort Lauderdale commission in support of the Boy Scout policy that excludes gays. Why?
Scouting has been a successful program. It's been around for almost 100 years, and I think it's a shame that it's under attack right now.
And you agree with the policy?
Yeah. Just like with the military. I think it's a commonsense policy that they have, and I don't think it should be tinkered with. I think the welfare of the kids is best determined by their parents. The Scouts have this policy, and I don't want to second-guess them. I don't think the Boy Scouts have said anything I disagree with.
Do you ever fear that gays and lesbians might organize to unseat you?
If I lose votes because of it, so be it. I have supporters in the city, both gay and straight. But my belief that homosexuality is a sin -- if people don't agree, I live with that. I don't have any hatred for people who are gay.
Do you believe that sodomy laws should be enforced?
So homosexuality is a criminal act?
What causes you to believe this?
My religious beliefs say it's a sin. But I'm tolerant of people. None of us are without sin. We've all done things from time to time that we would not be proud of.
Isn't your stance on gays intolerant?
Intolerance would be if you were homophobic and didn't want to have anything to do with any gay people and condemned them. Throughout my career, I haven't been that way. I am certain I have some supporters out there in the gay community.
Should gays be allowed to teach in public schools?
Public schools have a policy that says that's not a problem. I wouldn't want private or religious schools to be forced to have a different policy. Who knows what's next? There's always home schooling.
Have you fallen behind mainstream society in terms of gay issues?
I don't think I'm out of mainstream America. I think my beliefs are similar to most citizens today. Maybe it's a silent majority, but people don't feel that it's right.
OK, let's look at your friends. There's Bob Cox. There's Fred Guardabassi, who sent a letter to the Sun-Sentinel complaining about "fags" and "queers." And you've got Dr. D. James Kennedy, the reverend who basically believes that homosexuality leads to damnation.
Fred's been a leader in this community. I don't agree with everything he does or says, but I respect him just like I respect [gay-rights and city activist] Robin Bodiford. Ask Robin what kind of mayor she thinks I've been.
I have. She agrees with most everything you do, but she wants you out of office anyway because of your views on homosexuality. Have you ever used the word fag?
I don't know if I've ever used it or not. Look at the word gay. Fort Lauderdale in 1963 had an advertising campaign that said, "Fort Lauderdale: The gay place to visit."
Rachel picks something up from a counter. "That's your menorah," Naugle explains. "There're eight candles, and the middle one is to light the other candles, and it represents the eight days of the oil burning."
You're a hard-core Christian, yet you're raising your daughter as a Jew. Tell me about that.
My wife is Jewish, and she wants Rachel to be raised in the Jewish faith. I respect that. We discussed this when we got married. Our marriage ceremony was performed by a minister and a rabbi. I don't see a conflict. I love my wife very much and accept that she has a different faith. It's important to her.
But Jews don't believe in Jesus, and you believe Jesus is the key to salvation.
[Laughs.] But they do believe that homosexuality is a sin. It wasn't that difficult for me, really. I just feel it's something that people need to reconcile in their own hearts.