Undercurrents | New Times Broward-Palm Beach


"Winners and Losers" lists are for losers -- you know, self-important editors' proclamations of who benefited and who suffered during a major media event like, say, the Florida election mess. So we at New Times have eschewed that idea -- with one exception. After being convicted of writing campaign checks to people who don't exist, to his daughters, and to buy furniture for his home office, former Broward County Commissioner Scott Cowan was sentenced to a mere six months in prison while managing to preserve his $38,000-per-year county pension. In addition to these small victories, Cowan's biggest coup was the free pass he got from the local media, obsessed as they are with you-know-what. Who's the big winner? Scotty.

Our prediction: Punch card voting is finished in Florida.

The death knell came Sunday in a Leon County courtroom. Ironically it was sounded by a witness for Dubya, John Ahmann, who owns ranches in Oregon and the Napa Valley. Decades ago he helped design and sell the flawed punch card voting machines used in Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties.

In testimony before Judge N. Sanders Sauls, Ahmann first guaranteed his machines don't get clogged by "chad buildup" and downplayed other problems with them. Then, in the most dramatic moment of a rather humdrum day, Gore attorney Stephen Zack blindsided the witness. Reading from a 1981 memo authored by Ahmann, Zach described the machines' many chad-related problems. Ultimately Ahmann acknowledged that manual recounts are preferable in close races. (Of course the admission apparently didn't impress Sauls, who ruled against the Gore legal team.)

Ahmann nevertheless gave the judicial quagmire some pizzazz. In his turquoise bolo tie and top-shelf blazer, he looked as if he'd been dreamed up by central casting. His face was eerily reminiscent of John Huston's high-rolling character, Noah Cross, in Chinatown. Quite literally Ahmann is larger than life: At six-foot-seven, he's a giant who must duck under doorways.

After testifying, Ahmann managed to duck the media mob by heading for an emergency exit. New Times, however, was quicker than the competition. "I just told the truth as I knew it," he commented. "Which truth?" would have been the proper follow-up question, but an escort, who refused to give his name, intervened.

"Look," said the escort, "he's got patents on some of the optical-scan voting systems, too. He makes a ton of money either way."

Thank goodness democracy worked wonders for Ahmann, even if his machines didn't work quite so well for democracy.

Kathleen Ulsrud has chutzpah. Back in 1998 she made the front page of The Herald when prosecutors charged her with 47 counts of exploitation, grand theft, and perjury. The claim: She had hustled a ton of money from the elderly. After a judge released her on bond, ordering that she not "handle funds of any person defined by statute as elderly," she found a job -- as a geriatric-care manager.

Talk about letting the fox guard the coop where they keep really old chickens. Should anyone be surprised by what happened next? On October 19, Margate police charged that Kathy had taken advantage of a nice 93-year-old lady named Edna Kramer. Something to do with a checkbook and $1100. On November 20 Ulsrud failed to appear for a court hearing, so on November 29 she went to the slammer. Two days later Judge Stanton Kaplan ordered her released on one condition: Kathy is now wearing an electronic bracelet.

"There was some testimony that she had her bags packed," prosecutor Mike Jones says. "But the judge was satisfied she's not leaving."