Best Local Girl Gone Bad 2003 | Miriam Oliphant | People & Places | South Florida
A year ago, Broward County Supervisor of Elections Miriam Oliphant was one of the brightest stars in the South Florida political firmament. We said so ourselves, naming her Best Politician in our 2002 Best of Broward-Palm Beach issue and concluding, ¨Seems the woman in charge of the political process in Broward knows a thing or two about politics herself.¨ She was young, gifted, and black, not to mention photogenic and a liberal Democrat with a lofty vision for an office that had been held for a gazillion years by the uncharismatic, if reliable, Republican Jane Carroll. Oliphant seemed destined for success -- until she actually had to do her job. Now beleaguered and botched elections are the words that seem destined to cling to her. She may have pulled off the February and March 2003 elections without major problems, but it could be argued that she did so by scaring voters away from the polls. Regardless of how Oliphant fares in the future, her legacy, alas, will almost certainly be allegations of cronyism, nepotism, financial irregularities, and incompetence.
So a bunch of naive folks in Broward County thought they voted this past September. So a few months later, investigators turned up a tray of unopened ballots in a file cabinet in county elections supervisor Miriam Oliphant´s office. So those ballots were never time-stamped and apparently forgotten. So the clerk responsible for picking up the ballots from the post office, Glen Davis, was allowed to continue in his job despite reprimands for being drunk and arriving late. So Davis had a relationship with Robin Darville, Oliphant´s sister. So what?
He wants to enforce sodomy laws against gays. He believes the world would be a better place if more of the right people carried handguns. He wants God in the classroom and counts the Christian extremists at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church as some of his most important supporters. He´s a Republican who calls himself a Democrat for the most cynical of political purposes. Yes, there are lots of things not to like about Jim Naugle. As a mayor, though, he can´t do much damage on those counts. And as far as mayors go in Broward and Palm Beach counties, he is simply the top of the heap. Naugle is the most accountable elected official in Broward County, a fiercely independent man who doesn´t schmooze and isn´t in developers´ pockets. He´s not afraid to speak his mind, and he´s been a first-rate steward for the city. So we had to cheer when he routed the untested Tim Smith in the February election. But don´t get any big ideas, Jim. If you run for Congress, we will have no choice but to out you (politically speaking, of course).
The category this year would better be titled Best Reporters. Kestin and O´Matz do kids better than anybody in the country. The Sentinel´s finest story this year came on August 11, when Kestin and O´Matz, along with Diana Marrero, located nine kids whom the state Department of Children and Families couldn´t find. One of the families was listed in the phone book. Just three days after the story was published, DCF chief Kathleen Kearney resigned in disgrace. (There was, of course, the little matter of Rilya Wilson, who vanished long ago, to give the story zing.) Then, in November, the Sentinel filed a lawsuit that eventually forced the state to release a list of missing kids. And in January, despite DCF stonewalling, our top-rated pair of journalists learned the agency wasn´t following its own rules about quickly notifying cops when kids disappeared. The pair´s dogged street reporting and political savvy, as well as their ability to win support from their bosses, deserves praise. Let´s hope they don´t run off any time soon.
OK, so Bill Rose is a deputy managing editor at the Post. He´s not working a beat, day in and day out, not out shaking the bushes, not crunching big stuff (that would fill a book if they´d give ya´ the time and space) into bite-size portions. That´s a tough biz. Still, in the course of three days in October, this former editor of the Miami Herald´s literate and legendary Tropic magazine showed how it´s done, how daily journalism can be layered and leavened with tragedy, humanity, humor, and grace. Rose covered the arrival of Hurricane Lili to southern Louisiana, an area he called a ¨wind-swept world of salt water, mosquitoes, and hurricanes¨ inhabited by people who ¨tend to wink at pending calamity and shrug off storm warnings with the practiced air of those who have seen this many times before.¨ That first sentence of his October 3 story was a mouthful, so he threw in a short sentence afterward that gave the whole thing dramatic punch: ¨But this time, they´re running,¨ Rose wrote. And then, when the storm didn´t cause the anticipated Hurricane Andrew-like devastation, Rose burrowed into his own urge to dismiss its effects. By following the inner voice that told him this storm was nothing, Rose discovered the heart of the tale when he found himself moved by ¨one small shred of Lili´s detritus.¨ He described a broken child´s plate inscribed with a boy´s birth date and a mother holding it in her hands while tears made her shoulders shake. The family´s trailer had been blown 25 yards and sat upside down in the mud. Everyone in that family survived Lili, but Rose showed in that moment how tragedy is individual and specific, and he made the reader feel it too. He also showed the wisdom of trusting one´s self and following the thread where it leads. It was some nice work.
