Every Sunday at noon, WPBT-TV (Channel 2) in Miami airs Issues, one of those earnest public-affairs talk shows that you know you should probably watch but never do. One Sunday last month, moderator Helen Ferré presented a panel of two freshly coifed journalists, a toothy young politician, and a bespectacled academic type to discuss the effects of legislative term limits. She introduced the last as Jim Kane of Fort Lauderdale, a polling specialist and editor of Florida Voter. He was asked to lead off the analysis.
"Back in 1992, when voters passed term limits, we had some of the lowest levels of trust in government since modern polling began," said Kane, perhaps Florida's best-known political pollster, who wore a dour expression on his thoughtful face. He brightened slightly as he described an ironic twist of public opinion. Even though voters distrust government in the abstract, he explained, they usually like their own representatives, so they're ambivalent about term limits. "It's like, 'Stop me before I reelect my incumbent legislator again,'" he said, beaming at his own joke. Suddenly turning solemn he noted that the potential problem with term limits is that it gives more power to lobbyists and special-interest groups.
What the mercurial Kane, age 52, didn't mention is that he is one of those special-interest lobbyists. He's also a political campaign consultant, fundraiser, and businessman who receives public contracts from Broward County's Democratic leaders -- many of whom he helped get elected. While he's locally identified with Democrats, his bread is buttered by a powerful family that supports Republicans in statewide and national contests. Florida Voter, his ostensibly independent monthly polling newsletter, lists as its publisher M. Austin Forman, one of Broward County's most politically influential businessmen.
But you wouldn't know about the many faces of Jim Kane from reading the more than 120 articles in newspapers during the past year in which he is quoted. Reporters from The Miami Herald, the Sun-Sentinel, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other papers use Kane as their all-purpose expert on what Florida voters think and feel. He's their oracle on whether Vice President Al Gore has a chance against Texas governor George W. Bush, how Columba Bush's Paris shopping spree played in Pensacola, and even why the public was so broad-minded about President Clinton's peccadilloes.
"I talk to him quite a bit because I've found him to be pretty good," says Terry Neal, a national political reporter for The Washington Post. "His poll is well respected in Washington, and he gets back to you quickly." But Neal admits that he didn't know about Kane's heavy involvement in Broward Democratic politics. "I plead guilty," he says. "I cover politics all over the country, and I don't know everything about each pollster."
Kane's multiple roles create clear conflicts of interest for him, the politicians he backs, and the reporters and editors who publish his survey results and commentary. Polling experts argue that the public is entitled to know more about the possible biases of a pollster who strongly influences media coverage of elections. Yet Kane refused to discuss his political and business interests with New Times -- and even threatened to file criminal charges against a reporter when asked about these issues.
"It undermines the credibility of polling in the mind of the public if the pollster has obligations in another sphere that haven't been made clear," says Warren Mitofsky, a veteran New York media pollster who founded the CBS News/New York Times Poll. "News organizations have an obligation to identify him as a partisan political player."
Kane is undeniably partisan in what's shaping up to be a high-profile political clash over a proposed 38-story, $50 million apartment tower next to Fort Lauderdale's century-old Stranahan House. The two-story pine house, on the banks of the New River, was the area's original Indian trading post, ferry station, school, post office, and civic meeting hall, as well as the home of Frank and Ivy Stranahan, who helped found the city. Kane is serving as a paid lobbyist for the developers.
His clients, the Related Group of Florida and Coolidge-South Markets Equities, may need all the political help they can get. They want to wrap a 312-unit tower, a retail arcade, and a parking garage around the old house on the 1.5-acre site now occupied by Hyde Park Market on Las Olas Boulevard. But the trustees of the Stranahan House, a museum visited by 25,000 people a year, have long wanted to acquire that land for a park, an office, and a gift shop. The public, they argue, should be able to see the house and the river from Las Olas and not have those sights blocked by a 363-foot-tall building.
