Best Citizen 2005 | Diane Smart | Besttropical | South Florida

One of the greatest acts of bravery in South Florida is to say no to a developer. This is a real-estate-brokering, condo-tower-building, home-razing madhouse, and standing between the wrecking ball and the next doomed edifice isn't an easy -- or common -- stance. That's why Diane Smart, a founder and vice president of the Broward Trust for Historic Preservation, is such a standout. She's become the face and voice of the trust, which sprang up a few years ago in response to the demolition of Fort Lauderdale's Art Deco and mid-century modern architecture. Smart led the battle to save part of the Art Deco-style Lauderdale Beach Hotel, which the Related Group intended to replace with a condo tower. Under pressure, the company last year agreed to preserve the north, east, and south façades of the building. Smart certainly has her work cut out for her, but perhaps she'll inspire fellow residents to join the fight.

After 15 years at the Broward Public Defender's Office, Assistant Public Defender Bill Laswell -- whom many people refer to simply as "Laz" -- is this month giving up a profession that has made him among the best-respected barristers in South Florida. A gruff, no-nonsense 65-year-old with a gray, grandfatherly beard, he ran a lucrative private practice in his native Indiana and then in South Florida for more than two decades before taking a comparatively low-paying job at the Broward Public Defender's Office. "I came here to die," he admits. "My kids were out of college. My folks were dead. When you're in private practice, you're too hesitant to take time off." Laswell has defended some of the area's most vicious murderers, including serial killers Lucious Boyd and Eddie Lee Mosley. But he remains a fierce critic of the death penalty and an ardent protector of constitutional rights. "Guys like me, when they get up in the morning to defend a Lucious Boyd, generally look themselves in the mirror and say, 'Damn, I shouldn't have drunk so much last night,'" Laswell says. "But then they look again and say, 'It's another day where I'm going to do what needs to be done to make the constitution work. '" But Laswell, an unpretentious lawyer who generally prefers four-letter words over Latin, finds himself increasingly frustrated at the twilight of his career. Overworked judges, trapped in a judicial system cash-starved by legislators, now push complicated cases through as if they were working on a production line.

"What I do and the way I do it are passing history," Laswell says. "I'm like an old range bull with nowhere to turn. The law is going right out beneath me."

For now, Laswell will trade killers and courtrooms for lines and lures. But even in retirement, a hardened criminal defense attorney can't shake his cynicism. "As long as I don't have to deal with lawyers and judges and sociopathic, homicidal assholes, I'll be pretty happy."

Joe Major is on top of things in Broward County's black community. He's keeping an eye on county commissioners and their developer friends, who are intent on cashing in at the expense of the people who call the area home. He also works tirelessly to convince city commissioners to annex less fortunate areas, which is desperately needed. And, like any activist worth his salt, he sometimes goes too far. His e-mails are rife with accusations that certain officials, including Josephus Eggelletion, have "house slave" mentalities. He believes that some black people are literally bred to be peons to the corrupt white power structure. And if you listen to him long enough, you start to believe it. What's beautiful about Major is that he's a free thinker who goes where his mind takes him. Sometimes he's wrong, but he's always interesting. Unfortunately, people like Major are an increasingly rare commodity in America. So we should celebrate Joe. Nobody has ever accused him of being too quiet. Thank goodness.

Before we begin discussing this 21-year member of the commission, who has pushed purchase of beachfront land for the public, let's get one thing straight: If the Scripps Research Center goes where the commission wants to put it, Palm Beach County is screwed. Putting Scripps, which ultimately will be the equivalent of a small city of about 50,000 people, way out west will create sprawl, cost taxpayers some $1 billion for little in return, and sully the $8 billion Everglades cleanup project. Marcus recognizes that fact, and unlike the majority of the commission, she's not a moron or a greedhead. Few listened to her, though, as she tried to save the county by moving the project eastward to the urban core. But even when it's hardly heard, a sane voice in the wilderness is nice to have. Besides, Marcus has been a big advocate of schools. And in 1999, she received the Nature Conservancy's Grassroots Leadership Award.

It's damned hard to find a decent politician in Broward County. They all seem to be getting their greedy pockets stuffed, often by unscrupulous developers (yeah, that means you, Ilene Lieberman and Josephus Eggelletion). But Ben Graber, a doctor by trade, has not only resisted the big money from special interests but has had the guts to criticize those who accept it. That didn't sit too well with Lieberman, who earned hundreds of thousands of dollars while shilling for Miami-based Pinnacle Housing Group. Last year, when it was Graber's turn to be vice mayor, she led a campaign against him, remarking in the unquestioning Sun-Sentinel, "The vice mayor needs to be a team player who understands the importance of being part of a collegial body." Here is what she meant: "Shut up and let us be the corrupt pigs we are, Benny boy, or we'll shut down your ass." Though Lieberman threw her support behind the abysmally unethical Eggelletion, Graber was named vice mayor anyway. Hopefully the good doctor will remain steadfast against the swine in office, especially since Lieberman's team is one that no decent, self-respecting homo sapien would ever want to join.

