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.

"There is a feeling of, I don't want to say betrayal, but of promises unkept," says Bobby Henry, publisher of the Westside Gazette, the oldest black newspaper in Broward County. "It's like people feel as if they have been put off." Jerry Kolo, who, as a professor of Urban Planning at Florida Atlantic University, has spent more than a decade working closely with the city to formulate redevelopment plans for Moore's quadrant, echoes those sentiments. "The residents remain as disgruntled as ever in terms of the amount of energy and money devoted to the area," he says. "In terms of human spirit, nothing has changed."

Moore acknowledges that his redevelopment effort has been a struggle, but he nonetheless rattles off a list of achievements that is most remarkable for its brevity. Even less impressive is the way he's used his political clout to secure business deals and job opportunities aimed at reviving his troubled finances, including nine lackluster years as an investigator with the public defender's office. Strained by a string of business ventures gone bad, Moore's financial failures mirror the economic woes of the community that elected him.

When he first took office a decade ago, Moore's section of Fort Lauderdale was the city's lowest financial priority. Located west of Andrews Avenue and north of Broward Boulevard, the two square miles of real estate were assessed in a 1989 report as a "war zone" saddled with a crack-cocaine epidemic, a population that had plummeted more than 50 percent (by about 10,000 residents) in 15 years, and a home-ownership rate that was less than half the city's average of 56 percent. Moore's challenge was to reinvigorate the community, replace the crumbling infrastructure -- including such basics as streetlights, sidewalks, and plumbing -- and establish economic incentives to draw mainstream businesses to invest. The city's report put the estimated cost of rejuvenation in the northwest at a whopping $357 million. The state donated $200,000, and while the city has channeled millions of dollars to other parts of Fort Lauderdale -- refurbishing the Riverwalk, beachfront, and downtown areas -- Moore's predominantly black chunk of the city remains largely neglected.

"Government can only do so much," says Moore, sucking on a Kool menthol cigarette and leaning back in a padded chair in his cluttered city hall office. "It takes the private sector to come in and create jobs. When you have an area that is impoverished and with low education levels, businesses do not tend to run to those areas. So have the investors come to the magnitude I would like to see? No. Will they come? Yes, I believe they will."

To attract those businesses, Moore a few years back helped lobby for federal funds to set up a tax-free "enterprise zone" along the Sistrunk corridor. Enterprise zones are designed to draw wary investors to blighted inner-city neighborhoods, but in Moore's district they have had little impact. "These programs are not user-friendly," says Bobby Henry. "People don't know how to take advantage of them. For people in this community, it's like going straight from Economics 101 to graduation."

Although Sistrunk Boulevard hasn't changed much since Moore first took office, one bright light does exist at the far eastern end of the street. Secure behind thick iron gates is the $40 million Regal Trace apartment complex, some 400 low-rise garden apartments rented to low-income families. The apartments were built on land once occupied by the rundown homes of more than 1500 families, all of whom were handed federal relocation funds in the mid-'80s (before Moore took office). The old neighborhood was razed to make room for redevelopment proposals being considered by the city at the time, proposals that included plans to build shops, apartments, and single-family homes.

When Moore took office in 1988, the land had been sitting fallow for years, awaiting viable redevelopment ideas upon which the commission could agree. In an ill-fated move, Moore pushed hard for the city to approve the plans of Texas developer Leonard Briscoe, who wanted to build garden apartments on the site. Briscoe was later forced off the project after he was convicted of bribing a Housing and Urban Development official in Washington, D.C. Dania developer Milton Jones took over in the early '90s and finally broke ground in 1994. This year he began leasing apartments to families earning less than $22,000 a year. The completed complex, with its swimming pool, tennis courts, and well-groomed landscaping, stands in stark contrast to many of its neighbors, like the abandoned shell of a building next door, a dank structure littered with broken bottles and mildewed newspapers that serves as a shelter for a homeless couple.

While Jerry Kolo applauds Regal Trace and neighboring developments like the new post office on Seventh Avenue and the Family Health Center across the street, he says they amount to far too little, far too late.

"Physically those projects have an impact," he says. "But socially and economically they don't, which should be the true test of redevelopment projects. These physical improvements do not get to the basic concerns of the residents, which are with well-paying jobs; businesses they can operate profitably; infrastructure for good housing; safety; recreation and child-care facilities; transportation to other parts of the city; and environmental issues. There is no overall coherent strategic plan for the economic revitalization of the area, and that is obvious. Carlton Moore is a dynamic guy, but, in terms of the technical insights of what would work, he needs to do a better job at pulling the appropriate people and teams together."