The current battleground is the Downtown Development Authority, a quasi-public agency that recently won approval for a $12 million bond issue for downtown improvements. The Stranahan board wants the DDA to condemn the property, pay the owner fair-market value, and create a park. But judging from the agency's meeting last month, the DDA looks like hostile turf for park supporters. The ten board members, several of whom are real-estate investors and/or developers themselves, listened sympathetically as Jorge Perez, chairman of Related, stressed the importance of building more residential units downtown. "This is the greatest residential site in South Florida," gushed Perez, who vowed to give the Stranahan House free space in his arcade for an office and a gift shop.
Restlessly pacing near the door was Kane, who looked out of place among the businessmen and attorneys in the room. Clutching a large coffee cup and wearing a gray houndstooth jacket, open-neck white shirt, and baggy black slacks bunched up over his clunky rubber-soled shoes, he looked like a professor who'd walked into the wrong lecture hall. But his job wasn't to impress anyone or even to speak at the meeting. His presence alone was sufficient, because the DDA board is packed with his close friends and business associates, with whom Kane has a long history of swapping favors.
Board member Jack Loos is a boyhood pal and investment partner. Kane, Loos, and another board member, William Scherer, jointly own a building on NE Fourth Street in Fort Lauderdale, which is leased to the county for $149,534 a year, according to county records. Yet another board member, Walter Morgan, is the trustee for the property. Norman Tripp, the DDA's vice chairman, also has close ties to the lobbyist. Kane provided Tripp with crucial polling assistance that helped the vice chairman get this year's $139 million Broward County Library bond referendum passed.
Kane's friends on the board came through for him. One by one they voiced support for Kane's project and misgivings about the Stranahan House's park plan. "You've done a very nice job," Loos told the developer. "I'm not in favor of condemnation," said Morgan. "The voters didn't approve that bond issue so we could spend $20 million for a park," added Tripp.
After the meeting Dick Dickinson, a member of the Stranahan House board, looked mystified. "Clearly, something has happened that has changed the DDA's position," said Dickinson, who has been attending its meetings and schmoozing the board all year. "Several months ago the board members were talking with some enthusiasm about using the bond money to acquire the site. What changed? I don't know. I don't know if the lobbyists made a difference." Loos later insisted, however, that he'd always felt that if the Stranahan House and the city want a park, they -- not the DDA -- should put up the money.
But Dickinson had the upper hand one week later, when he spoke to the Rio Vista Civic Association, which represents residents who live across the New River from the proposed tower. After his pitch for a park, three of the developer's representatives (Kane was not present) tried to explain the advantages of their project. But they were heckled by residents, who complained that the tower would increase traffic and obscure the city's most important historic site. "Why not just tear the Stranahan House down and get rid of what little history that we have here?" jeered Georgette Sosa Douglass of SE Ninth Street.
The community group's hostility foreshadows problems for Kane and his clients, who will seek approval for the project at next week's meeting of the city's development review committee. Although the developer needs only the OK of city planners to proceed, public opposition could force the city commission to get involved. "I'll bet my bottom dollar that it goes to the commission for a decision," says Joseph Millsaps, a Stranahan board member and an experienced developer himself.
If it does go to the commission, the outcome could be iffy. Three of the five members, Mayor Jim Naugle and commissioners Gloria Katz and Jack Latona, all worry that the high-rise is too tall for the site. Naugle has frequently voted against downtown high-rises, while Latona, who represents the downtown district, has wavered. Katz, who was appointed to fill a vacant seat earlier this year, is an unknown factor. She says she wants to be a voice for neighborhood groups, not "downtown types."
But the developers have a not-so-secret weapon. Like the DDA board, the city commission is packed with Kane's friends. Katz says he is currently advising her and raising money to help her get elected in March. In June, according to city records, Kane helped her pull in at least $2200 from Austin Forman and other Kane business associates, plus $1100 from the developer and attorneys for the proposed high-rise. In Latona's last campaign two years ago, he raised at least $8800 from people and companies with which Kane works, and he hired Kane as his pollster. Mayor Naugle and Commissioner Carlton Moore received smaller amounts of money from Kane associates during their last campaigns.
