Longform

A Dream Deferred

Page 5 of 6

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."

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Jay Cheshes