Not surprisingly, Broward and Palm Beach counties had more than their share of backroom deals, slimy alliances, ego trips, and moral shilly-shallying this year. So many scoundrels, so many liars, so many wimps and turncoats. So many bums stalking our backyards in 2008, in fact, that New Times considered expanding its annual Dirty Dozen list.
Why the crowd of contenders for the bottom this year? Two words: Election year. While our winners weren't all connected to electoral politics, they all fed on the seasonal impulse to climb to the top over other people's backs or the yearning to get rich quick via the old snatch-and-grab-and-the-rest-be-damned.
All right, call us suckers for tradition. We settled for 12. Among those who measured up to our low standards: an NBA coach, a war profiteer, a rapper, an election supervisor, and a wannabe sheriff who was way too hungry. One list-topper fibbed about working for "the man" while acting all hard and anti-authority. Another is a fighter who tossed his street cred to the curb when he fell limp during the first few seconds of a bout.
Each gets a rating on our Dirt Meter, with one being merely nauseating and 10 for downright despicable.
Brenda Snipes Broward County's starchy supervisor of elections cuts an imposing figure. The former elementary school principal looks like she has paddled the behinds of many an errant schoolchild. Lately, though, voting rights activist Ellen Brodsky seems to be the one on the receiving end of those floggings. Brodsky culled an impressive 100,000-plus votes in her November run as an Independent for Snipes' job. Snipes still won easily. Maybe she thought an electoral beat-down would finally keep the activist away from her public meetings. Nope. There was Brodsky, like an annoying eye twitch, repeatedly monitoring proceedings, asking embarrassing questions. At a recent public meeting, Brodsky was escorted out for raising her hand to ask a question. Then, a week later, Brodsky was arrested at the direction of Snipes' deputy. That's one way to take out political foes. It's not as if Snipes and her bumbling department are beyond criticism. For example, county election officials sent absentee voters return envelopes for ballots in the November 4 race that identified the voters' party affiliations on the outside. What nitwit came up with that idea? Dirty Meter reading: 7 (Classic vendetta.)
Scott Israel In the wide open, five-candidate race for the Democratic nomination for Broward sheriff that raged last summer, Scott Israel distinguished himself as the most desperate, unscrupulous option. The police chief of tiny North Bay Village had been a lifelong Republican, an affiliation he hoped would earn him an interview with our GOP governor. In the fall of 2007, Crist needed an interim replacement for Sheriff Ken Jenne, who pleaded guilty to corruption charges. But Crist didn't even give Israel an interview before he appointed Al Lamberti. Then Israel changed his party registration to Democrat. Presumably, after selling that part of one's political soul, it's easier to part with what's left. Israel hired a ruthless campaign adviser in Judy Stern, and then embarked on a fundraising drive that included vendors who served the Broward Sheriff's Office, suggesting that he learned nothing from Jenne about the danger of mingling contracts with political favors. Flush with campaign dollars, Israel's name was plastered all over Broward, though not on the malicious literature aimed at his rivals. One hit mailer portrayed former federal prosecutor Bruce Udolf, a Southwest Ranches resident, as a hayseed. Another contained a cartoon likeness of Wiley Thompson, an African-American, wearing a bow tie (a brilliant attempt to suggest Uncle Tom sell-out to black voters and black Muslim to paranoid white voters). Israel won the primary. But his dirty games backfired. In a general election where Barack Obama's candidacy drove high Democrat turnout, droves of voters cast ballots for Republican Lamberti. Israel made a deal with the Devil, and he learned a hard lesson in how the Devil gets his due. Dirty Meter reading: 6 (Anything higher is like dancing on a grave.)
Charlie Crist Behind the governor's handsome, tanned, "good guy" mug is a man who enjoys backroom back-scratching. Don't believe it? Check out his $1.34 billion offer to buy U.S. Sugar. The official rationale behind this taxpayer-funded takeover is that the state gets to revert 180,000 acres of agricultural soil back to wetlands, thus restoring the water flow between the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee. Wow! We have a green governor! Uh, not so fast. In its latest incarnation, the deal allows the sugar company to lease the land back at a cut-rate price until mid-2016. The South Florida Water Management District has the option to extend that lease. So, U.S. Sugar gets money in the bank, and it gets to stay in business. Brilliant! For them. The company would also be exempted from contributing cash to clean up the same Everglades it helped pollute all these years — the residents of the state of Florida will be solely responsible for that baby. The deal gets muckier if we remember that Crist is buddy-buddy with several fellas who lobby and represent the sugar industry. Crist has so many pals, it seems like he's still living in the frat house. Dirty Meter reading: 8 (We're getting much too used to bailouts.)
