My Son, the Porn Advocate | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

My Son, the Porn Advocate

Day after day two leggy twentysomethings in hot-pink thong swimsuits stood on the side of Yamato Road and sold hot dogs to businessmen on lunch breaks. Along with their buns, the women also served up a dash of spice to the otherwise vanilla world of west Boca Raton.

But early last year Palm Beach County Commissioner Burt Aaronson, now age 70, effectively forbade that singular though eccentric proof that there is real life outside the gated communities of west Boca Raton. He and his fellow commissioners changed the county ordinance and required roadside vendors to put on some more clothes.

The decision ruined the women's businesses, and each packed up her vending stand and joined the ranks of disappointed entrepreneurs. But for many of Aaronson's constituents, who had complained that the nearly naked women on the side of this pristine boulevard posed a traffic hazard, it was something of a relief. And for the rest of Palm Beach County, the well-publicized controversy was a humorous political sideshow that was not about high crimes like perjury but about sex pure and simple -- and about fuddy-duddy politicians.

Most failed, however, to recognize the great irony of Aaronson's crusade. Just as the commissioner struggled to save his corner of the universe from the bare buttock, his adult son, Daniel, had become one of South Florida's leading advocates for protecting such businesses from overzealous government regulation.

The younger Aaronson, age 44, did not legally represent the Yamato Road hot dog vendors, but he and his partner, James Benjamin, serve as legal counsel for more than two dozen adult-oriented businesses, including strip clubs, massage parlors, and adult book and video stores.

For the past 14 years, the two attorneys have fought local government bodies, which often write and enforce vague laws that effectively outlaw adult entertainment, according to the younger Aaronson. As the Palm Beach County Commission -- Commissioner Aaronson included -- prepares to review some of its adult entertainment regulations in the coming months, the younger Aaronson acknowledges that this often controversial subject can intersect at the equally turbulent points of politics, law, and family dynamics.

Father and son, therefore, choose not to discuss adult entertainment with one another. Instead, at the Aaronson's Thanksgiving dinner this year, for instance, the two men discussed the younger Aaronson's five-year-old son's already prodigious throwing arm. It was probably a good idea.

"Philosophically, we are a little different," the younger Aaronson concedes. "I sincerely believe that if you can legally be almost naked on the beach, you can be almost naked on the side of the road. That's the hot dog issue."

While the Aaronson men agree that government has no right to prohibit adults from patronizing or establishing legal businesses -- adult or otherwise -- the younger Aaronson considers himself a libertarian who is "off the charts" and "not in the mainstream" in his zeal for protecting free enterprise and free speech. Of course, as an attorney the younger Aaronson has the luxury of full-blown advocacy and can avoid the sometimes stickier business of politics. His father, however, must first consider his constituents.

"My constituents would probably say, 'We don't care about adult entertainment, and it's not a prime issue for us. But we don't want it in our back yard,'" the commissioner says. "And I agree with that. And I also agree with those people who say there should be adult entertainment in zoned areas."

Fortunately for both men's livelihoods, laws regarding adult entertainment are notoriously difficult to enforce. Local laws are often so vaguely worded, the younger Aaronson says, that they all but beg for lawsuits and force local police and prosecutors to selectively enforce. For this reason the Palm Beach County Commission, like most governing bodies, has been reluctant to grapple with the issue.

In 1992 the commission did establish zoning requirements for strip clubs and the like as part of a larger, more comprehensive countywide plan. But last month, after several Palm Beach County municipalities decided to examine their adult entertainment regulations, the county commission asked its legal staff to inspect its own rules, according to Bob Banks, an assistant county attorney. While it's too soon to know exactly which issues the commission will broach, commissioners expect to discuss specifically a plan that would require employees at adult entertainment venues to obtain special county permits -- an idea the elder Aaronson supports because, he says, it would stop clubs from hiring underage workers.

Were it any other South Florida commission, such a move would prompt Aaronson and Benjamin to gear up for a lobbying campaign on behalf of the adult entertainment industry. But ever since the elder Aaronson took office in 1992, his son claims he has avoided lobbying the county commission. And while the younger Aaronson has clients within the unincorporated areas of the county, he says he allows Benjamin to handle those cases to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. (Strip clubs and adult bookstores within city limits are subject to city rather than county rules and therefore pose no conflict problem for either Aaronson.)

Political observers say Commissioner Aaronson is willing to defend the adult entertainment industry and is amenable to allowing it in certain sections of the county. When the commission first established its zoning regulations in 1992, for instance, powerful West Palm Beach-based lobbyist and political consultant Daryl Glenney approached Commissioner Aaronson on behalf of her clients in the industry.

"I was, of course, pleased when I went to discuss the ordinance with him to find out that he was actually in agreement with my point of view," Glenney says. "And then when he said his son was an attorney who represented adult entertainment, that was nice information because I knew it was a view that they both shared."

Indeed, Commissioner Aaronson may give lip service to the adult entertainment industry by talking about free enterprise and an adult's right to make his or her own decisions about sexuality and entertainment. But as last year's hot dog debacle illustrated, the politics of skin and flesh sometimes changes everything.