Katz stresses that Kane hasn't spoken to her about the proposed high-rise. "Maybe he doesn't want to put me in an awkward position," she explains. But others say she's already there. "It's clearly a huge problem that Kane is consulting with Katz and lobbying on the Stranahan tower," says a veteran Broward political consultant, who didn't want to be identified. "We often forget ethics around here."
By all accounts Jim Kane is a smart, funny, likable guy. He grew up in the Coral Ridge section of Fort Lauderdale, according to articles in the Sun-Sentinel and The Herald. From grade school on, he was best buddies with Austin Forman, whose powerful father Hamilton Forman, the preeminent Broward land developer, taught him all about politics. Forman senior put Kane to work slipping campaign fliers under windshield wipers. The nuts and bolts of politics was a natural fit for young Kane. "Jim was always the bookwormy one of us," says county commissioner Lori Parrish, another old pal and Forman ally. "He loved obscure statistical stuff that the rest of us hated."
In the late '60s, Kane studied political science at Georgetown University. It was during his college years, he has said, that he got interested in polling, after working for one of the first companies that conducted telephone surveys. When he returned to Fort Lauderdale, he became a key political operative for the Forman empire by helping friendly candidates with their campaigns. In 1968 he married Bobbie Loos, the sister of his buddy Jack.
Kane worked for a variety of businesses associated with the Formans -- cemeteries, waste disposal, quarrying, bus advertising, Port Everglades warehousing, and real-estate management and development, according to state and county court records. In the early '80s, he took advantage of the development of cheap, powerful personal computers to start his own polling firm, USA Poll, which conducts voter surveys for political candidates and special-interest groups. In 1988 he coordinated Parrish's successful reelection campaign. Several months later the Formans helped arrange his appointment to his first political office, commissioner of the Port Everglades Authority, in which the family had business interests. In 1990 he was accused of conflict of interest in voting to grant port business to two political insiders, attorney William Scherer and lobbyist George Platt, with whom he shared -- and still shares -- ownership of a land trust. The county attorney, however, ruled that there was no ethics violation.
But public dissatisfaction with perceived waste and corruption prompted voters to abolish the Port Everglades Authority in 1992 and turn the port over to the county government. Helen Ferris, who for many years led the criticism of port officials, recalls that, more than the other commissioners, Kane went down with a sense of humor. "He told me he was getting up at 4 in the morning to read the newspaper and see how stupid he had been the day before," she says. "That made me laugh. You couldn't help but like him."
Maintaining a sense of humor must not have been easy for him at the time. In 1992 he filed for divorce from his estranged wife, Bobbie. With custody of their two teenage children at issue, the situation got ugly. When the divorce -- and large alimony order -- went through in March 1993, he faced serious financial problems. Those problems only increased his dependence on his old friend Austin Forman, for whose company American Marketing and Management he was working at the time. "He's owned by the Formans," says the Broward politico who didn't want to be named. "He'd like to extricate himself, but he needs the money and hasn't figured out how to get out of it."
Lobbying helped pay the bills. His services were in demand because he had built up chits with county and city officials by helping them with their election campaigns. Two years ago he served as a key fundraiser and consultant for Parrish during her short-lived candidacy for the vacant Broward sheriff's post. She and the other six current county commissioners received at least $32,392 from business associates and lobbying clients of Kane's, such as American Marketing and Management and Hvide Marine, during their last election campaigns. Commissioner Scott Cowan hired Kane as his pollster last year.