Moore's magnetism, not his technical expertise, is what landed him in politics in the first place. "He was always the leader among his friends," recalls his mother, Ada Moore, a former recreation counselor with the city's parks department who was a sort of surrogate mom for many kids in Moore's childhood neighborhood, a lower-middle-class enclave just beyond the Fort Lauderdale city limits. "Because of his leadership in high school, people encouraged him to move into politics," she continues. "He never really said anything about politics growing up. I think he sort of fell into that. He always wanted to be a businessman, to own his own business. He wanted to make money."

Moore's attempts at amassing a fortune -- including running an office-supply company, a window-cleaning service, an insurance business (he became a licensed insurance broker after taking classes at Broward Community College), and a nightclub -- fell flat. By the time he'd become a city commissioner -- a part-time position for which he earns $14,000 a year -- his business ventures seemed driven by desperation. When his last big project, a Blockbuster Video franchise, went belly-up in 1996, Moore's business frustrations had reached critical mass. "I will not go into business again," he told the Miami Herald in 1997. "It's rough if one is operating a business; he should only do that one task." So far Moore has kept his word, and, citing a similar claim of overextending himself, he recently quit a $35,000-a-year, part-time job as an investigator with the Broward County Public Defender's Office. "He has too many eggs in too many baskets," says his first wife, Valerie Jones. "He spreads himself a little thin."

Juggling his political and professional lives, Moore found that his political clout was in fact the most useful moneymaking tool at his disposal. Among the more questionable business ventures his office helped him secure was his involvement with Blockbuster, a company then owned by one of Fort Lauderdale's most heavy-hitting developers (and a contributor to Moore's political campaigns), Wayne Huizenga. In 1993 Moore and his two partners, George Myles and Fred Platt, threw open the doors on Florida's first black-owned Blockbuster franchise, a retail showpiece in a rundown shopping center on Sunrise Boulevard. At the opening, heralded with great fanfare and attended by Huizenga himself, Moore said that his venture would be the first of many new enterprises to reinvigorate the black community and pledged to invest 5 percent of his proceeds back into the neighborhood. That turned out to be 5 percent of nothing, because three years later the struggling franchise entered the annals of Blockbuster history as one of a tiny fraction of the company's 800 franchises to go broke. (The rest of the company's 4000 stores are company-owned.) Moore blames poor financial planning and a paucity of customers for his franchise failure. "We didn't have an adequate amount of money to support us through the lean startup years," he says.

Even though Moore's Blockbuster deal was a failure, its timing set off alarms among his critics. He secured the franchise shortly before a 1993 commission vote on a hotly disputed Huizenga development in Fort Lauderdale's Smoker Park, a $34 million project that would replace the park with apartments and a shopping center. At the time the proposal polarized residents along pro-environment and pro-development lines and even inspired a group of protesting Seminoles, claiming the site to be a sacred burial ground, to camp out in the park. Mayor Naugle first opposed the development plan, but when Huizenga agreed to set aside a stretch of land for park use, he changed his mind and joined three of the four commissioners in approving the project. (Despite the approval it has yet to get off the ground). Moore, fearful the public might perceive a conflict of interest with his new Blockbuster deal, abstained from voting.

Economic failure and ethical questions were not the only problems to afflict Moore's Blockbuster venture. In 1995, after the video store had begun to flounder, George Myles, Moore's business partner and a popular Lauderhill city commissioner, got into legal trouble. He was accused of writing bad checks and defaulting on a mass of debts, including $8000 still owed to a Miami law firm by the company he co-owned with Moore and another $15,000 also still owed to the Broward Sheriff's Office for an educational video the company had been contracted to produce but never did. For his part Moore, who has not been named in the lawsuits, denies any connection to his former partner's legal entanglements.

He does admit, however, to using the clout afforded by his position to secure business opportunities beyond the Blockbuster deal, actions that, while they may be legal, are ethically questionable. "Political people have to eat too," Moore says in his own defense. "We are volunteering our time as elected officials, and we have a right to an income. There are not many elected posts in our form of government that allow you to have a decent lifestyle by being a public servant alone, and I don't think our society or our community expects their officials to be impoverished because they wish to serve."

