Her High Hopes | New Times Broward-Palm Beach


Her High Hopes

On an ominous night in May, as thunder grumbled and growled outside, the Devil of Davie arrived wearing turquoise.

Into the council chambers she strode, plopping down third row from the back, in front of the rodeo posters and between the portraits of the bucking bulls, one with the cowboy holding on, the other with the cowboy tumbling off.

The Devil's name was Judy Stern, and in the room that night were those who believed she had been on top far too long, had finally been thrown from the backs of the people of Davie, and now should be trampled or at least run out of town. In Stern they saw a political gunfighter -- her soul in her cell phone -- the personification of evil: a lobbyist!

Thankfully, Goodness already appeared to have triumphed in the Town of Davie and now sat propped up by a pillow. From that height Councilwoman Judy Paul could better see and be seen, for to the rebels of the West she was the Hope of Davie's Past -- a schoolmarm on horseback -- surprise winner in the town elections in March. She would supply the crucial vote to preserve the open land, clean up town government -- and drive out the dreaded Stern.

As ceiling fans above spread the gentle breeze of change, Paul made her first official statement of the evening, informing the council audience that she was immersing herself in town government by observing its employees in action, reporting, "Every child's dream: I got to ride on the fire truck."

In the analyses following the March 1998 elections, political writers viewed Davie as an example of the political upheaval taking place in Broward County as suburbanites moving into the western cities begin to demand more say in local government, begin to challenge the politicians and political hired guns whose power was tied to the heavily Democratic senior-citizen condo machines.

In Davie, first-time candidate Paul, age 58, a Broward school administrator with little initial backing, joined with another winning newcomer, lawyer Richard Weiner, to form a "reform" council coalition, promising to open up town decision-making, leading the Sun-Sentinel to proclaim, "Newcomers upset Davie status quo."

The status quo being upset included the influence of countywide lobbyist and campaign consultant Judy Stern, age 45, who had close political ties with incumbent Davie council members. After helping them win elections, she turned around and represented corporate clients who won council votes on such controversial issues as telephone towers, garbage collection, and ambulance service.

Because of this dual power role, the Weiner-Paul forces accused Stern of running Davie from behind the scenes, circulating campaign fliers portraying her as a puppet master pulling the strings of the council members. A month after its victory, the reform coalition proposed stringent new lobbyist-disclosure regulations aimed directly at limiting Stern's influence.

In this debate Stern symbolizes the long-time hold of the hired guns on Broward power, and Paul the heroine of the common people. The battle lines were drawn in separate New Times interviews.

Beneath an office picture of Stern chatting with President Clinton, the lobbyist dismissed talk of fundamental change with the philosophy of a pro: "Sometimes you just have to wait it out," she shrugged. Then, continuing, she said that Paul "lacks the vision to look at the whole picture of the community.... Davie can't stay the way it was 25 years ago.... Hopefully she will learn."

To Paul, the antilobbyist ordinance, to be discussed at a council workshop June 24, heralds the return of the real Davie. "The perception people had is that they lost control of their town," she explained in her new town hall office. "After the election people were so excited. They said, 'Thanks so much. The people have taken back their town.' I got tears in my eyes."

Asked about her relationship with Stern, Paul looked away, then softly said, "That's a touchy subject.... She can be intimidating."

Ah, the Devil of Davie and Goodness, dueling beneath the western sky.

When next observed, Goodness was mucking the horse stalls. "I call this 'Pauldarosa,'" the councilwoman laughed, hose in one hand, cordless phone in the other. As her appaloosas, Tanya Lee and the Lone Ranger, munched grass in the side yard, constituents called about a controversial horse trail. Spraying water as she talked, Paul explained, "I've gotten six calls in less than an hour. The big question is who owns the ten feet, the town or the homeowners."

On the following night, as 25 or so horses stood outside, more than 100 residents packed town hall to debate the trail, proposed for 142nd Avenue between Southwest 14th and 26th streets. Homeowners argued that in 1990 the town promised not to build a trail along the ten-foot easement behind their properties, that deeds showed they controlled the land. But trail supporters, some wearing yellow T-shirts with slogans like "Horses are just hikers with four feet," told of being forced to ride on roadways where delivery trucks spook their mounts. One of them lamented "with overwhelming sadness that Davie is becoming Tamarac."