OK, so they both write too much. Sometimes two stories per day. He's all over the place -- libraries, cloning, astronauts. And all she can really do is cops. But his prose is straight-ahead. No bullshit. None of that Carl Hiaasen sarcasm. More of a Gene Miller type, really. And, when it comes to cultivating cop sources, she's in the Edna Buchanan mold. These soldiers of South Florida's biggest, um, best, um, most perspicacious newspaper do a hell of a job of nursing reality into a tale. It was he who recently described the case of a baby sitter who forced a 3-year-old to drink so much water that she died. She´s followed cell-phone bans, anthrax scares, and more. But the pair´s most important contribution to local journalism came in December, when they reported that 38 murder confessions elicited by Broward County Sheriff´s storm troopers had been thrown out by judges, juries, and prosecutors since 1990. Just a few months later, at least partially in response to the bad press, BSO agreed to start taping interrogations. Justice, indeed, was served.
That´s right, we´ve actually chosen an employee of chief media evildoer Rupert Murdoch. And it surprises us more than anyone. But perhaps it´s the company Craig Stevens keeps that makes him look so good -- kind of like the one dog at the pound that doesn´t have mange. Stevens, after all, is a successor to Rick Sanchez, who will be remembered as the Jerry Lawler of television anchors -- big, loud, and never mistaken as bright. (Sanchez recently -- and mercifully -- was booted from his MSNBC morning anchor chair.) Stevens is kind of the anti-Sanchez. He´s an understated nerd with a microphone. His little wire-rimmed glasses give him the proper bookish look; the guy is a dead ringer for Jeffrey Toobin, only without all the smarm. All in all, Stevens doesn´t really seem like a Fox personality; he actually seems like a human being.
Before you rip us for placing Johnson ahead of her more seasoned competition solely on the basis of her appearance, ask yourself this: What other local weather wonk could have so distracted professional golfer Fuzzy Zoeller that he agreed to hit practice shots on a course after his round was over? This is what Jackie did at the Royal Caribbean Classic in February. The result: Zoeller was disqualified from the tournament. OK, maybe Brian Norcross could have done it, but only on a good day.
Since the 2000 presidential ¨election¨ was stolen from Al Gore and our current administration has waged a holy war on ¨Terra,¨ the schism between the left and the right has gotten wider and wider. What´s worse, the so-called ¨liberal¨ media, including TV news programs and talk radio shows, have become all-too-eager cheerleaders for the right wing, uncritically gobbling up whatever morsels of misinformation Karl Rove dishes out. And talk radio? (Sigh.) Yes, it´s entertainment, and most of its listeners are people who don´t have anything better to do with their time during the day, and talk-radio hosts take on extremist viewpoints merely to keep the phones lighted up. But frankly, it´s disconcerting that so damn many of our countrymen find bilious hatemongers like Limbaugh, Savage, and Schlesinger to be ¨entertaining.¨ Luckily for left-leaning types, there is hope: Neil Rogers, the self-proclaimed ¨fat fag,¨ is the most effective liberal voice on the radio (not that there´s much competition), despite a brand of humor that many critics decry as racist. Case in point: Last October, after singer/activist Harry Belafonte slammed Secretary of State Colin Powell, likening his fellow Jamaican-American to a ¨house slave,¨ Neil launched an attack on National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, calling her the ¨resident house Negro,¨ and played a song parody containing lines like, ¨Is you their black-haired answer-mammy who be smart?¨ and ¨Does they like how you shine their shoes, Condoleezza? Or the way you wash and park the whiteys´ cars?¨ Whew! Brutal stuff -- so harsh that the station decided to apologize after some right-wing media types (NewsMax, Fox News) applied pressure. And yet the NAACP was silent on the issue. Hmm. How could that be? Perhaps because this cranky old nonobservant Jew was giving voice to what many black people are thinking about that woman, Ms. Rice? Thanks, Uncle Neil.
Long-time Miami Herald news research editor Elisabeth Donovan maintains this meticulous blog on current events. Called ¨Infomaniac¨ for an award Donovan won several years ago, it´s chock-full of useful links. Most of the recent postings have been about the war in Iraq, but in more peaceful times, the site focuses on South Florida, Cuba, and other parts of Latin America. Make no mistake, though; this is Donovan´s personal site, and she doesn´t hesitate to post her opinions. For example, on March 20, 2003, she posed the question: ¨How big was the headline on your front page today? I was embarrassed by ours. It was huge and unseemly (I thought), WAR BEGINS. I´d have made it about a third the size and called it US ATTACKS. Project for today: I´ll be going to the Newseum to compare headlines.¨ Great links to fellow bloggers too.

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