State ethics regulations prohibit elected officials from going into business with companies they are charged with regulating. But because, as Moore points out, part-time commissioners need an alternative source of income, many, like his colleagues -- lawyers and businessman -- enter elected office with well-established professional careers they are not expected to abandon. Moore's case was different, however. He was a part-time insurance salesman with a string of failed businesses under his belt, and, less than a year after he was elected, he landed himself a government-related job. In 1989 Broward County's elected public defender, Alan Schreiber, hired Moore as an investigator, a job that requires tracking down witnesses for the county's publicly appointed lawyers. Although he had none of the usual qualifications for the position -- a four-year college degree in criminal justice or equivalent law-enforcement experience -- Moore was hired because of his specific expertise. "We needed a black investigator who was knowledgeable in the black community," explains Schreiber. "Carlton was a good match."

Judging from almost a decade's worth of poor job evaluations, the match wasn't so good. The evaluations paint a picture of an unenthusiastic employee with a truancy problem. Last May, for instance, Moore traveled to Alaska for a meeting of the National League of Cities, an organization with which he is active. Phoning from the Arctic Circle, he explained that he wouldn't be able to make it to work until the end of the following week. Moore's supervisor, Phil Charlesworth, was not pleased. "I have never given him permission to go on vacation without prior approval," he wrote in a letter to Schreiber. "However, it has happened many times. I was assured the last time it happened that it would never happen again.... I am recommending that we consider cutting his part-time employment by half." Schreiber didn't have to. Last month, after nine lackluster years as an investigator, Moore resigned.

Instead of digging up witnesses, Moore is now devoting his time to another position, a more flexible part-time gig as a vice president at McKinley Financial Services of Pompano Beach, a company that, with Moore's help, recently secured a multimillion-dollar deal to provide property and casualty insurance to Broward County. Moore was hired just a few months before the deal with the county was set up. He claims, however, that the timing was simply coincidental.

Despite questions about his business dealings and his effectiveness as a politician, Moore remains a political force with which to be reckoned. In 1997 he was elected to a third three-year term with more than 80 percent of the vote (though only 12 percent of his more than 10,000 constituents voted). In the last ten years, only two candidates have stuck their necks out to challenge him, and both were easily quashed. Leola McCoy and Mickey Hinton, former classmates at Dillard High School, lifetime residents of the northwest section of Fort Lauderdale, and community activists popular in their neighborhoods, mounted campaigns to unseat Moore in 1994 with little success. (Hinton made a second unsuccessful bid in '97.)

McCoy, a firebrand who has spent more than 30 years vying for the political spotlight, set her sights on Moore shortly after he took office. "My dog has more integrity than he does," she says. "I thought I could honestly represent people. Folks said, 'Why [are you] running against the man?' He ain't no man, he's a damn crook." Increasingly the two have clashed over what has become McCoy's pet project, the cleanup of the toxic chemicals at the defunct Wingate Road Municipal Incinerator and Landfill, a site she blames for the chronic illnesses afflicting many in her neighborhood (the same neighborhood where Moore grew up). Moore recently cast a vote to cap the site rather than remove its toxic contents, defending the cap as the quickest and least-expensive way to deal with the problem. Although he acknowledges that his stance on Wingate was unpopular among his former neighbors, he says he doesn't expect it to impact his chance of easily securing a fourth term if he runs again in 2000.

Moore's self-confidence is bolstered by his prominence among the black political elite in Broward County, many of whom went to the same schools and played on the same playgrounds as he did. As the child of divorced parents, he was raised by his mother in the Royal Palm section of unincorporated Broward County, a predominantly white neighborhood when he first moved there in 1959. At about that time, across the city line in Fort Lauderdale, he had his first encounter with racism. "I was looking in a picture window in a five-and-dime when a man spat in my face and called me a nigger," recalls Moore. "I didn't understand why, and I went home and asked my mother, 'What's a nigger, and why did this man spit in my face?' and I saw tears come to her eyes, and I knew something was wrong."

Such encounters were a frequent feature of life in Broward County in the earliest days of the civil rights movement. As a young boy still unburdened with issues of race, Moore was mostly confused by the way the white kids in his neighborhood treated him -- and why so many of them began to move away. In fact, by the time Moore was a fifth-grader at Rock Island Elementary, a formerly all-white school he'd helped to integrate under police guard, his neighborhood and school were almost entirely black. "I came into school one day, and I had a white teacher," recalls Moore. "The next day I had a black teacher and a black principal. It happened just like that."

