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Undercurrents

Motoring south on University Drive in Davie last week, Undercurrents suddenly got a terrible hankering for lasagna. And when you're in Davie and in need of a pasta fix, there's really only one place to go: Pizza Loft.

Without straying too far into culinary criticism, we'll say that Pizza Loft combines rich, full-bodied sauce and a perfect blend of cheeses into a lasagna that reminds us of the food mama used to make when we were just a little ripple.

As if that weren't reason enough to visit, it's always fun to stop in and see the hired help. Just to the left of the door, seated in a chair in the lobby and looking dapper in his green Pizza Loft polo shirt and Dockers, was none other than former Broward County commissioner Scott Cowan. That's political king-turned-pizza boy Scott Cowan, once at the top of the heap and now heaping on the toppings.

These days Cowan spends his time slinging pies, delivering orders, and seating patrons at the eatery owned by his friend Jeff Cohen. "He helps me do whatever needs to be done," says Cohen, who declined to disclose Cowan's salary. "That's between him and I, but I'm sure he'll do better soon." Whatever he's making these days, it's probably a cut from his former yearly paycheck of $160,000 for work as a commissioner and law-firm rainmaker.

Authorities busted Cowan last year for playing fast and loose with campaign funds from his 1998 war chest. Among his indiscretions: writing checks to people who don't exist and cashing them himself, buying furniture for his home with the money, and paying his adult daughters for campaign work but failing to list that in his reports. He got six months. In January a judge told him to find a job. He wanted to lobby or sell real estate, but the sheriff suggested something more menial.

Upon entering the restaurant, we sat down, ordered, then walked up front to introduce ourselves. Cowan was seated by the door, thumbing through an issue of New Times, looking mildly bored, a bit annoyed, and in need of something more to do. We can only surmise that he was itching to work a deal with the next person he saw. But when that turned out to be Undercurrents, he seemed not so pleased to make our acquaintance. Could it be that he harbors ill will toward the press?

"How's it going?" we asked.

"How are you asking me this, as a reporter?" he responded. Clearly a man who knows how to play the game.

"Yes, I guess so."

"In that case, fine. It's going fine."

The conversation continued in that vein for several more uncomfortable minutes. Cowan revealed that the job "keeps him busy," that he "does whatever Jeff needs," and that the gig "could be worse." Pleasantries make us bored and hungry, so we returned to our table and tucked into our lunch. Periodically Cowan whooshed by, head down in a purposeful stride, ushering patrons to their seats. "How's this?" he would say in a perfunctory tone that would probably garner any other host a scolding from the boss.

It would seem his heart isn't in the job.

On our way out we spotted Cowan leaning on the front counter, chatting with the girl at the register, and once again looking like he needed something more to do.

"Have a nice afternoon," he called out in a monotone. We're not sure he really meant it.


Time once again to update the saga of New Times photographer Joshua Prezant, who has been seeking justice ever since a run-in with one of Fort Lauderdale's finest back in August.

Prezant filed a complaint with the city police department after officer Anthony Castro arrested him for "trespass after warning." Prezant, on assignment, had been shooting pictures of a Social Security office. Castro didn't like that. When Prezant asserted his right to take pictures from a public sidewalk, Castro got mad -- mad enough, says Prezant, to start swearing, take a swing, and knock a camera away from the photog's face.

Prezant filed a complaint with the police department's Internal Affairs office. In March that office ruled Castro "failed to know a law or ordinance which an officer or employee is sworn to uphold." Written notice of the infraction will be placed in Castro's file. Charges that Castro used excessive force and abusive language were "not sustained," meaning neither confirmed nor denied. In other words Castro got a slap on the wrist.

Prezant is not happy with the outcome, especially given that Castro has a history of citizen complaints against him: In 1991 the officer made a Sun-Sentinel list of the ten most complained-about Fort Lauderdale cops, and in 1998 Castro was arrested in a Palm Beach County neighborhood when he allegedly shot his handgun into the air after a dispute with a neighbor. He was acquitted of aggravated assault and illegally discharging a firearm.

"I want to see some punishment," says Prezant. "At least they could send him to anger-management classes or to school so he can learn the law."


It's strange. Whenever we talk to someone in upper management at The Miami Herald, the conversation always turns to money.

So it was when Undercurrents rang up Herald general manager and president Joe Natoli to chat about his impending move west to become publisher of the San Jose Mercury News, another Knight-Ridder publication.

Natoli's promotion has been making waves in journalism circles, primarily because Mercury News publisher Jay Harris had to fall on his sword to make it possible. Harris quit his prestigious post in protest over the dismantling of the news side of the paper in the name of a fatter bottom line. "... [W]e have been unable to find a way to meet the new [profit] targets without risking significant and lasting harm to the Mercury News," Harris wrote in a memo to his employees.

So Knight-Ridder is sending in Natoli, who says his marching orders don't include a directive to make the Mercury News profitable or else: "They have a plan for the rest of the year. I'm going to get in there and get up to speed. But you've got to realize that I've only spent one day there. I told the staff, "Please don't ask me any budget questions; I can't answer them.'"

The Miami Herald ain't what it used to be, journalistically speaking -- hiring freezes, closed bureaus, and layoffs have taken a toll, all of which have sweetened the paper's financial outlook. Natoli notes that Herald revenues were up 4 percent in February from a year ago. A lot of the increase is attributable to "new products" such as visitors' bureau publications, in-flight magazines, and other "custom publications," he says. All well and good, but not exactly inspiring.

But Natoli preaches the gospel according to Knight-Ridder. "The Herald is very, very good and getting better," he says. "Compare the hiring freeze with what's going on in other areas of the country."

Fewer people equals more money, and more money equals happy stockholders. Journalism doesn't seem to fit into the equation. Goodbye Miami, hello San Jose.


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