Yes, you can spend hours discussing the ins and outs of South Florida's escort business on here. Many do. Indeed, this is a site you should keep away from junior. It's rich with porno. But for those who do not choose to partake, the IndiBoard is still the best way to take our area's pulse, to see exactly what condition our condition is in. Hours before the daily newspapers' websites had the story, this page broke the sordid Bill Kamal tale and kept it buzzing for days. Hunter S. Thompson's suicide and the South Asian tsunami all generated threads that unspooled for weeks, revealing our region's great and miniature minds thinking and typing. Bitching about local real estate prices, the produce section of the neighborhood grocery store, the horrendous hurricane season... it all happened here. Of course, if you just want to dive into man's oldest, most important debate (blond, brunet, or redhead?), there's no better cliff to jump from. The busiest place in regional cyberspace (one typical Monday afternoon's traffic -- 6,788 topics generating 137,094 replies), rest assured that the IndiBoard has something you want to yammer about, be it making fun of conservative dumbasses, skewering lefty liberals, or off-topic rants like "Surgeons Reattach Severed Penis."

"The Bone" was nicknamed in high school for his skeletal frame. At this site, he offers a pleasant mix of politics, cultural observations, and whimsy. It's a winning combination in a blogosphere filled with the raspy screeds of right- and left-wingers and the idle musings of 14-year-olds about school activities. The Bone is a 32-year-old teacher from Fort Lauderdale who keeps things light even when the subject is contentious. In a recent post, he reasoned that the religious argument against homosexuality is flawed because "the universe is a hell of a lot bigger than that." He illustrated his contention with excerpts from God's Palm Pilot: "6:30 a.m. -- Turn off chirping seraphim and cherubim alarm clock. 7 a.m. -- Form new comet on the far side of Arcturus. 10:45 a.m. -- Collapse large star to initiate formation of new galaxy. 2 p.m. -- Sit in judgment of Bruce Miller (West Hollywood, California); condemn him to an afterlife of shrieking agony because he occasionally put his penis in another man's mouth."

Generally, the word huzzah is in short supply these days, its usage replaced by other exhortations of good will that tend to impart a more, shall we say, modern resonance. But for one glorious month each and every spring, the verdant glades and cool brooks of Quiet Waters Park resound with hollers of "Huzzah!" As you traipse around all day, buying tie-dyed T-shirts, pottery, and pewter while gawking at wenches in their tight bodices or strapping knights changing out of their shining armor, this Medieval exclamation of joy, triumph, and encouragement rings from the wood. Mud-beggars shriek it, jousters scream it, wizards and magicians whisper it, minstrels sing it. And ale-wives shout it as you buy tankard after tankard of cider, beer, and mead. Yes indeed, mead -- the honey wine from ancient times that dudes would quaff while sitting 'round the Round Table. Visiting the Ren-Fest is just about the only way to find the golden nectar in the whole state. And that sure calls for a round of huzzahs. In 2005, the event is scheduled for May 13, 14, and 15. Tickets cost $20 for one day and $35 for the weekend.

The art of providing an effective political quote lies in the ability to say the opposite of the truth and make it sound good and earnest. George W. Bush (a.k.a. Karl Michael Rove Gerson) is a master of this art. How brilliant was it when he kept referring to starting the war in Iraq as "securing the peace"? George Orwell couldn't have dreamed up anything more beautiful. Nixon had a bit more trouble -- his "I am not a crook" line failed to shine. Ken Jenne, who has had a very bad year, is somewhere between the two. He's surviving the crime-stats scandal but just barely. On the front page of the February 13 Sun-Sentinel, he was quoted as having uttered, "I'm the sheriff, I'm in charge, and I'm responsible for what happens on my watch." Of course, that couldn't have been further from the truth, since two deputies have already been charged with crimes linked to the scandal and four top commanders are on their way out the door, but Little Kenny remains at the top of the dysfunctional department. Might have been a smart move, though, since a lot of voters in Broward County probably believe he has, actually, taken responsibility. As Dilbert creator Scott Adams (who is not a politician) has said, "Never underestimate the stupidity of the general public."

It's Friday night at 11:30 or so, and the first of the alcohol-induced quarrels is under way in downtown West Palm Beach; a feuding 30-something couple causes a small commotion outside O'Shea's Irish Pub on Clematis Street. Just as the conflict looks as if it might get physical, a third party intervenes and a truce is called. But the mediator isn't a bartender, bouncer, or even a cop. He's a bum. Not just any bum -- he's the colorful street character known as Flippin' George. Proudly boasting a name most people won't say aloud in public (he prefers the n word as a middle name and insists on hearing it repeated), the short, stocky, would-be gymnast has been a fixture of downtown street life for more than half a decade. George is one of those bums with a gimmick -- front flips -- and he's got it down to a science, performing just the right number of flips and moving on before his shtick gets old. Since his debut six years ago, George has turned lots of heads and, not surprisingly, earned a few bucks along the way. But even if the money stops flowing, George says he'll continue flipping. And Clematis Street will be a more amusing place because of it.

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