A Dream Deferred

Info:Correction Date: 10/29/1998
A Dream Deferred

After a decade in office, Carlton Moore hasn't done much for Fort Lauderdale's poorest residents. But he has helped himself.

By Jay Cheshes
Carlton Moore is a pillar of a man, a politician with the public persona of a high-school principal. His smile, a nervous, toothy grin, often follows flashes of laughter while whispering clandestinely with his fellow city commissioners. For a brief moment, it disturbs the blank canvas of his face, brings a stutter to the crisp control of his speech, and then is gone. Just as suddenly Moore's restraint can give way to an angry outburst, an arched eyebrow, a quick fist on the table.

During a Fort Lauderdale City Commission meeting in mid-September, an affront to his community by the U.S. Navy sparked such an outburst, and his words spilled out in a spirited diatribe as he pounded the big wooden table on the seventh floor of city hall. The 45-year-old Moore and the other commissioners were discussing next year's budget. Outraged by a Navy report warning sailors on shore leave to avoid high-crime areas of the city -- most notably the northwest quarter he represents -- Moore argued for the city to reconsider its long-standing policy of funding the activities of the Navy League, a nonprofit organization that serves as a sort of welcome mat for Navy ships.

"If there is going to be any redlining in the city of Fort Lauderdale, I don't think our money should be used for it," he said, raising his voice and ruffling the folds of his crisp, gray, three-piece suit. "We're talking about sailors that are trained in combat, and they're cautioning them not to come into segments of our community," he continued, thrusting his chair from the table. "I mean, these are people who go to war."

Presiding over the meeting beneath the sailboat and setting sun of the city seal, Fort Lauderdale's often-combative mayor, Jim Naugle, fidgeted impatiently. "You're taking this the wrong way," he said, defending the Navy's report, a routine threat-assessment applied to all ports of call. "We have a crime problem in certain areas of our city.... Let's do something to address these problems instead of shooting the messenger and grandstanding."

Moore, who first learned of the Navy report this summer, had brought up the issue earlier in the month at a public budget hearing. He'd defended his portion of the city as a place with "museums, parks, and everything else that every community in this city has." But what he'd failed to mention is that the northwest, indeed the city's most crime-ridden section, has little more to draw young sailors than a few ramshackle bars and soul food restaurants -- not to mention the city's largest concentration of drug dealers. Although the neighborhood, bordered on the east and west by railroad tracks, has undergone somewhat of a face-lift in recent years, Sistrunk Boulevard, the historic backbone of the city's black community, remains an economically depressed artery where vacant lots and abandoned buildings are scattered among mom-and-pop convenience stores, butcher shops, a Church's Fried Chicken, an antiquated hat shop, and one brand-new establishment at the corner of Ninth Avenue -- Mad Mike's Tattoo parlor.

Still, Moore, once a boisterous young civil rights leader, remembers when conditions were far worse. When he was first elected into office ten years ago last March, visitors to his district might well have benefited from combat readiness. In those days neighborhoods with menacing monikers like Skid Row, the Hole, and the Jungle were largely the domains of pushers, pimps, junkies, and street punks, and Sistrunk Boulevard had a more pronounced topography, mountains of trash piled higher than the rusted car carcasses along the side of the road. Today, though much of the trash is gone and police and code enforcement crackdowns have pushed the criminal element underground, many in the neighborhood still feel a sense of fear, desperation, and hopelessness, and Carlton Moore has done little to change that.

Prior to his first election, Moore was president of the local chapter of the NAACP, which backed Mayor Naugle in a fight to divvy up Fort Lauderdale's four commission seats into single-member voting districts. When Moore campaigned for one of those seats, he promised to wipe away the blight and restore hope to an area that had been all but written off. But in ten years Moore has had limited success, a fact his critics attribute to a political career built more on showmanship and grandstanding than ideas and actions. Although he may look like a dignified elder statesman with his close-cropped, salt-and-pepper hair and perfect posture, his critics say that he's in fact a middling politician, a charismatic, perhaps well-intentioned talking head lacking the business acumen or political savvy needed to wrench the northwest quarter of Fort Lauderdale from inner-city rot.