In 1969, "gonzo" journalist Hunter S. Thompson ran for sheriff of Aspen, Colorado, on a platform he dubbed "freak power." He called on outcasts, misfits, and the disenfranchised to support him and collectively topple the usual powers-that-be. Some of his points were surprisingly prescient. In his six-point platform, he vowed to crack down on officer-involved shootings ("Every urban riot, shootout and bloodbath involving guns in recent memory has been set off by some trigger-happy cop in a fear frenzy") and fight for the environment. ("Rip up all city streets with jackhammers" and "sod the streets at once... All public movement would be by foot and a fleet of bicycles.")
Today, Fort Lauderdale mayoral candidate Chris Brennan says he's modeling his campaign after Thompson's. Brennan became locally famous in 2013, after he made a series of YouTube videos called "Florida Fidelity," in which the Fort Lauderdale native explored his favorite places. In one video, he ranted about a proposed development, Marina Lofts, that would require moving a six-story-tall, 90-year-old tree. Because the developer of Marina Lofts also leased land to the Water Taxi, where Brennan worked, he was fired from his job. That only emboldened him, and he went on to lead marches and public protests against the development, which was approved by the City Commission but has yet to be constructed.
Three candidates -- Brennan, incumbent mayor Jack Seiler, and challenger Earl Rynerson -- are running for mayor in the election Tuesday, February 10. If any candidate gets 50 percent of the vote or more, he wins. If not, then a runoff will be held March 10 between the two candidates who fare best next week.
We talked to Brennan about his candidacy and issues facing the city. Here are some of his thoughts:
On his expectations for the race: Brennan says Hunter S. Thompson "lost, of course, but he knew he was going to lose. I hate to admit this, but I know I am going to lose. If a candidate gets 50 percent or more, they win. Seiler is expected to win by a landslide. But if I bring a new voter base to the ballot, I could cost him, and that would be a huge win for me. It would send a message to Seiler: We're not happy -- the general population, real people who care about this city but aren't looking to profit. Let's make Fort Lauderdale the cool place it can be. Let's put the fun back in Fort Lauderdale. They've done a lot to suck the fun out of this place."
On his background: "I'm a native of Fort Lauderdale. I was born at Broward General. My dad raised me on the waterways of Fort Lauderdale -- I was always on the water. We've lost a lot of fishing holes due to irresponsible development. I graduated from Northeast High School and went to Broward Communtiy College for journalism -- but I didn't finish because I got a job as a park ranger. I did that for ten years until they dissolved the ranger program and brought in Wackenhut -- which failed miserably and led to a federal corruption probe. I was on the forefront of that. Then I worked for the water taxi for seven years, until I got canned because of the rain tree fiasco. I've been bartending at Big Dog Station. I'm always looking for the next big thing."
On why he decided to run: "The rain tree was a big loss for me -- it devastated me... Then [more recently], I met with [City Commissioner] Dean Trantalis about the homeless hate laws. I met with him as a friend, to show how the city could save face [and suggested] that they work with Food Not Bombs, not against them. Jack Seiler completely ignored my pleas. This was two weeks before it went national -- I begged him to back down and take a different route. If their heart was in the right place, the execution was poor. Any good government should work with people to better the situation, and Fort Lauderdale did not do that. After that, a good friend of mine got a court summons for having engaged in public distribution of food. [Mysteriously, she wasn't personally cited]; it was delivered to her roommate. That was the final straw. The day before my birthday, on a complete whim, I put on a cowboy hat and went and told all the city clerks I was there to run for mayor. I've never seen city officials run frantically around the office before."