Moore's rise to political prominence didn't happen nearly as quickly. At Fort Lauderdale High School, the integrated school to which he was bused, he showed the first signs of leadership, organizing black students into a politically cohesive group. Many of those same students urged him to pursue leadership roles outside of school, first with the NAACP and then with the city commission. As a young civil rights leader, Moore became a protege of such black political luminaries as U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings and lame-duck County Commissioner Sylvia Poitier, politicians his peers say are helping to groom him for higher office. "If you look at the stable of black politicians most likely to move on, Carlton's been around longer than most anyone else, and he's still young," says Keith Clayborne, publisher of the Broward Times, a black newspaper. Moore's friend Florida Rep. Josephus Eggelletion, Jr. agrees. "I know he's aiming higher than where he is today," he says. "It might be appropriate for him to run to fill the void left by Sylvia Poitier's absence."

Poitier, who for years was the only black voice on the county commission, lost her seat to a well-funded but politically inexperienced white candidate in this summer's Democratic primary. Months before the primary, Democratic Party power brokers, fearful that Poitier's days might be numbered, approached Moore to run for her seat. Citing loyalty issues he declined to throw his hat into the ring. "I respect Sylvia Poitier," he says. "They didn't respect her, they had more respect for me -- it's as simple as that. I had no way of looking into a ball and knowing she may lose her seat."

Despite what the political prognosticators say about Moore's political future, he claims no aspirations beyond his city commission seat. "I plan to continue the job I've been doing the last ten years," he says. "I am dedicated to turning around this community."

But Moore's attempts over the years to inflate his public profile suggest there may be something he's not saying. Along with becoming active in political organizations like the National League of Cities and the Urban League, he has been particularly outspoken on a number of racially charged issues -- like the Navy's redlining of his district -- that critics like McCoy say are "safe" and likely to "incense the community."

In 1996 Clayborne wrote an editorial critical of Moore's stance on one such issue. "So-called black leadership has helped to maintain our victim status by fanning the fires of what I call symbolic racism," he wrote. "Recently Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Carlton Moore called for the firing of a city detective.... I'm sure Carlton Moore meant well but his efforts might be better spent ensuring that blacks and others get a piece of the economic bounty doled out primarily to whites by the city of Fort Lauderdale." Recalling the editorial, Clayborne says of Moore, "We always look at the emotional issues first, the ones easy to generate emotional responses."

Moore stands by the actions referred to by Clayborne, actions that in 1996 helped force Det. Don McCawley, a decorated 23-year veteran of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department into early retirement. Moore had been outraged by McCawley's behavior two years earlier at an annual invitation-only law-enforcement retreat in Tennessee known as the Good Ol' Boy Roundup (a retreat more than a dozen Fort Lauderdale police officers have attended over the years). Competing in a "Redneck of the Year" competition, McCawley performed a parody of the Rodney King beating in which he extracted a black baby doll from a watermelon and began beating it with a stick. Moore called for McCawley's firing shortly after details of the skit, as described in a U.S. Justice Department investigation of the Roundup, became public.

In a burst of emotions Moore, who has two teenage sons, leaped from his seat at a city commission meeting and demanded that McCawley be fired. "This man wants to shoot my sons," he said, as the rest of the commissioners looked on in stunned silence.

Recalling the incident Moore says he believes his actions sent an important message to the police department. "It's important that they understand that this is no longer a time when things like the Good Ol' Boy Roundup are going to be tolerated," he says. "I think it was a necessary position for me to take whether I was elected or not."

McCawley, now a private investigator in the Fort Lauderdale area, admits his actions at the Roundup were in poor taste but thinks he was treated unfairly, largely as a result of Moore's overreacting. "I don't think I would have been forced out if Carlton Moore hadn't raised such hell about it," he says. "I think the City of Fort Lauderdale allowed Carlton Moore to do things the way he has always done things, intimidating people by using the black community as a pawn. It's a hell of a way to treat a guy who has been with the city for 23 years."

But Moore, who remembers being harassed by white police officers as a young man in Fort Lauderdale, is far less concerned with the career of an individual police officer than with the animosity that has traditionally characterized relations between the police department and the black community. Moore need not worry, because the legacy of a largely uneventful first decade in office will probably have very little effect on his chances of being elected again.

Published:In a feature article entitles "A Dream Deferred" (October 8), staff writer Jay Cheshes wrote that George Myles still owed the Broward Sheriff's Office (BSO) $15,000 for an educational video he'd been contracted to produce in 1995 but never did. Because of reporter error, that statement was incorrect. According to the BSO's public information office, a video was produced and delivered to the BSO, which claimed that the video did not meet its expectations. The project was thus shelved, and the BSO did not attempt to recover the $15,000 paid. We regret the error.

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Jay Cheshes