C'mon, Get Happy

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"He's a quirky person," Ron Gunzburger says. "He's done good things, but he also goes off sometimes." Gunzburger remembers the time Naugle insulted firefighters who argued that speed bumps were detrimental when engines were racing to fires. "His comment was, 'What? You'll spill your coffee?' " Later, when asked to apologize, "He said, 'Well, I didn't say spill your beers. That's what I was thinking.' " Another time, Gunzburger recalls, the city hosted a convention for overweight people, and Naugle said it would be good for restaurants.

"He makes jokes," Gunzburger says. But this time, "he went too far. He's probably destroyed his legacy. With this comment and all the reaction, he'll probably be pegged as Fort Lauderdale's last homophobic mayor — and that'll outweigh any good he did."

Gunzburger envisions Naugle as "the Tom Sawyer of politics." City and county commissioners didn't find him so cute. They complained their computer systems were overwhelmed with all the e-mails about Naugle; some received viruses. Both commissions were asked to officially censure the mayor. The County Commission instead settled for issuing a letter condemning him; the City Commission is in recess until September.

The city's current vice mayor, Carlton Moore, was frustrated. Of the mayor's technique, he said, "I think it has worked very successfully — it has gotten him a whole bunch of publicity." Asked if the mayor's actions had taken away from energies that could have been better used on other city business, Moore took a schoolmarmish tone: "I don't think anything is falling into the background — for those of us interested in bringing good government."

If the mayor wanted a fight, he's got one. The group that was behind the Flush Naugle campaign and the rallies is headed by a gay couple, Waymon Hudson and Anthony Niedwiecki.

These are the same two guys who were at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport this spring when they heard someone reading a Bible verse from Leviticus over the intercom. If a man lies with a man, the voice said, he should be put to death.

The employee who'd done it was fired, but Hudson and Niedwiecki were disappointed that media reports characterized him as a prankster. They saw him as a hatemonger. Hudson says that after the incident, he was harassed and threatened. A woman at the grocery store recognized him from the news, he says, and spat in his face. "You deserve what that man said to you," Hudson recalls her saying. "Sinful faggot."

Their experience led Hudson and Niedwiecki to found an organization and a website, fightoutloud.com, that advises people on how to deal with hate crimes.

It also prepared them for what was to come. After Naugle's initial gay/sex/toilet comments, the couple helped launch Unite Fort Lauderdale, the group that quickly put together the anti-Naugle campaign.

Even after the rallies, the pair wouldn't back down. Niedwiecki, a law professor at Nova University, filed a public records request seeking e-mails the mayor had sent between June 25 and July 31. He also asked for correspondence between Naugle and various conservative leaders. Niedwiecki says he hand-delivered the request. Five days later, he got a call from the dean's office at his work.

"The secretary says, 'We got something from the City of Fort Lauderdale you might be interested in.' " There was a letter on city stationery marked "personal and confidential" — but strangely, it was addressed to Nova President Ray Ferrero Jr. instead of Niedwiecki. The letter said that it may take a while to respond to the request.

Niedwiecki believes that Naugle was running interference by trying to alert his bosses. It was a signal: "I better back off. He's interfering and harassing me for exercising my rights."

The language was much more subdued in Mayor Naugle's eighth-floor City Hall office, a spacious retreat painted blue and cluttered with model ships, framed photos, and city memorabilia. Stacks of paperwork cover a desk and table. Children's drawings hang on the door.

In person, the mayor uses his soothing voice to great effect, waxing on about the sister-cities project and his grandfather, who was a commissioner of Miami-Dade as well as a doctor. He answers the phone with that voice — "Jim speaking" — and is even polite to telemarketers: "No, I'm not buying any advertising today."

But he's not afraid to talk about his battles — or, for that matter, to inflame them. He himself switches the topic to the recent conflict with gays when he gets a call from a supporter in England. "He'd rather go to the bathroom in the ocean than go in those toilets," Naugle laughs.

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Deirdra Funcheon