Those chits proved valuable when he asked for favors for his clients and himself. Taxpayers could never be sure, however, whether elected officials were approving Kane's deals because they were good for the public or because the officials owed Kane favors. In 1994 the county commission decided to buy an Oakland Park building owned by Kane, Austin Forman, Loos, and lobbyist George Platt for more than twice the lowest appraisal price that had been placed on it. The purchase went through, but press allegations of cronyism led the commission shortly afterward to tighten its rules on property purchases.
As a registered lobbyist for Broward taxi king Jesse Gaddis, Kane helped convince the Broward school board this past July to buy a 38-acre site for a new school in northwest Fort Lauderdale for more than twice what Gaddis paid for the property in 1993. One school board member now wants to reconsider the deal. Kane is also a registered lobbyist for Health Insurance Plan of Florida. Earlier this year the school board voted to terminate its long-standing employee health insurance contract with Humana Health Plan and award the $50 million plum jointly to HIP and another health plan.
Next spring the county commission will have to decide whether to exercise its $1.2 million purchase option on Kane's own building on NE Fourth Street, which houses the county's Sexual Assault Treatment Center. If the appraised value comes in lower than $1.2 million, the commissioners will have to think hard about whether to pay Kane and his partners the full contracted price -- and risk facing criticism that taxpayers got gouged in another insider deal.
"He's very close friends with all the important Democrats in the county, and he gets what he wants," says Doris Altier, who served with him on the port commission.
But those who know him well say Kane's heart is in the study of politics and public opinion, not in influence peddling. "Jim always wanted to be a professor or a writer," says Lori Parrish. "But I guess when you have a family, you have to put your dreams aside and make a living."
Four years ago he got a shot at his dream. With Austin Forman's financial help, he launched the Davie-based Florida Voter as part of an organization called the Forman Center For Political Studies. Kane surveys registered Florida voters four to six times a year, mostly on statewide issues like affirmative action, the governor's job-approval ratings, and political races. Florida Voter pays for some of the polls, and media clients sponsor others. Kane puts his findings in the journal, for which subscribers pay $250 a year.
Kane refuses to discuss the ownership of Florida Voter, and Forman, according to his assistant, does not speak to reporters. But Forman was quoted in the Sun-Sentinel two years ago saying that he pays for the polls and the journal as a way of "empowering people" -- and loses money on the venture. Forman is listed as publisher, and Parrish and others say they assume he still funds the operation. Unlike Kane, Forman makes no claim of being nonpartisan. He was a major supporter of Republican candidate Jeb Bush for governor last year. This past June he was a prominent presence at a $1000-a-head fundraiser for Texas governor George W. Bush, a leading GOP presidential candidate.
Florida Voter got a big boost to its nonpartisan credentials when the University of Florida political science department signed on as cosponsor in 1996. Kane was appointed adjunct professor at the university, where he teaches courses on lobbying and collaborates on research with Stephen Craig, a UF political science professor. Craig says the university's relationship with Florida Voter, which he refused to discuss in detail, allows professors to conduct surveys the school couldn't otherwise afford. "This is a really unique opportunity, because you won't find many people like Jim Kane who are willing to let people like me have access to the kind of data he produces," he says. Asked whether he is concerned that a partisan activist like Austin Forman bankrolls the journal, Craig replied: "Of course that impacts on [Kane's] credibility. We take that into account, and we do that in a way that has satisfied us." Craig also says he's not concerned about Kane's lobbying and consulting duties. "His political affiliations and work are his business."
But others find Kane's multiple roles disturbing. There is always the potential for a pollster's biases to influence the wording and ordering of questions, sample selection, and data interpretation, notes Jerry Kolo, an urban planning professor at Florida Atlantic University. It is impossible, he argues, for Kane's sponsorship and affiliations not to influence his research findings, at least subtly. "The Formans are one of the most powerful political forces in Florida," Kolo says. "Kane has aligned himself with them. Why would he do anything against the interests of his allies?"
