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Our Politicians at the Trough

While this election season plays out, let's not forget what all these candidates are vying for.

A chance to slop up free steaks and drinks at premiere restaurants from lobbyists and companies that woo them for public contracts worth millions of dollars.

Don't believe me? You should have gone to the Florida League of Cities conference at the Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood last week and over the weekend. Although these conferences on the public dime are supposed to be about government policies and efficiency, they're really just a way to let the contractors and lobbyists grease the wheels with gifts of fine food and expensive drinks.

On Friday night, for instance, garbage giant All-Service Refuse threw its soiree at the Diplomat, stuffing the waiting elected officials full of food and drinks in hopes it would help make them more likely to keep giving the company multimillion-dollar contracts (I'm trying to get a list of local officials who went).

Of course, you hear the stories all the time about lobbyists and government contractors treating our elected leaders to the better things in life, but until you see it with your own eyes, it's hard to understand how offensive and repulsive the practice really is.

Well, I saw it this past Thursday night at an upscale steak house at Gulfstream Park, where about 100 politicians from around Florida were wined and dined by another garbage company called Waste Pro, which is based in Longwood and is trying to break into business in Broward County.

Waste Pro brought the officials from the conference to III Forks restaurant, which is right next to the casino. The festivities began about 6:30 p.m. with free dinners (which average about $30 at III Forks), and then the politicians started swilling on pricey wine, liquor, and mixed drinks.

And they swilled for hours. As one employee put it, the politicians knew how to "disappear drinks." The party didn't even begin to break up until about 10:30 p.m., after the restaurant was already closed.  

The four hours of consumption was paid for by Waste Pro, of course. We don't know how much the bill was, but you can rest assured it was many thousands of dollars.

Look inside to see which local mayors attended, some with family members, and for some of the dirty details.

I was told that the whole thing was organized by Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis, who is himself a lobbyist by trade. And sure enough, holding a seat in a backroom of the restaurant was Ortis holding court with his realtor wife, Barbara Parlavecchio. Ortis, however, denied that he had any hand in running the show.

Also in the back room was Cooper City Mayor Debby Eisinger. Not sure if her husband was there or not. She seemed to be having more fun than just about anyone.

Hanging out with her was Miramar Mayor Lori Moseley, who brought along her grown daughter Alexis Moseley. The younger Moseley is already in the political pipeline working as as aide for state legislator Dan Gelber, who is running tomorrow for the Democratic nomination for Florida attorney general.

Not to be left out, raven-haired Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper was there, though I believe she left a little earlier than everybody else.

Also spotted was North Lauderdale Mayor Jack Brady.

Waste Pro had a gaggle of company reps and lobbyists working the room. I overheard two of them talking, and one said, "Hey, you know what, these people are going to go back to their cities and talk good about us at meetings."

Understand I was incognito, but I did briefly chat with another of them.

"This is a politics-fest huh?" I asked him.

"Yeah," he said. "You gotta do it."

"I guess that's the way the world works," I said.

"It is the way the world works," he said. "What does a mayor make? Maybe $78,000? Then you got contractors coming in with millions and millions of dollars, you don't think they want a piece of the pie?"

Hmmm. Sounded like he was talking about more than just steaks and drinks.

I asked Mayor Ortis if he helped organize the event.

"No," he said.

"You just attended?"

"Yes, I just attended."

I asked him if he lobbied for Waste Pro or any other garbage company.

"No, I have not worked for a garbage at all, ever," he said.

Who does he lobby for?

"I represent anyone who wants to hire me, unions as well," said the mayor.

I asked Ortis, who said he didn't know who actually paid for the soiree, if he intended to file a gift disclosure form -- state law dictates that any gifts valued at $100 must be disclosed. Between him and his wife, there was no doubt he'd exceeded that amount.

"Of course I am," he said. "I'll find out what it is worth. If it was $100, I have to disclose if it. I always do everything by the law."

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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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