A Fine Romance

It's no secret that the Sun-Sentinel and the Palm Beach Post, embroiled in a nasty newspaper war for readers in Palm Beach County, share a crush on the Scripps Research Institute, the sprawling medical research facility under construction on sensitive swampland in western Palm Beach County. A Post editorial once proclaimed that Scripps would have an impact on the Sunshine State comparable to "Henry Flagler's railroad, air conditioning, the Kennedy Space Center, and Disney World." On their websites, both newspapers offer separate sections devoted strictly to news about Scripps, which is destined to suck up $700 million in public money while degrading a prime swath of the Everglades.

So, yes, the Sun-Sentinel and the Post are both clearly in bed with Scripps. But only one is leaving money on the dresser each morning.

In an effort to raise money for research projects, Scripps recently created the Scripps Corporate Club. Members pay $5,000 per year for the opportunity to host luncheons and hobnob with the top bosses at Scripps.

"It's not really a club. It's a euphemism for business partners," says Will Ray, Scripps vice president of external affairs. "What members might get is a relationship with a Scripps scientist or manager."

Of the current 25 Scripps Corporate Club members getting special relationships with scientists and managers, the Sun-Sentinel is the only newspaper. What that means, in this battered tube's view, is that a news organization with an obligation to report aggressively on Scripps is now among the facility's boosters. Doesn't that compromise the Sun-Sentinel's objectivity or, at least, its willingness to ask tough questions? The newspaper's spokesman, Kevin Courtney, was as tightlipped about the deal as a john cruising a dark street.

"I'm going to decline participation in the article," Courtney told the 'Pipe, then repeated that exact line.

Asked about the Sun-Sentinel's new role as a Scripps fundraiser, Post Publisher Tom Giuffrida remains diplomatic: "I think the marketing opportunities offered by Scripps are very important to the Sun-Sentinel. And I'll leave it at that."

Marketing opportunities. That must be one of those newfangled courses they teach in journalism schools nowadays.

Eek! My Figleaf Is Crooked

New Times freelance art reviewer Alexia Davis recently raved about a photography exhibit titled "Paradise" at Chromatek Imaging, a tiny gallery attached to a print lab on Powerline Road in Fort Lauderdale. The photos by Suzanne Scherer and Pavel Ouperov incorporate "dramatically lit nudes and mysterious landscapes," reviewer Davis wrote in the New Times Artbeat section, and they exude an "ethereal quality."

God knows, that's a slice o' heaven Tailpipe sometimes fantasizes about. But alas, nirvana has slipped away from Chromatek. Actually, it was tossed out on its ear. The day after the opening night, the gallery's owner, Allen Evans, shrouded most of the photos with brown paper; later, he removed them from the walls. "We were shocked and surprised," says Scherer, who didn't learn of the removal until days afterward. The curator/technician at Chromatek told Scherer that Evans had referred to "family values" as he yanked the photos.

"There's nothing explicit in them," Scherer says. "The nude figures blend into the photos; they're just a small part of them." Indeed, you'd see more skin on a typical Lauderdale beach bather. Scherer and Ouperov have made numerous attempts to talk to Evans, they say, but he's refused to do so. (He didn't call back the 'Pipe either.) It's not like Evans walked into this cauldron of sin with his eyes closed. "We were invited to do that show by the lab!" Scherer says.

Create Your Own Arena

On the other hand, there's nothing wrong with a newspaper taking the initiative in bringing creative ideas to the public-service table, as New Times did recently when it proposed a combination new Marlins stadium and hurricane shelter to be named FEMArena. All right, some of our would-be arena elements were a little radical, like having fans sit on seats that double as toilets and stocking the site with flotation devices that could easily be converted to body bags.

But given recent meteorological developments, it ain't just an off-the-wall whim. In fact, Tailpipe is proud to note, allegedly serious public servants already seem to have taken up the idea. The mayor and city manager of Weston recently offered a similar scheme to the Marlins and Gov. Jeb Bush. It looked like this newspaper was finally getting the respect it deserves out there on the edge of the Everglades.

Tailpipe called Mayor Eric Hersh and tried to nudge a little recognition from him for being first with a good idea. Hersh had, of course, seen the September 15 issue of New Times, no?

Hersh: I hadn't read it.

Tailpipe: No?

Hersh: No. [He warms a bit. ] I hadn't thought about utilizing FEMA money. I think what is very doable in the state is to provide tax relief dollars... [several minutes of technical financial jargon that left this outlet bewildered]. If there's federal money for it, all the better.