While no one has found specific examples of bias in his Florida Voter polls, Kane released survey findings this year that helped Austin Forman's favorite brother-act. In the July 6, 1999, issue of the journal, Kane reported that, in a hypothetical presidential matchup, George W. Bush had "extended" his lead over Al Gore to 18 points. Kane explained that Jeb Bush's increased job approval rating as governor has been a big boost to George W. He also told New Times that if Gore wins the Democratic nomination, he doesn't have a prayer of carrying Florida and won't seriously campaign here, which would hurt the Democratic Party candidate for U.S. Senate.
These findings and conclusions may be legitimate. But the news media typically disclose the party or special-interest affiliation of pollsters they quote to help the public understand a pollster's potential biases. In Kane's case, however, the media invariably describe him as nonpartisan or independent. In late June, The New York Times published an article downplaying the political impact of the incident in which Jeb Bush's wife lied to customs agents about her Paris shopping purchases. Kane was quoted as saying that it would have "no effect at all" on the Bush brothers' popularity with voters. He was identified in the article only as "editor of the Florida Voter, a news and polling service." The Times reporter also quoted another pollster expressing the same view. That pollster was identified as a Republican.
Questions about Kane's objectivity are even more obvious when he polls on Broward issues. Earlier this year he conducted a USA Poll for the Broward League of Cities on how voters view the proposed overhaul of county government, which will be the subject of a referendum next March. In June The Herald ran an article on Kane's findings: strong public support for electing county commissioners from single-member districts, but much weaker backing for establishing a strong county mayor. Earlier this week the Sun-Sentinel published the results of a new Florida Voter poll showing increased support for a strong mayor. Neither The Herald nor the Sun-Sentinel mentioned Kane's close ties to the county commissioners, who fiercely oppose the strong-mayor model because it would reduce their power. "He's a little too close to the flame to be polling a local issue like that," says Dan Lewis, a veteran Broward political consultant.
Kane's defenders argue that, while he probably should disclose his affiliations, his survey methodology is scientifically solid. "I am aware of the Forman connection, but it doesn't affect my assessment of his polling, because the techniques he uses are sound," says Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida who cooperates with Kane on research. "I'm careful to look at sample size and the wording of questions, and I can't ever recall seeing a question of his that I thought was intentionally misworded." Besides, she says, Kane can't afford to let his vested interests influence his conclusions. "If he turns out to be wrong, no one will subscribe to his polls. That's the best check of all."
Kane bristled when asked about the potential conflicts of interest. "Of course you can be a pollster and political consultant," he said. "That's the dumbest question I ever heard. Most pollsters are." He insisted that he is not obligated to disclose his political and business affiliations to reporters, as long as his comments are based on nonpartisan Florida Voter polls and not on polls paid for by private clients.
But two prominent polling experts disagree with Kane, and the ethics codes created by the National Council on Public Polls (NCOPP) and the American Association For Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) contradict his position. Those codes call for all pollsters, when they publicly release findings, to disclose who paid for the survey, who conducted it, and how it was done. The aim is to ensure that the public has an adequate basis for judging the validity of the reported results.
"It would be in the spirit of our ethics code for him to disclose the ownership of the polling firm," says Michael Kagay, news-survey editor for The New York Times and past president of the AAPOR. "Wouldn't you naturally be suspicious about any company that wouldn't tell you who its CEO is?" Contrary to Kane's contention, Kagay says, it's "rather unusual" for a pollster also to serve as a lobbyist.
"He may be doing legitimate and competent work," says media pollster Warren Mitofsky, who is the standards chairman for the association and drafted the NCOPP's disclosure code. "But if he refuses to disclose who owns the polling company, he's polling for partisan causes, and he's working as a lobbyist and campaign consultant, that raises a red flag, at least in terms of appearance."
