Best Sun-Sentinel Reporter 2007 | John Holland | People & Places | South Florida
It's surprisingly easy to beat the biggest daily in Broward into the ground on a big story. Let's face it: At least 80 percent of the Sentinel's reporters aren't exactly newshounds. They're more like harmless yuppie puppies. But no one relishes going against the Boston-bred Holland. When he gets his nose into the news, he's relentless — a veritable robo-reporter. He's shown that during the past year in his coverage of Hollywood corruption (though it was New Times that broke the story that led to the Keith Wasserstrom indictment that started it all) and his reporting on the Seminole Tribe. Now teamed with Sentinel Investigative Editor Joe Demma, Holland is more dangerous than ever. And, believe it or not, we're grateful for his game.
Here's the problem with a lot of big daily newspapers: Their top executives are part of the same Chamber of Commerce clique they should be ripping apart in their pages. The Sun-Sentinel is a shining example of this, with V.P. and General Manager Howard Greenberg chumming it up with the political leaders and the Broward Alliance at every turn. All that access leads to a soft editorial product that often acts as a booster for special interests. Not so the Palm Beach Post. This is a newspaper that hasn't lost its cojones, and if there's one reporter who needs a wheelbarrow to carry his own around, it's Dubocq. He's been busting big investigative pieces about local politicians, knocking over the apple carts, and being a general pain in the ass to the powers that be. In other words, he's doing good. His biggest story has involved lifting the veil on then-Palm Beach County Chairman Tony Masillotti's connection to dirty land deals, leading to federal charges and the politician's exit from public office. More recently, he's made similar findings about PBC Commissioner Warren Newell, whose projected political lifespan has been dramatically reduced as a result. When he's not nailing corrupt officials to the wall, colleagues like Thomas R. Collins, Tony Doris, and Hector Florin are. (Hear the ones about West Palm Beach commissioners Jim Exline and Ray Liberti?) Together, they all show what a good newspaper can do when it's not schmoozing with the same people it should be investigating.
OK, Cenziper has one of those cushy, glory-filled journalism jobs where you spend a year investigating something and then bust out with a report that's sure to win awards. Investigative reporters like her often have years-long lulls where they don't do anything all that special. But Cenziper has proven she's right where she belongs. Last year, her report on hurricane tracking was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. It was a very good series, to be sure, but nothing to make one's heart go aflutter. This year, though, Cenziper really outdid herself. The nicely titled "House of Lies," her series on scandals plaguing affordable housing in Miami-Dade County, absolutely rocked. It led to reforms of the system, firings of lax housing officials, and the arrest of a developer. The series has already won the prestigious George Polk Award and has been named a Pulitzer finalist. The question hanging in the air: What will Cenziper come up with this year?
Few things are more depressing than the steady deterioration of the sportswriting craft. The best writers in the business used to congregate on the sports page, where the lighter subject matter allowed for a bit more creativity and whimsy than, say, business coverage. But those days are gone. Now you have sportswriters who treat the games as if they're city commission meetings, who write about X's and O's with little passion or wit, who treat the blessed calling of sports coverage as if it were insurance sales. Not Capozzi. His work might not quite hark back to Ring Lardner or Red Smith, but you can count on the guy to make it worth your while. On the Marlins beat, he's true as Miguel Cabrera's swing. Want to know something about new manager Fredi Gonzalez? Read Capozzi's piece on the "Bagel Boys," a "southern-fried fraternity" of Gonzalez buds that meets at an Einstein's bagel shop to "solve the world's problems." He conjures Fellini in a retrospective piece on Mark McGwire. When the slugger arrived at the ballpark, Capozzi writes that "morning calm gave way to desperate chaos" with " faces pressed against the black gate — kids, mothers, grandfathers, all reaching between the bars for an autograph from the man..." Takes you back, doesn't it?