Roger Stone It's one thing for the average Joe to blame Roger Stone for eight years of President George W. Bush and all those senseless deaths in Iraq. But for Stone himself to express regret? C'mon. He's a soulless Republican hatchet man — the guy who led the infamous Brooks Brothers riot in the 2000 election recount, basically guaranteeing that we got one of the dumbest damn commanders-in-chief in the history of the oval office. Stone is supposed to put on a stony face and say: "Regrets? Heck no! GOP 4-ever, man." But, no. In November, Stone told blogger Benjamin Sarlin that there have been "many times" he regretted what went down in Florida. Like when he sees images of people blown to smithereens in Iraq. "Maybe there wouldn't have been a war if I hadn't gone to Miami-Dade," Stone mused. Like, there might not have been "an unjustified war if Bush hadn't become president," he added. Boo hoo, Roger. Repenting publicly might make Stone feel better. But the hired gun is still in the saddle. Stone was the brains behind the Republican campaign against Broward sheriff candidate Scott Israel. Stone compared Israel to three figures whom Stone himself helped usher into power: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Richard Nixon. What chutzpah. In one political ad, a Tricky Dick voice impersonator intoned, "Scott Israel is my kind of guy, a real operator. And just like me, he is not a crook." Yeah, sure. Dirty Meter reading: 8 (Jump in the shower, boys. Stone just walked through the room.)
Pat Riley He may be one of the greatest coaches in NBA history. He presided over the Miami Heat for more than a decade. He assembled the young franchise's first championship team. But as great as "Coach Slick" can be courtside, his willingness to push aside loyal colleagues for personal glory, then dump the whole coaching thing when the season sours, is less than admirable. Three years ago, when it was apparent that the injection of Shaquille O'Neal would lift the Dwyane Wade-led Heat into the elite of the NBA, Riley had no problem bumping player-favorite Stan Van Gundy from the coach's seat and replacing him with... himself. Since the Heat won the title that season, giving Riley his fifth ring, the president/coach got a pass. South Floridians, still buzzing from the amazing championship run, let Riley slide when the team got swept in the first round of playoffs the next year. But last season was a complete bust: The Heat started in last place and never improved. Just when it seemed like Riley was going to stick by his guys, he announced a vacation from coaching to "scout future talent" for the Heat. President Riley got out of watching the downer team from the bench. But he earned a place in our Dirty Dozen. Dirty Meter reading: 6 (Only because we're still a touch giddy over the championship.)
Rick Ross One of the most embarrassing things that can happen to a hardcore rapper is to have his alleged "street credibility" exposed as fake. Rick Ross, Miami's homegrown, deep-voiced rapper, made a career out of calling himself the boss of all bosses. In his rhymes, Ross likens himself to one of the largest gangsters the city has ever seen (he isn't referring to his sizable gut here). And he claims to be one of the biggest cocaine cowboys in Miami's history. When a little rumor that Ross isn't nearly as badass as he claims started to circulate, that he actually used to work as a correctional officer, Ross staunchly denied it. He's on record in print and video interviews claiming he never worked as a screw. But internet gotcha site smokinggun.com did a full investigation, locating Ross' old pay stubs as well as photos of him in a correctional officer's uniform. They blasted it out to the blogosphere and blew Ross' thug credibility. Ross, who currently lives in Davie, continued to deny that he ever worked as a C.O. Finally, two months ago, he confessed to working for the system. The man. The law. He may never live down the fraud. Rick Ross got caught, big time. Dirty Meter reading: 6 (Fibbing on your resume? Not so bad, unless you're a gangsta.)
Lew Hay III For all we know, the CEO of Florida Power & Light might not murder kittens and eat them for breakfast. It's possible that Lew Hay III doesn't steal candy from babies, prank call his own grandma, or move furniture around inside blind peoples' homes. After all, he does sound awfully sweet on those quarterly conference calls when he announces nearly double-digit profits. But Hay's face represents the company's evils. In June, FPL raised our rates by 16 percent because of higher fuel costs. When fuel prices dropped, the company didn't offer refunds until the AARP raised a stink. Even then, FPL said bills would drop by a measly 1.4 percent in January (hey, you still gotta pay to upgrade the nuclear plant). Come March, FPL intends to ask for a rate increase of 6 to 9 percent. Personally, Hay rakes in $10.4 million a year with a total compensation package that includes a country club membership. Also in 2008, FPL's "green" Sunshine Energy Program was found to be an aimless joke, and the company began construction on a new power plant in the Everglades. FPL pushed the Everglades plant with little public input, and then, after the state reluctantly agreed to a twin-turbine plant, craftily added a third combustion unit to the plans. In press releases, Hay makes friendly noises about his environmental concerns. So maybe he's not the bad guy. Maybe someone else in the company's corporate ranks is cranking out all that evil. FPL Group's former CFO Moray Dewhurst snuck out of the company in February to "undertake an extended ocean sailing venture." We hear that he stomps on coral reefs and spears baby whales for snack time. Dirty Meter reading: 8 (Electric power and fat paychecks are nifty.)