Kagay says Kane may have violated the ethics codes by sharing only some of the polling results on the county government reform issue earlier this year with New Times. Kane gave this reporter a brief summary of his findings (which appeared in a New Times article on February 11, "At-Large Ignorance"), but declined to discuss them any further on the grounds that the poll was done for a private client. The ethics codes, however, state that if a pollster publicizes findings -- including those based on a privately sponsored survey -- he is required to provide full details on the sponsorship, methodology, and percentages upon which the conclusions are based. "If some or all the material was released publicly, then the pollster has an obligation under the code to share basic disclosure," Kagay says.
Despite Kane's potentially conflicting roles, the Sun-Sentinel commissioned him to conduct a series of pre-election surveys last year on the Jeb Bush-Buddy MacKay gubernatorial race. As a Bush supporter, Florida Voter publisher Austin Forman had a vested interest in the results. Kane was widely quoted in the news media saying that Bush was far ahead.
Kathy Trumbull, deputy managing editor of the Sun-Sentinel, refused to say whether her paper will hire Kane to poll for next year's elections, in which Forman's preferred candidate, George W. Bush, is likely to be a presidential contender. "Our experience with Mr. Kane is that he has always been very reliable," she said. Asked whether it is a conflict of interest for the paper to use a pollster who is active as a lobbyist and whose journal is published by Austin Forman, she said: "You'd have to ask Mr. Kane about the ownership."
Mitofsky expressed surprise that the Sun-Sentinel would hire Kane. "It's a serious lapse in judgment for a news organization to hire a pollster who does partisan work," he says. "They wouldn't carry a news story written by a person who was working for someone with a vested interest in what was in the story. I don't know why they would use a pollster under the same circumstances." Trumbull declined to respond to Mitofsky's criticism.
Kagay acknowledges that The New York Times, which quoted Kane at least five times in 1999 alone, also may have been lax in not noting his partisan affiliations. Times reporters are supposed to call Kagay to check out a pollster's background. But he doesn't recall any reporter asking him to vet Kane. "If the pollster might have biases, that would be of high interest," he says. "You'd want some disclosure to alert readers that there may be some conflict of interest or certain interests at stake."
But Terry Neal of The Washington Post, which also has quoted Kane at least five times in the past year and identified him only as a "nonpartisan" pollster, says Kane's local political connections won't deter him from calling Kane in the future. "The question for me is whether a pollster is respected by both sides and offers unbiased polls," he says. "I don't know anyone accusing him of shading his polls for ideological reasons."
Still, WPBT-TV, after being contacted by New Times, decided that it will "properly and accurately" identify him if and when he's invited back on the Issues show. "The producer was unaware of his other affiliations," says Jody Rafkind, the station's advertising and promotions manager. "I don't know if we'd still use him for South Florida issues."
Kane and his wife took aggressive steps to block New Times' inquiries into his political and business affiliations. And Kane, who makes himself widely available to the news media for interviews, made himself remarkably unavailable to this newspaper.
After New Times published critical articles earlier this year about Hamilton Forman and Hvide Marine, for which Kane also lobbies, he stopped returning phone calls from this newspaper. Over a period of a few months, New Times left at least six phone messages for him, e-mailed him twice, and stopped by his office twice to talk to him, with no response. Finally this reporter knocked on the door of his Fort Lauderdale home one evening last month. His wife, Pam, answered and said her husband wasn't home. She then asked if the visitor were a reporter. He handed her a New Times business card and asked that her husband call him back. "Get out," she snapped. "I'm going to call the police."
The next day Kane called the managing editor of New Times, alleging that the reporter had trespassed and frightened his wife, who was alone with their young child. He said that he was too busy talking to other reporters to return calls from this newspaper. A day later this reporter was having lunch at Charcuterie Too, the cafeteria at the downtown Broward library in Fort Lauderdale, which is just down the street from New Times' office, when he saw Pam Kane walk by his table. No words were exchanged, but the next day Jim Kane called the editor again, warning that his wife was thinking about filing a complaint accusing the reporter of "stalking."