Tailpipe: Would you consider promoting any of our ideas? One of them was to make a larger bullpen and actually have a bull ready for roasting to feed the hungry people.

Hersh: Well, I'm not sure I'm ready to promote those kinds of things.

Tailpipe: Another one was that all the seats could also serve as toilets.

Hersh: It sounds like good satire, not necessarily good politics... [He assumes the gravity of a man who routinely juggles big-time street-sweeping and tree-trimming contracts.] Hopefully, this goes beyond satire and something will happen.

So much for the spirit of public-service kinship from Weston politicians. But the 'Pipe still has hopes for a big fraternal abrazo from Gov. Jeb. There's a rumor that the guv is seriously considering the arena/shelter idea, which state officials have dubbed NEW TIMEStadium. The 'Pipe just loves the ring of that.

Very Merry Housing

Nothing persists like a bad idea that has the support of politicians and developers. A cadre of West Palm Beach officials gathered last week under the shade of a banyan tree in a vacant lot that was once the city's first African-American neighborhood to announce big news for the 'hood. Plans for a low-income housing development that's been on the books for a decade would go forward after all. It was a glorious day for the city officials -- though residents of the area seemed considerably less ecstatic.

The big announcement stemmed from the Housing Authority's having secured state tax credits that would save $12.6 million on the price of what's been cheerily dubbed MerryPlace (though the feds stubbornly resist signing on). The city has promised to break ground in about six months, building 128 rentals and 115 affordable homes.

In a news release sent out before they gathered behind a wooden podium for a photo op, the city promised that residents would be there to discuss "how they expect MerryPlace to improve the blight conditions in their neighborhood." It didn't exactly work out that way. Residents have never been ecstatic about MerryPlace, a plan that's been continually shot down for government funding and roundly criticized as a land grab by whites. Yes, a couple of folks stumbled in, offering grudging support for MerryPlace. Julia Smith, a church secretary who grew up just a block from where the podium stood, said: "I guess I can say this will be better because it can't get worse." Not the kind of ringing endorsement you're looking for when you're about to send the construction crews in.

City leaders wouldn't have had to walk far to hear what residents really think of the plan. Two dozen of them were sitting in folding chairs and on top of coolers under the shade of a ficus tree behind a convenience store across the street. They said they hadn't been invited to the photo op. When asked about MerryPlace, there was no shortage of opinions.

"It's just another land-taking," said Bill Holland Jr. , a paralegal whose father was the first black lawyer in Palm Beach County. "They take it from the black man and give it to the white man. Simple as that."

Across from him, George Hall, a 77-year-old retired Marine, got fired up. "You want me to tell you what this is about? Do you? It's a bunch of pirates taking our land. They don't have skull and bones on their hats, but they're pirates."

A third man, who was handing out bottles of Bud, declined to give his name but was ready with answers. "They took this from us," he says, "and they ain't going to give us nothing."

Holland's theory for MerryPlace's refusal to go away: City officials are tired of commuting. "They're just moving the poor people out. They're sick of driving an hour and a half from the suburbs, so they'll make us do it."

Across the street, officials were packing up their displays and loading into SUVs and sedans. Staring grimly ahead, they passed the locals under the ficus tree on their way back to City Hall.

They Blew Up the Levees

Ever since rogue artist "Master" Jeffrey Holmes left Fort Lauderdale after 9/11, black helicopter sightings have dropped dramatically. But they're way, way up in New Orleans, where Holmes relocated. After his move to the Bywater neighborhood, he regularly contributed to New Times' letters section, keeping us updated about various conspiracies via e-mail. After evacuating the city before Katrina, Holmes and his wife, Andrea Garland, returned to secure their battered home. "THEY are trying to take our city from us!" last week's report said. "Thousands of poor mostly African-American citizens of New Orleans were murdered. Those levee breaks? Dynamite. Don't ask me for proof yet -- give us some time, we will get it to you." Holmes and Garland say they're fighting to retain the unique flavor of the town they love in the face of a challenge from the moneyed mojo of Halliburton: "Developers are salivating at the 'new' New Orleans they will build... and all the dead people in its attics will be bulldozed so the land can be turned into a barrier reef to protect the city. Ain't this lovely?" Paranoid blather, right? Let's see now. Thousands of New Orleans residents are penned in during a huge hurricane and flood catastrophe as would-be rescuers are kept out by federal authorities -- and we're shocked that the survivors have some way-out explanations? Tailpipe is withholding judgment until he gets the report from the blast site.

-- As told to Edmund Newton

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