Broward County Mayor Stacy Ritter was literally being backed into a corner in her Parkland home, afraid for her life. Her 84-year-old father, Ed Portner, angry and distraught because she supported his opponent in the Tamarac mayoral race, was threatening her with a gun.
"He kept saying, 'We need to sit down and talk, we need to sit down and talk,'" Ritter told me this morning of the terrifying ordeal Tuesday night. "And over and over again, I asked him, 'What's with the gun?'"
It was just after 8 p.m., Ritter was in her bathrobe and slippers after a Broward County Commission meeting. Her husband, Russ Klenet, and children weren't home. At one point, she said she told her father, who had come to her house that night with the gun tucked in his waistband, "You're going to kill me."
"You're killing your mother with your
behavior," she says Portner told her.
Ritter says that out of desperation, she grabbed her father's wrist and tried to wrestle away the gun.
"For a few seconds, we struggled with it, but he is a very strong man," Ritter said. "Honestly, I thought, 'He's 84, how strong can he be?' But he was stronger than me, and I let go of the gun, and he pointed it at my forehead."
Feeling more helpless than before, she says she told him she would sit and talk with him, but first she needed a glass of water.
"I have no idea where it came from; I just said it," she recalled.
Her father said, "OK, but you better not call anybody."
She says she then ran through the laundry room, which had a door leading to her garage. She locked the laundry-room door behind her, thinking that might buy her a few more seconds to run.
"I popped the garage door and ran like hell," she said.
Ritter told her story -- for the first time publicly -- this morning on the phone. She called and said that although she felt I had been "brutally unfair" in my coverage of her during the past couple of years, she thought my post about her ordeal yesterday showed some understanding. Then she told me what had happened.
Once she escaped her house, she says her first thought was to go next door, but she was afraid he might track her down too easily.
"It was pitch black outside," Ritter said. "I thought, 'I'm going to run as far as I can.'"
She said she decided to go to the home of lobbyist and lawyer Michael Moskowitz, who lives about three blocks away, or .22 miles, according to MapQuest. She said she knew that Moskowitz wasn't home, that he was at the Fort Lauderdale Commission meeting, and her real goal was to get to his wife and a "real friend," Marilyn
Because she couldn't run well in her slippers, she took them off and ran barefoot. When she got to the Moskowitz house, she banged on the door, but nobody answered.
"She didn't answer because it sounded like somebody was trying to break in," Ritter said. "So I went to the next-door neighbor, and they didn't answer."
Then Marilyn Leto came outside.
"I told her that she needed to call Russ because he was on his way home and he can't go into the house with my dad there," she said. "I told her to call 911."
I asked Ritter how she was holding up. She choked up with tears.
"I was doing fine until I got on the phone with you," she said. "I just want my dad to be OK. I had thought before this happened that he was getting a little more erratic than usual."
She said she didn't support her father's run against Tamarac Mayor Beth Flansbaum-Talabisco, whom she endorsed before he entered the race, because she sensed his mind was going a bit with old age.
"I know that the mayor thing had made him so angry; it was this intense anger," she said. "I know nobody understands about the endorsement. I thought that if I didn't help him, he would recognize that he shouldn't be [running for mayor]. The reason was he was acting... I thought he was flipping. I can't pin a label on it. I just knew he wasn't the same guy he was five years ago. I thought that maybe if I couldn't help him, he would know this wasn't the thing to do. I was concerned about him going out in the public and saying or doing something that would hurt him."
She said her dad had told her while he was in her home Tuesday night that the gun wasn't loaded, but she didn't know if he was telling the truth. She said it was a silver-colored Luger, likely a World War II relic (which is what Portner's attorney, Michael Dutko, has told the media).
"My father had brought home a gun from World War II, and I knew that," she said. "My first thought was, 'Is that that gun, and does it work?' But I didn't know."
She said the only time she'd had experience with any gun was a "hunting" expedition in North Florida while she was a state legislator during which she shot at clay pigeons with a shotgun.
Ritter said that prior to the 911 call , her political career never crossed her mind because all she wanted to do was to "get back home.
"But I'll tell you, since then, we have thought about it. I think I've had a really interesting year," she said, referring not only to Tuesday night's incident but to allegations of corruption and an FBI investigation. "I don't know what to think. I've had people say 'Yes, you'll get through this' and others say, 'No, you're done.' I'm not sure you can assess it three days later."
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She says she's most concerned about her father right now. Portner, charged with armed burglary and aggravated assault, has been in jail since his arrest Tuesday night, in part because judges keep recusing themselves from the highly political case. He was scheduled for a hearing this morning.
"I hope the judge lets him out because I don't think my dad belongs in jail," Ritter said. "Partly because he takes care of my mom. She's 81, she broke both hips last year, and she's half-blind and half deaf. Me and my sister we do what we do, but he's really her lifeline."
Her parents have been married for 62 years. She says that her mother has asked to be alone since her husband's arrest. She says all she wants is for her father to get treatment and heal the family.
"He is in such great health that I think that with the right help, he will get through whatever he's going through," she said. "This doesn't seem to be unusual when people get older. They get angry and bitter and do things they've never done before that are completely out of character. My dad has always had a hot temper, but he's never been physically violent, ever. I think there's going to be some plan of treatment that will be required by the court. He just needs treatment. He needs someone to talk to."