Best Daily Newspaper Columnist 1999 | Buddy Nevins | People & Places | South Florida
Buddy Nevins may have a name that belongs on the liner notes of a country and western album, but the politicians he zings are the ones who have tears falling into their beers. Nevins, a 20-year Sun-Sentinel vet, took over the "political writer" mantle five years ago and immediately turned the once-lifeless political column into a news-breaker, uncovering political hypocrisy, corruption, and various shenanigans on a weekly basis. For all his columnizing, however, Nevins doesn't come across as mean-spirited or holier-than-thou. You can't even tell if the guy is a Democrat or Republican. "I'm an equal-opportunity insulter," he says with a laugh. Don't stop tellin' on them cheatin' hearts, Buddy.
Without a doubt, one of the nastiest places in which to spend a day is Room 130 of the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale. This is where not-so-upstanding citizens go to take care of parking fines and other misdemeanors. Apparently we have a lot of traffic scofflaws in this region, because the lines in room 130 are long. The room can get mighty crowded and uncomfortable on a hot, nasty summer day. We guarantee there would be a lot more bloodshed in this room -- we're talking about traffic offenders, after all -- if not for the little magic box in the corner. On most days it's tuned to CNN, but we've also stumbled onto Oprah and Golden Girls reruns. The TV was actually donated to room 130 six years ago by now-retired judge Gerald Mager. But let us praise his honor, because his is a gift that keeps on giving.
This is the place to go to escape the daily grind without leaving town. Tucked in a secluded alcove at the far tip of Fort Lauderdale beach, Lago-Mar is as far as you're going to get from the teeming masses of the new, improved, family-friendly Fort Lauderdale. The beach is wide and groomed and, miracle of miracles, private. The pools are ringed with palms and tropical flowers, the halls are chiseled with pastel mosaics and lulled by piano music. Sure the rooms are typically no-frills, but they are large and airy and about as nice as you'll find without heading up to the Palm Beaches. The key word here is relaxation. Easy enough when, fully booked, the place still feels like some private oasis.

You know you've found yourself a quality hotel when the Presidential Suite is simply too luxurious for an actual U.S. President. When George Herbert Walker Bush vacations at the Boca Raton Resort & Club, he chooses to stay in the Governor's Suite. And it's not just so he can feel kinship with governor sons Jeb and George. The Presidential Suite, which occupies two floors at more than 6000 square feet, comes complete with private elevator, workout room, library, and baby grand in the living room. In short, it's too imposing for our 41st President, according to hotel spokesperson Chuck Smith. The rest of the hotel is hardly your local HoJo either. Since it opened along the Intracoastal Waterway in Boca Raton in 1926, the resort -- which includes two 18-hole golf courses, 34 clay tennis courts, Mediterranean charm, and historic architecture -- has been South Florida's playground for entertainers, the superrich, and bon vivants including Al Jolson, Elizabeth Arden, the Vanderbilts, Elton John, Bill Gates, and South Florida's own, H. Wayne Huizenga. Wayne the Great bought the posh pad in 1997 for $325 million. No doubt he stays in the Presidential Suite.

She's in her thirties and shops like a demon. She's either married and living on her wealthy husband's income, or she's hunting like mad for a guy who's loaded. Her hair and nails are always done; she won't even go to the beach unless her makeup is just so. She only wears designer rags. Max's Grille is her favorite hangout. She drips disdain for those who aren't as perfectly coiffed and situated in life. In other words she's nouveau riche and materialistic -- perhaps a transplant from Long Island. Her attitude is reflected in Boca Raton's manicured look -- avenues immaculately framed by royal palms, shops, office buildings, even Publix dressed up in tasteful pastels. Plenty of good things can be said about the city, but there's no harm in pointing out the flaws of some of its, shall we say, less than savory characters. And, besides, we didn't make up the insult. Honest.

He's gone now, but in his lifetime John D. MacDonald penned 73 novels, including 21 thrillers featuring tough-guy sleuth Travis McGee, Fort Lauderdale's greatest fictional citizen. McGee lived on a 52-foot houseboat at slip F-18, Bahia Mar Marina, and to this day scores of literary pilgrims from around the world show up to pay quiet homage at the site, marked with a small bronze plaque not far from Fort Lauderdale beach. The slip is perennially empty, offering the possibility that the ageless McGee is off on a fishing jaunt in the Keys. May his spirit never die.
Kristin Jacobs, a suburban housewife, is an unlikely revolutionary. But in Broward County, that's exactly what she is. Jacobs, almost literally on a shoestring, unseated Sylvia Poitier, who had the backing and money of the most powerful and wealthy people in the county. And when Jacobs won, she turned the powers that be upside down, breaking up Commissioner Scott Cowan's decade-old majority vote. Jacobs now says she'll stop the ghastly westward push of development into the Everglades. It's a far cry from her neighborhood-activist days, when she was extremely effective in getting speed bumps put on residential roads to slow down speeders. After taking office last November, she blocked the contract of a county lobbyist who also represents U.S. Sugar, a company that's been criticized for harming the Everglades. It was a good start; now we just need to make sure she keeps delivering on her promises.
Say what you will about West Palm Beach's Mayor Nancy Graham. She's a tad cold. She's unresponsive to her constituents. She's out of town a lot, visiting foreign dignitaries and discovering the virtues of Italian architecture. And she's hardly the most photogenic of Palm Beach County politicians -- that honor goes to the stunning Palm Beach County Commissioner Karen Marcus. But take a look at Graham's city. Within the last decade, she's been instrumental in transforming downtown West Palm Beach from a crime-ridden, drug-infested neighborhood where nobody wanted to shop, much less sit down for a cup of coffee, into a family-friendly strip of bars and restaurants, coffeehouses, and weekly outdoor music festivals. With West Palm's latest improvement project, CityPlace, under way, the best is yet to come. But, alas, Graham decided not to run for reelection, and she'll soon be leaving office. Her vision and influence, though, will surely outlive her career in city politics. Unless, of course, the economy goes sour.
Remember William Martin, the guy with the Palm Beach mansion and the Rolls-Royce and the beautiful daughters? The guy who told everybody he was a Harvard-educated psychiatrist who once worked for the CIA? The guy who married a succession of society ladies and told his daughters their mother died in a car crash? The guy who, for almost two decades had been living a great, big, complicated lie? For sheer audacity we think Martin, whose real name is Stephen Fagan, deserves this award. After all, his tidy little scandal shook hallowed, oh-so-proper Palm Beach, a place that had been itching for a good scandal. Fagan, who was extradited back to Boston last spring to stand trial on charges he kidnapped his daughters from the mother they believed dead, brought the national spotlight back to the underbelly of Palm Beach. Once again the world came to see that nothing is as it seems behind the island's squared shrubs and brick walls.

The fountain honoring Huizenga is happening for two reasons: The trash-and-car king has thrown some of his vast wealth (Forbes estimates it at $1.6 billion) into Fort Lauderdale, and Fort Lauderdale's Downtown Development Authority (DDA) doesn't want the green stuff to stop coming. Huizenga has given millions to charities, including the new homeless shelter, the Boys & Girls Clubs, and the Broward Center For the Performing Arts, and he certainly has the pockets to give more. So what do you give the man who has everything? A piece of immortality -- an honor that the DDA no doubt believes will produce a fountain of cash in return.

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