In the past few years, former Fort Lauderdale city commissioner Tim Smith has watched in alarm as crack dealers turned a local park in his NE 13th Street neighborhood into an all-night drug bazaar.
This is no joke. After sunset one night last week, Tailpipe took a quick spin through the neighborhood whose streets have been especially dark since Hurricane Wilma trashed the streetlights to see firsthand just how nightmarish things have become. Along 13th Street west of Dixie Highway, fiends for the white rock shuffled about like animated zombies. An emaciated bald woman, mouth agape, lolled on a bus bench as a large dreadlocked man walked in circles on the sidewalk in front of her. Another man pranced nearby, laughing and singing, seemingly unaware that he was in the middle of the street.
"This corridor has been known forever as a place to buy $10 bags of crack rock," says Smith, a short, amiable man whose last foray into politics was a mayoral bid three years ago (he was walloped by Mayor Jim Naugle).
Smith and other community activists have tried everything from neighborhood watch programs to political pressure to fight back. It's time to try a tech approach. With the help of Brad Cohen, a former contender on the television show The Apprentice and currently a candidate for City Commission in District 2, the group is using a high-powered, $2,100 Sony video surveillance camera (bought by Cohen) to fight back. Crack Cam will soon be an unblinking Orwellian watchdog, mounted on a privately owned building next to Middle River Terrace Park, where many of the drug transactions go down.
"This camera can pick up all of the drug transactions that occur in the park," Cohen said at the Crack Cam unveiling last week. "Not just hand-to-hand transactions but transactions that occur in cars as well." As he spoke, concerned citizens stood behind him holding handpainted signs that read "Crack Cam on Duty," "Buyer Beware, Crack Cam on Duty," and the 'Pipe's personal fave, "Got Crack? Smile for the Camera." This last one was covered in smiley faces.
The Crack Cam, which can zoom in and magnify video images 300 times, is housed in a hard metal case, peering out at the drug dealers of 13th Street through a polypropylene bubble, similar to what casinos use. According to Cohen, the camera can be rotated and viewed remotely over the Internet, via a secure IP address. Only the police and a few neighborhood residents will be able to control and view Crack Cam images.
"Privacy issues" kept antidrug activists from mounting the camera in a public space, so local business owner Vince Fazio offered use of his property, which abuts the park.
The 'Pipe squelched his knee-jerk skepticism (like, do they expect drug dealers to hand over packets inscribed with crack or cocaine for the camera to record?) to give Smith's group the benefit of the doubt. At least they're doing something.
Maybe the camera, which has a range of 300 feet, will clear the area of street dealers. On the other hand, maybe the dealers, once they figure out where Crack Cam is, will all just cluster 301 feet away.
Watch Out, Parasite
While local politicians floated on air the other day at the opening of the Tutankhamun exhibition at the Museum of Art, exulting in a predicted $121 million economic impact from Tut's four-month visit, Zahi Hawass, the Egyptian antiquities czar who's largely responsible for bringing the show to the U.S., stood to the side with a look of steady, unamused resolve.
Take your profits. Marvel at Egypt's marvelous art. But the piper must be paid.
That was the essence of what Hawass, an erect man with wavy gray hair and a zealous glint in his eyes, had to say at the media opening.
"There will be no free meals any more," he said. Unlike Tut's first visit to the U.S. in 1979, when Egypt got little more than the satisfaction of seeing its antiquities admired by millions of Americans, Hawass' program of artifact preservation and restoration will get a substantial slice of the take an estimated $7 million economic impact from Fort Lauderdale alone. The money will go to build museums the first of which will be completed in Egypt's prime pyramid site, the Valley of the Kings, in five years and to finance a sweeping effort to bring home stolen museum pieces.
First on Hawass' agenda are five world-famous artifacts that now reside in world-class museums outside of Egypt. They include the Rosetta Stone (at the British Museum), a Zodiac ceiling painting (the Louvre), and a bust of Nefertiti (Berlin). All of them were stolen, Hawass contends.
He added that there's still an active illegal market in stolen Egyptian antiquities.
The 'Pipe says: Yo, imperialist parasites. Watch out. Hawass is comin' after yer asses.
Let Us Spray
The Hollywood City Commission last week voted 5-2 to urge video-game maker Atari Corp. not to release its newest game, Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure. The game, which will be released in February, has players acting as graffiti-spraying protagonists, or "taggers," who spray-paint a city's buildings in protest of a corrupt mayor and police department.
The player's challenge is to use acrobatic maneuvers to spray-paint embarrassing messages on different locations around the city. Using his trusty spray can, the outlaw graffiti artist makes citizens aware of their tyrannical mayor.
Hollywood's elected officials (excluding Commissioners Peter Bober and Beam Furr) believe the game will inspire kids to hit Broward's streets, spray-paint cans in hand.
A video game whose protagonist fights a corrupt city hall and police department? This has an eerie ring of authenticity on Hollywood Boulevard, where City Hall doles out developer subsidies in the same spirit FEMA hands out generator rebates and where the city's Police Department enforces the law with clenched fists.
Button up, pipsqueak, with your spray can and your rebellious messages. We're gonna shut you down.
Slots? We Love Slots!
There's a sweet irony in listening to recent fulminations by Hollywood's imperious mayor, Mara Giulianti, who has been maneuvering for a slice of the expected profits from slot machines that will soon grace Broward's pari-mutuel venues. Giulianti and city staff members went to Tallahassee to argue before the House Business Regulation Committee that her city should get a $500 fee per slot machine for regulating the increased traffic and crime associated with slots operations.
Hollywood, of course, has no pari-mutuel tracks of its own, but Gulfstream Park, Dania Jai-Alai, and Hollywood Greyhound Track are all within a mile of the city limits. "The impact will be enormous," she told the Herald.
She certainly knows about impact. Giulianti's scorch-and-burn stance has all but doomed the city from getting a piece of the slots vig. Before the March referendum in which Broward voters approved slots, city officials tried and failed to broker a deal with the local tracks to get a percentage of slot revenue. Then Giulianti threw a classic mayoral tantrum.
"They are greedy," she said of the pari-mutuel owners. "The way we were treated by the CEOs of those things they don't want to give us a red cent. The villains are not us; the villains are the gambling interests who make the money." (Unless, of course, they give Hollywood some red cents.)
Led by Giulianti, a majority of the City Commission voted to spend up to $50,000 lobbying against the referendum. Aghast when the Greater Chamber of Commerce came out in support of slots, she also vowed to slash city grants to the agency.
Last week, the city failed to sweet-talk Florida lawmakers into giving it some of the slots profits. No surprise that some of the pari-mutuel owners or "villains" wouldn't go along with the deal.
So here's what Giulianti has accomplished: To date, Hollywood has spent $28,000 for lobbying against slots last winter and lobbying to get slot profits this fall; then it slashed funding for the Chamber of Commerce by $60,000.
Of course, when it comes to gambling, consistency has never been Giulianti's strong suit. Back in the late 1990s, townsfolk fought long and hard to get Gus Boulis' SunCruz gambling ship from using Martha's Supper Club dock on the Intracoastal. Drunken customers and illegally parked cars frayed neighbors' nerves.
Back then, Giulianti was regally dismissive of the complaints. "[W]hen you live on a beach," she told the Miami Herald, "you're going to have some problems."
As told to Edmund Newton
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