It seems that actors spend a lifetime trying to become famous only to resent fame the moment they achieve it. Not Eddie Barbanell. The Coral Springs resident became a celebrity after he starred alongside Johnny Knoxville in The Ringer, and he hasn't stopped enjoying it since. Knoxville plays a reprobate who pretends to have a disability so he can compete in a Special Olympics decathlon his uncle is wagering on. Barbanell, who in real life has Down syndrome, plays Knoxville's roommate and steals every scene he has, racking up quotable catch phrases at a rate Will Ferrell would admire. "Oh Mylanta! You are my woman," gasps Barbanell's character at the hair-netted lunch lady he adores. At actual Special Olympics events in South Florida, Barbanell is a hero to fellow athletes and instantly recognizable to the mostly adolescent volunteers who have seen the movie. Barbanell signs autographs and poses for pictures, plus he never turns down a request to deliver one of his famous lines from the film, like, "You scratched my CD, you know!" He's not one of those movie stars who feigns modesty. Barbanell, in fact, has a habit of declaring to a group of strangers, "I'm a celebrity!" Just don't ask Barbanell for the cell phone numbers of Knoxville and fellow co-star Katherine Heigl (of Grey's Anatomy fame). They're friends, and friends don't give your digits away to complete strangers.
For an infant child abandoned in a public restroom, dropped in a Dumpster, or thrown from a car along the freeway, there's no such thing as a soft landing. But Kids in Distress is a South Florida nonprofit agency that cushions the blow. The main campus near Wilton Drive and Dixie Highway stays open 24 hours to receive abused children. Since those under the age of 5 are most often the victims of abuse, Kids in Distress is equipped with the necessities of child care: pampers, Baby Wipes, formula, etc. Kids have a place to sleep, and the staff does its best to captivate children with games and toys. The agency recruits foster parents and adoptive parents while also offering a range of preventive services, from parenting classes to therapeutic preschools for 270 children who are victims of abuse or at risk of being so.
There's not enough room on a church signpost to print the Sermon on the Mount, so a pastor must beckon passersby with a punchy phrase, chock full of thought-provoking biblical wisdom. The kind of message that knocks around one's brain for a few days. That's the effect of the marquee in front of the First United Methodist Church, just south of Young Circle in Hollywood. "If you're beside yourself, now you can pray twice as hard." Get it? "God is like bleach," another sign said. "He gets out stains no one else can." Amen! And the devil, then, is like a red sock that lurks in a pile of whites, plotting to put his imprint on the purest white fabrics.
Sister Faith learned the ancient art of "sweating" from the Navajo Indians of Big Mountain, a reservation in Northwest Arizona. She builds her sweat lodge with limbs that have fallen from trees near her home, which sits on a half-acre of countryside outside Loxahatchee. It's a small oblong structure, no more than six feet by eight feet. But within that elevator-sized space, Sister Faith fits as many as 16 people — or "souls," as she likes to call them. As if body heat alone weren't enough to make this a sauna, she places heated rocks in the center, then pours water over them to create steam. The ceremony starts around dusk and often lasts till 3 a.m. Drumming, chanting, and prayers for Mother Earth help sweaters to transcend the heat and, says Sister Faith, lead sweaters in their "journey into the spiritual realm." She takes particular delight in winning over the curious-but-skeptical people who, by ceremony's end, profess to have left behind all their negative energy and want only to hug.
Polo is a classy sport. No wonder Americans haven't really taken to it. But add alcohol and motorized vehicles, and voilà! At the International Polo Club, you can customize a company outing featuring a polo match with an announcer explaining the rules, food and drinks, and a "divot stomp," at which participants (champagne glasses firmly in hand) march onto the field to flatten out turf that's been kicked up by ponies' hooves. But the best part: After eating, grab a mallet, get in the golf cart (the polo players drive), and tear ass around the field for a match on four wheels. What's that sound? Ralph Lauren weeping with jealousy?
The tradition of kitsch is unique to our region, and the Mai-Kai is the king of kitsch. This tropical time warp has been owned and run by the same family for more than 50 years and boasts the amazing Molokai bar. Built out of an old movie set's pirate ship, this plank-floor rum factory is quickly disorienting. Water runs down the exterior of the submarine-style windows, and the lighting is always dark and warming — soon the outside world is just a hazy memory and your new, much funner, life revolves around tiki-tacky drinks served in hollowed-out coconuts and pineapples. If you go at the right time, you can catch the bar band playing Don Ho covers next to an archaic drum machine that we can only imagine was salvaged from Gilligan's Island. If you're feeling flush with cash, make a reservation for the floor show. You'll hardly notice the mediocre cuisine when you become hypnotized by the gyrating, fire-throwing Polynesian dancers on stage. In between sets, take a stroll through the tiki gardens and pay homage to the statues placed throughout — most of which resemble large-scale versions of the "bad luck souvenir" from the famous "Brady Bunch Hawaiian Vacation" episode. When you pick up your car from the valet, your guests will say, "Screw Disney!"

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