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Bombing Run

When you're in the newspaper business, you're supposed to give the people you write about a chance to speak. Maybe you don't like somebody, but at least you let him respond to your criticisms. That old cornerstone of the free press recently got swept into the trash bin over at the Broward Times, a weekly newspaper that styles itself as "South Florida's most influential black newspaper."

Keith A. Clayborne, the paper's publisher turned U.S. Congressional candidate, has been using his front-page column, "Off the Vine," as a campaign soapbox. His frequent target is Alcee L. Hastings, the six-term incumbent who made state history in 1979 as Florida's first African-American federal judge (and was later impeached for allegedly taking a bribe).

In the May 7 Broward Times, Clayborne alleged that Hastings has been ignoring the problems plaguing his constituents: crime, poverty, and AIDS. "Where's Hastings been?" wrote Clayborne, without mentioning he's trying to replace Hastings in Congress. "Asleep."

Turns out that Hastings was wide awake and none too happy. He fired off a letter from his Washington, D.C., office, responding to what the congressman termed Clayborne's "blatant lies in a column rife with misleading and made-up information."

Clayborne responded not by publishing his opponent's letter but by escalating his attack. On May 28, Clayborne asserted that Hastings belonged "in the circus, not in Congress."

"The only thing Alcee's record shows is disrespect for the public trust," Clayborne wrote. "This windbag of a congressman thinks he can continue to bamboozle folks with his tired rhetoric." Clayborne alleged that Hastings was light on drug offenders as a federal judge and has not delivered on campaign promises to improve schools, strengthen families, and keep black youths out of the hoosegow.

Did the blowhard back up his claims with, well, facts? None that Tailpipe could find.

"Do you know libel? I know libel when I see it," a seething Hastings tells the 'Pipe. "If you were to write in New Times that I was light on drug criminals, you'd have to check your facts, right? While light might be relative, you would learn that in seven years of the nine that I was a judge, mandatory sentencing guidelines were in place. Prosecutors sentenced offenders, not judges. I deem it unfortunate that Keith has used his paper to campaign. I haven't bothered to say anything yet to the Federal Election Commission."

Unable to get his point of view into the editorial columns, Hastings tried to purchase an ad in Broward Times, which regularly runs full-page advertisements for Clayborne. A rep told the congressman the Times wanted a 16-week contract, Hastings alleges. Last week, Hastings sent another letter to Broward Times, he told the 'Pipe, asking for a retraction of Clayborne's most recent column. The next step, Hastings says, could be legal action. "Keith crossed the line," the incumbent says.

Meanwhile, Czar Clayborne has clammed up tighter than Fort Knox, declining to respond to calls and e-mails seeking comment. That's how you get to be influential in South Florida, Tailpipe supposes. Throw mud around, turn your newspaper into a piece of blatant self-promotion, then disappear.

For Want of a Parking Spot

Renel St. Jean, a 26-year-old North Miami man, dropped his girlfriend, Aterika Taylor, at the Broward Sheriff's Office digs on May 12 to take a polygraph test. She had applied for a corrections officer job, so it was mandatory. Easy livin', St. Jean thought. He'd take a nap in the parking lot while he waited. But finding nowhere to tuck his Maxima, he motored to the nearby Swap Shop to kill some time.

While he was browsing, a man tried to pick his pocket. St. Jean looked around for a security guard and, seeing none, headed back to his car. On the way, though, the would-be thief and three associates jumped him, snatched his $1,800 white gold bracelet and $3,000 white gold chain, then kicked the stuffing out of him.

There wasn't much finesse to the job. One assailant left to bring a car around and backed it into St. Jean's knee, knocking him on his face. Two others piled on; the fourth, Darius Darann Collier, lingered for a couple of parting shots, then, with his beltless pants sagging and dragging, was nabbed by a couple of passersby, St. Jean recalls. Collier awaits trial on the alleged beating he delivered and marijuana he was carrying.

Bruised and cut, St. Jean gave a statement to a BSO officer and drove back to pick up Taylor. She offered to drive, doing her best not to cry at the sight of her boyfriend's grotesquely swollen head. He was bedridden for a week before he finally agreed to visit an emergency room. There, he learned he had one broken thumb, another fractured, and torn ligaments in his knee. Because he had neglected to sign up for medical insurance through his job at the Home Depot, he owes thousands for treatment. "Foolish me," he says.

For what it's worth, the manager of the Swap Shop, supposedly "the world's largest indoor/outdoor entertainment and bargain shopping attraction," has apologized, adding that camera footage may help nab the remaining perps. "Something like that should never happen there," St. Jean says. "The lesson I think for the Swap Shop is to protect its customers. And as far as for me? Don't be at the wrong place at the wrong time."

But this grimy tube is still troubled by the thought that, if the law enforcement agency of record in the area had offered the public adequate parking, St. Jean and Taylor would have made it home none the worse for wear.

Stress Test

Ouch, that Lois Frankel woman.

Somebody stepped on West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel's last nerve the other day. Under increasing criticism for disruptive construction projects and an enormous proposed jump in her salary, she exploded in frustration at a May 27 meeting.

The discussion was about the new ordinance forbidding the under-21 crowd from bars, adding an exemption for concerts. Frankel took a jaundiced look at her nemesis on the subject of the local drinking scene, bar owner Rodney Mayo.

"I don't like you," she said, going for broke. "I can't stand you. I want you out of my city."

Mayo, no shrinking violet, growled back, and the two glared at each other until Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell tried to smooth things over.

Despite the flak Frankel has been taking lately, the city will likely give her a 40 percent raise. A committee recently recommended that her salary skyrocket from $89,250 to $125,000. That proposal came after Frankel asked the committee to reconsider its first plan to give her a cool 100 G's.

Some city commissioners say the raise isn't about Frankel's successes but about fairly compensating the city's top executive. In the competitive market of the subtropics, mayors typically earn better than $100,000, and city managers often get more than twice that. The city currently pays about 20 other employees more than the mayor, says Mitchell, a long-time critic of Frankel.

"Trust me when I tell you that this raise has nothing to do with Lois and everything to do with fairly compensating whoever is in that job," Mitchell says. "The truth is, the timing is never good to give yourself a raise."

Mayo, owner of Respectable Street, shot off a memo to city leaders June 4 saying he was "concerned as to what Mayor Frankel might do with the powers she has" over his business. Mayo's note also said Frankel declined his offer to settle their differences over dinner. Tailpipe has it on good authority that it wasn't just because Frankel didn't want to pick up the check.

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Edmund Newton

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