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Mayor Jim's Tipping Point?

You know, it really isn't fair. I have to dig up information, usually regarding extremely complicated and convoluted matters, to break big stories. Good journalism isn't easy. Sources won't talk, or they are afraid to talk, powerful people put you on their enemies' list, governments screw around with public records. People lie to try to take you off the scent.

Yet all my wife has to do is open up her notebook, let Mayor Jim Naugle talk, and she's got the biggest story in town. (For the time being anyway -- wait until next week).

She does the tough stuff too, but the mayor is truly the gift that keeps giving (and yes I've ridden that gravy train too). You know Naugle. He loves to provoke and he's been doing it from his right-wing perch for years. This time he wanted to backed buying some expensive public toilets for the city that were equipped with automatic doors that he said would discourage gay sex. The kicker was his quote that he strictly used the term "homosexual" because "most of them aren't gay, they're unhappy."

I confess that, as much as I disagree with the mayor's divisive rhetoric, I laughed at that quote. Whatever you think of him, Naugle has gall and a certain gift of gab. People have liked him for it, which is one reason why he's the longest serving mayor in Fort Lauderdale history. Throughout all those years in office, he's also been ethically clean, which in this place is both extraordinary and admirable. And he's been fairly harmless since he really can't really put his right-wing social views in action while at city hall.

Here's the thing though: This time Naugle went too

far. And it's not so much because he's changed (he hasn't) but that his city and Broward County have.

In the past, his words would anger a handful of gays who might shoot off a few e-mails, write a letter or two, and then drop it. But during the past seven years, this place has truly become a gay mecca. And as the gay population has grown, neighborhoods have improved and the economy has benefitted (see this article on one scholar's so-called "Bohemian-Gay Index") . Tourist czar Nikki Grossman estimates that gay tourists have spent $1 billion in Broward last year alone (where she pulls these numbers from isn't known, but I have my guess). Whatever the real number is, it's significant and the fact is that the gay population is critical in helping Fort Lauderdale thrive economically.

So the mayor seems to be trying to throttle the golden goose, which isn't very smart of him. He'll say it's about principle, but the last I checked verbally degrading entire groups of people isn't much of a principle.

But the critical problem that the mayor faces right now comes down to numbers. You know how that gay population has grown? Well, it's also organized and now, for the first time, they're really going after Naugle, putting him through hell. He's keeping his cool as well as possible while the Equality Florida and "Flush Naugle" crowd goes after him, but he sweated a little last night during the commission meeting.

I'll bet my house that Naugle will never resign, at least not over something like this, but the atmosphere is making a lot of people, both gay and straight, think he should. Yes, he'll survive, but unlike the people he's ridiculing, I don't think he's going to really thrive in Fort Lauderdale again.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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