Florida Voters We're seriously impressed that Florida voters managed to vote in a presidential election without mortifying backwater snafus like hanging chads or a Brooks Brothers riot. Swell, folks. Real swell. We're equally stoked that the voting public distanced Florida from the state's Jim Crow days by backing a man of color. Florida hadn't stood behind a Democratic nominee for president since Bill Clinton. But, people, we're still stuck in the Dark Ages when it comes to civil liberties. Or the lack thereof. The bigots and Grinches among us voted in favor of Proposition 2, which defines marriage as the "legal union of only one man and one woman," a thinly veiled institutionalization of homophobia. It's mean-spirited and possibly unconstitutional. Florida's marriage amendment comes with troubling collateral damage: The new legal language leaves domestic partners of the opposite sex — as in one man and woman — in limbo when it comes to health care and other basic rights enjoyed by married couples. The Sunshine State, winging its way confidently toward the 1950s! Dirty Meter reading: 8 (Spitefulness is so unattractive.)
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Kimbo Slice His name is Kevin Ferguson, but you know him as Kimbo or, maybe, Mr. Slice. Turns out, the backyard brawling phenom's fighting skills don't quite match the scariness of his tough-guy mug. That much is clear after the over-hyped former porn shoot bouncer tumbled at the feet of a much smaller, smoothie-barista with pink hair. The entire thing took place in front of a hometown South Florida crowd, and it was over in 14 seconds. The Florida State Athletic Commission launched an investigation into EliteXC, the fly-by-night company that paraded him in mixed martial arts circles before disappearing from the scene. After our paper called him a sissy, Kimbo personally threatened a member of the New Times staff in a radio interview with Dan Le Batard. You might think that Kimbo took a dive in that momentous fight. Or you may believe that he merely got unlucky against a scrawny opponent. Many diehard mixed martial arts fans assert that his skills never merited time in the ring anyhow. Whatever your view, we can all celebrate the end of the national man-crush on Mr. Kimbo Slice. Dirty Meter reading: 7 (He might not be a scam artist, but he's certainly a sissy.)
Miles Austin Forman This wealthy Broward power player triggered the biggest mass eviction in the county's history this year when he told more than 900 families to move out of a trailer park he owns in Davie. Some Palma Nova residents had been in the park for decades. Amid the panic, Forman offered to "help" his tenants by giving them $1,000 to $1,500 for each trailer that left the premises in a timely manner. At first, park managers said this "generous" deal would only be good for a few weeks. The promise of a small payout created a frenzy. There was just one catch: Those taking the cash had to sign waivers saying they, and their descendants, would never sue Forman. We should mention that Forman also owns Ferncrest, a small utility that provides the park with "potable" water. Ferncrest drinking water was found in 2004 to have exceeded legal limits for cancer-causing chemicals by nearly threefold. The contamination dates back several decades. And, yes, Forman knew all that time that the Ferncrest water wasn't pure. Residents got their first official warning from the utility in June 2006. Some blame Ferncrest water for their ailments; almost all fear health problems down the road. Dirty Meter reading: 10 (A healthy body is priceless. When you're poor, it's all you've got.)
Harry Sargeant What could be worse than growing up to become a war profiteer? This Delray Beach entrepreneur, a fraternity brother of Governor Crist, contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the oil-friendliest congressmen in the nation. Then, in 2004, he formed the International Oil Trading Company. As "luck" would have it, Sargeant's new company won an $80-million contract from the Pentagon to ship oil to the military in Iraq. It won an additional $900 million in U.S. military business in 2007. Republicans were rolling in political contributions, and Sargeant was raking in cash. But the dirty underbelly of this deal was about to be exposed. In April, a brother-in-law of Jordan's King Abdullah sued Sargeant in West Palm Beach for allegedly failing to pay a $13 million bribe... er, we mean, debt. Mohammed Al-Saleh claims to have brokered a deal with the Jordanian government that ensured, in essence, that Sargeant's company would be the only firm eligible to transport fuel to Iraq via Jordan. Shortly after learning of Al-Saleh's allegations, Congressman Henry Waxman, chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, verbally flayed Sargeant for engaging in "a reprehensible form of war profiteering" at a taxpayer expense of approximately $180 million. A Sargeant competitor has since filed a RICO federal suit, accusing Sargeant's company of a bribery scheme. Dirty Meter reading: 9 (It doesn't get much greasier than this.)
Tim Mahoney When Congressman Mark Foley was busted in 2006 for being a dirty old man and sending sexual messages to underage boys, it was career suicide for him. And a door-opener for Tim Mahoney. Since Foley's disgraced name remained on the ballot, voters were expected to choose whoever challenged him. Sure enough, Mahoney — then an unknown computer-guy-turned-venture-capitalist — slid right into office. Fast forward to 2008, when Mahoney gets caught up in a sex scandal of his own. All right, Mahoney cheated on his wife, as some men do. We can live with that. But Mahoney cheated on his wife during "multiple" affairs, got involved in a messy sexual exploitation deal, and paid a mistress $121,000 for her silence. This was the Democratic Mr. Clean? His defeat in a Republican-leaning district was assured. You'd think that Mahoney would have had the decency to step out of the running so that another Democrat could have a shot in a year when liberal-minded voters came out en masse to vote for Barack Obama. Nope. The delusional douchebag remained on the ticket, clearing the way for Republican Tom Rooney to snag a coveted spot in the House of Representatives. Sometime thereafter, Mahoney filed court documents to stall his wife's divorce action. Dirty Meter reading: 7 (Mahoney knows no bounds.)