Kane finally agreed to a phone interview but only to discuss politics in general. He was genial and expansive, boasting that he was the first pollster to predict that Clinton would carry Florida in 1996. He criticized the media and his fellow pollsters for focusing too much on who's winning and who's losing and not enough on important issues like affirmative action. But when asked who owns Florida Voter and whether he should disclose his potential conflicts of interest, his affable tone vanished. "Since we're talking about disclosure, I think it's only fair to tell you that my wife thinks you're a stalker and has reported you to the Broward Sheriff's Office. Before you write anything, you should know that." He abruptly ended the interview.
Later that week this reporter was standing in the food line at Charcuterie Too with a fellow reporter when he saw Pam Kane again and said hello to her. "Get away from me," she said angrily. "I don't want you talking to me. When I get back to my office, I'm calling [Sheriff Ken] Jenne."
This may not have been the first time the Kanes appealed to higher political authorities for protection. Last month Alexander Cocalis, the former chief of litigation for the Broward County Attorney's Office, filed suit against the county in federal district court, charging that he was fired last December because he criticized Pam Kane, who works as an assistant county attorney. The 67-year-old Cocalis, who worked for the county for 26 years, wrote a scathing memo to his superiors, which, according to court records, accused Ms. Kane of incompetence and urged that she be removed from important litigation. Less than two months after he wrote the memo, he was fired without explanation by newly appointed county attorney Russell Morrison. He alleges in his lawsuit that the firing violated his constitutional free-speech rights.
Cocalis had consistently received outstanding performance ratings, and commissioner Scott Cowan wrote a memo after Cocalis' firing stating that Morrison dismissed Cocalis "without cause." Pam Kane has also received strong performance reviews. She started working in the county attorney's office in late 1992, while living with Jim Kane before they were married, according to court records. Since then her salary has soared from $48,000 to $85,230.
When he complained to his superiors about Ms. Kane, Cocalis says, they told him that they couldn't do anything because she was protected by Commissioner Parrish -- an allegation Parrish vehemently denies. But on her job application, Ms. Kane listed Parrish as her lead reference, along with Austin Forman and William Scherer. Scherer, her husband's investment partner and a strong Parrish ally, helped arrange for Morrison to be appointed as the new county attorney. Cocalis says Jim Kane's influence with the county commissioners will be a central issue in his lawsuit.
But Parrish denies that she had any role in Cocalis' firing. "Jim wouldn't come to me to protect Pam's job," she says. "He's a great guy. He's not like that."
Sitting in a coffeehouse last month, freshman city commissioner Gloria Katz readily admitted that she's naive about politics. "I wish I could just focus on the issues and learning the job," said Katz, who lacks the self-assurance of a professional politician. "But people keep telling me I have to prepare for the election, because unless I get elected, I can't do any of the good things for the community that I want to do."
Soon after she was appointed to the commission in March, her friends suggested that she contact Jim Kane. "I never heard of him before, but I called him, and he's been advising me on what to do and not to do, on a volunteer basis. He's a nice man." Then she frowned. "I found out later that he's a lobbyist."
Before long she found herself accepting contributions that Kane had raised from his friends and associates in the real-estate business, including the developer of the proposed tower next to Stranahan House. "I know the people giving the money are probably the same ones who have business with the city, but I'm taking it," she said sheepishly.
Despite her apparent queasiness, she said she'll continue working with Kane on fundraising and strategy. She isn't sure why a professional campaign consultant would help her for free, and she's not particularly curious. Could it be that he wants influence with a city commissioner who may be the swing vote on his client's high-rise project? "I don't know," she answered quietly. "Isn't everyone who gives money to candidates hoping that people will smile favorably on them?"
Katz likes the idea of a park rather than a high-rise next to the Stranahan House and the river, but she doesn't know how she'll vote if the issue comes before the commission. Wouldn't it be hard to say no to Kane, who's been so nice to her? "I'll let you know," she replied. "I haven't had to do it yet."
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"At-Large Ignorance," February 11, 1999
Contact Harris Meyer at his e-mail address: