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Her High Hopes

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On weekdays she leaves Pauldarosa at about 6:30 a.m. for the 35-minute drive to Fort Lauderdale High School, where she coordinates the Pre-Law and Public Affairs Magnet Program. With more than 400 enrollees, the program is designed for students interested in legal, government, and law-enforcement careers.

In Davie, Paul's involvement with horse-related issues led to her appointment to the town's Open Space Advisory Board, the duties of which include the critical function of approving the location of horse trails. She was later appointed to the Charter Review Board, which was responsible for adding a charter clause to preserve Davie's rural character and equestrian lifestyle.

In late 1997, as the March council elections approached, Paul and friends talked about the effort to unseat Councilman Monroe Kiar, whose opponent was retired law professor Dean Alexander, a well-known candidate who had almost defeated Kiar in 1995. Although Paul had "tongue-in-cheek" conversations about a council run, neighborhood activists convinced her that by entering the race she risked splitting the anti-Kiar vote, which would permit him to be reelected. Then Kiar dropped out, so there was no incumbent. It was a wide-open race.

"I'm a great believer in fate," Paul said. "Things happen if they are meant to be. All the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. I just felt I should seize the opportunity."

Entering the District 4 race, she pledged "to serve all the people equally and fairly and to be a protector of all the reasons Davie is in our hearts."

In the beginning she printed campaign fliers using her home computer, raised about $400 from friends, and went door to door. "I felt embarrassed having to tout myself," she remembered. "But only one person slammed the door in my face." At first she even campaigned without one of the fundamental weapons of local politics: a list of registered voters. Why waste time with people who weren't registered? said the pros. But Paul felt differently.

"I basically went against all the recommendations. Everyone said, 'You're crazy.' But how can you walk down the street, see people working in their yards, and not stop and say 'hi' just because they're not on a list?" She figured that by talking to everyone she'd find residents who hadn't voted before but were attracted to her message of change.

Initially Paul was the "stealth" candidate, less well-known than Alexander or the third District 4 candidate John Pisula, an insurance reinspector being groomed by the county Republican Party for a long-term political future. An early voter survey by pollster Jim Kane -- a big-league county power close to Judy Stern -- showed Paul with little support. "They more or less discounted me," she said. "They left me alone. Early on it was a grassroots campaign. I was not getting any backing from big money, the major groups. I said, 'I don't ever want to be a politician.' I told my friends if they see me waving my arms up there on the council to give me a swift kick.

"Of course, there are certain things you do for survival purposes."
With that said, the conversation turned toward a less-inspiring subject: Was Judy Paul's election a victory for the common people or, like politicians everywhere, did she sell out to a special interest group -- in this case, Davie's powerful firefighters?

During the council campaign, the most volatile issue facing candidates was whether emergency medical service (EMS) should continue to be provided by a private company -- and Judy Stern client -- American Medical Response, which won a $684,000-a-year contract in 1996. Although the previous council argued that contracting with American Medical saved money, angry Davie firefighters have fought to regain control, and Weiner, the firefighters'-union lawyer, campaigned heavily in support of their position.

Early in the campaign Paul was noncommittal on the EMS issue. But in mid-February, she suddenly became a strong advocate for the firefighters' position, won the union's endorsement, and immediately received campaign help, including more than $1800 in firefighter-related contributions. Together Paul and Weiner campaigned on reform -- but with an organization dominated by firefighters.

"Their endorsement turned everything around for me," Paul said after her victory. "It's like getting an entire family behind me."

Around Davie the question was whether Paul was now in the pocket of the firefighters' union, and political cynics would have noted with glee that the bend-the-rules expediency common to Chicago City Hall, and the Broward County Commission, was alive and well at the May 6 Davie council meeting.

On that night the issue was whether to begin the process of returning EMS to the firefighters by letting them take over one of the town's three stations, the Flamingo Road facility in western Davie, on October 1. The takeover meant an extra unbudgeted five-month cost to the town of $192,000 to hire two paramedics and buy two used ambulances.

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Dan Lovely

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