Outside Tamarac City Hall is a bronze monument to Norman Abramowitz, a man they called "Da Boss."
In fact, the entire building is dedicated to Abramowitz, a celebrated former county commissioner and mayor of the town. The Long Island-raised Abramowitz had an old-school New York style and, despite only having a high school education, rose to the top of Broward politics and held court with presidents like Bill Clinton, who had him at the White House and appointed "Stormin' Norman" as a delegate to the Conference on Aging.
But it might be time for Tamarac to find a new City Hall plaque. Fresh information about the way Abramowitz operated has come to light in the state investigation involving dirty developers Bruce and Shawn Chait.
The probe is bringing Abramowitz's City Hall to its knees and is jolting the County Commission hard. It has already bagged Tamarac Commissioner Patte Atkins-Grad and former county pol Joe Eggelletion. More dominoes are set to fall after the Chaits pleaded guilty earlier today and are cooperating against a slew of officials, including Tamarac Mayor Beth Flansbaum-Talabisco and former Commissioners Marc Sultanof and Ed Portner, all of them former Abramowitz allies.
But when Bruce Chait decided he was going to develop the old Sabal Palm and Monterrey golf courses in Tamarac, the first call he made didn't go to Talabisco or Sultanof. It didn't even go to County Commissioners Ilene Lieberman or Stacy Ritter, who are also under investigation.
It went to Abramowitz. And it was Abramowitz, who died in July 2006 after the city approved the Chaits' housing development on two golf courses, who made the introductions to key politicians and cleared a path for the developers to buy up much of the City Commission, Bruce Chait testified in sworn testimony.
Let Bruce Chait tell you about it. From a recent sworn interview:
"I called up Norman, and I said... there's a piece of property in Tamarac that I was just offered, and I'd like to purchase it, and could you help me? He came over to my office probably ten minutes later and said, 'Yeah, I can do anything you want in the City of Tamarac.' He says, 'But I want to introduce you to everybody as my nephew.'
"And I really wasn't comfortable with that. I said, 'Norman, why can't I just be somebody you know?' He says, 'Fine, if you don't want to be my nephew, be my
cousin. But I want to introduce you as a family member.' And I said, 'OK... You know, what am I going to say? It's fine.'"
The reason Abramowitz fabricated a familial tie is unclear, though it may be that Abramowitz, who wasn't in elected office at the time, wanted people to believe he was doing his work for Chait for the good of his family rather than of his wallet.
It's also not clear from the sworn testimony how much Bruce Chait and his son, Shawn, paid Abramowitz, but Chait did mention that his services came "cheaper" than did those of political consultant Beverly Stracher, whom he said he hired at the demand of County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman and paid about $100,000 total for her help in getting the votes necessary to approve his project.
Abramowitz introduced the Chaits to numerous key officials, including Beth Talabisco and Patte Atkins-Grad, who would both vote on the Tamarac Commission for his project. In fact, Chait testified that Abramowitz was so close with Talabisco that he "guaranteed" her support for the housing development. Shawn Chait, Bruce's son and partner, testified that Abramowitz spoke with Talabisco "three times a day for two hours a day."
"No question, no doubt in your mind [Talabisco] was voting yes for your project? She was on board?" Assistant State Attorney Jeannette Camacho asked Bruce Chait during a sworn interview on June 22.
"Yes," answered Chait.
"That was guaranteed by Norman Abramowitz?" Camacho continued.
"It was guaranteed by Norman Abramowitz [and] Bev Stracher," answered Chait.
"And Talabisco," Chait confirmed. "She always told us she was totally on board."
That was the way of Abramowitz, who didn't just make introductions but guarantees. The man called Stormin' Norman buttered up the politicians and sometimes had them ready to vote for the Chait project before he even met them. Like Atkins-Grad.
"[Atkins-Grad] told me she was very interested in running [for Tamarac commission] and that she would certainly help me with my project if she won," Bruce Chait told Camacho. "And she would really, really, really, really like to win that commission seat... Norman had her totally primed that when she met me, she knew that I was going to give her whatever it took to win the election as long as she massaged me and told me that she would be on our side on whatever vote came up."
"And that's what she told you?" asked prosecutor Jeannette Camacho.
"She specifically told me that... she would do anything, anything I needed in the future... if I made sure that she won," Chait answered.
Former Tamarac Commissioner Joe Schreiber, who fought Abramowitz for years, said that when somebody wanted a building permit in Tamarac, "they had to go through Norm."
"No developer could get anything done without giving something to Abramowitz," Schreiber told me. "They'd meet at City Hall. He became a millionaire from being mayor. All the building permits needed to go through him. When he started in politics, he was driving a little car that wasn't much, something like a Volkswagen. Pretty soon, he was driving a Mercedes."
Abramowitz was ousted by voters in 2000 after his involvement in one of the biggest scandals in the 1990s -- the Swerdlow land deal, in which he and other commissioners voted to give developer Michael Swerdlow $120 million for land at the port valued at half that. Ben Graber, who won the seat, ran his campaign on ridding Broward County of the "machine" that allowed the Swerdlow debacle to happen.
The Chait revelations not only darken Abramowitz's legacy but also those, of course, of the entire city. In addition to the plaque for Abramowitz, there are two memorial pavers at City Hall that honor a pair of other Tamarac politicians, Marc Sultanof and Ed Portner.
Sultanof, who voted for the Chait project as a former commissioner, is in the thick of the Chait investigation and allegedly received "help" from the developers with his new leased Honda automobile. Portner is also under investigation and was recently sentenced to probation after menacing his daughter, Stacy Ritter, with a gun. Here's Portner's paver in front of City Hall: