Politics as Blood Sport

Andre Fladell is losing, and he doesn't like it at all. Under the hot midday sun, two lean twentysomethings, sporting tattoos and earrings, are pounding the middle-aged chiropractor and his partner, Bruno Garozzo, in a game of doubles volleyball on the sand in Delray Beach. Fladell and Garozzo keep making the same mistake, serving to Kyle Sullivan, who recently won the Bud Light National Beach Volleyball Championship. No matter how good the serve, Sullivan taps the ball softly to his partner, Ed Simmons, who in turn floats a setup shot for Sullivan to slam for a winner. The score stands at 6-2 in favor of youth.

The 52-year-old Fladell, whose baggy blue shorts reveal muscular legs, huddles with his partner to discuss strategy. On the next serve, Fladell lines a hard drive at the less skilled Simmons, who can't return it. Again and again, they fire the ball at the weaker opponent. The tactical shift works. The twentysomethings win only one more point, and at the end of a 45-minute battle, the final score is 11-7 in favor of the old-timers. The graying, deeply tanned Fladell trots off the court, not even breathing hard. "There's a thrill in playing someone who thinks he's bigger or better or younger -- and trashing him," he gloats. "I enjoy watching him anguish."

Next to volleyball Fladell's favorite sport is politics, and he plays it the same way he has since leading antiwar protests in the late '60s -- with a ruthless drive to win. When he's not realigning patients' spines and stomping volleyball opponents, he's advising candidates and elected officials in Palm Beach County, mostly Democrats, on how to crush their election foes and steer government decisions their ways.

Just last week he played a frenetic behind-the-scenes role in persuading the county school board to dump superintendent Joan Kowal, who was under fire for allegedly mismanaging the alternative-education program for troubled students. "Politics is the greatest challenge," Fladell says. "It's where the best and worst in people comes out. You get the adrenaline of war without having to physically hurt anyone."

Years ago the county commission awarded Fladell the honorary title of "the Prince of Palm Beach County," a reference to Niccolò Machiavelli's 16th-century book The Prince, in which the author suggests rulers use deceit, treachery, and violence to gain and keep power. The Prince is Fladell's political bible, and a plaque on his office wall, given to him by a friend, best expresses the chiropractor's Machiavellian principles: "To a man who has made loyalty to his friends and punishment of his enemies an art form."

He's free to play at political gamesmanship because he's independently wealthy, thanks to his father's business, his own health care practice, and stock investments. Thanks to his wealth, he's able to provide his campaign consulting services free of charge, and he has no vested financial interest in government decisions. But he is a crusader on certain issues: protecting Jews in America and Israel and helping elect virtuous politicians who make government work for ordinary people.

Even on the beach, after playing volleyball, Fladell promotes pet politicians and causes. "With my friends here, I've got the greatest polling group you've ever seen," he says, resting after his comeback victory. "Just come to the beach and hang, and you'll know exactly what the people think." Politics isn't everything, though. At the moment Fladell is eyeing two young women in bikinis who are strolling toward the surf. "Then, of course, there are other benefits, too," he says.

To understand his unusual role in county politics, New Times spent a week trailing Fladell last month and discovered a man rich in paradoxes -- moralist, hatchet man, Jewish activist, anti-affirmative action crusader, playboy. While political insiders respect his campaign skills, many are skeptical about his agenda. "I think Andre long ago did stand up for the little guy, the homeowner, the right things," says Barry Silver, a former friend who feels that Fladell betrayed him by working to oust him from his state representative post. "But he's become so involved in political intrigue that those sentiments long have been subsumed by other feelings."

So you see a wise ruler cannot, and should not, keep his word when doing so is to his disadvantage…. Since men are wicked and will not keep faith with you, you need not keep faith with them.

-- Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

The walls of Fladell's storefront office in Delray Beach are plastered with 20 years' worth of photos featuring him and key political figures. In many shots he's dressed in attention-getting outfits -- an Arab kaffiyeh at a Jewish event, a woman's teddy at a politician's roast, a leather S&M getup at a prominent developer's boat-parade party. The imp in Fladell loves to shock people with his attire, while the warrior seeks to throw his enemies off balance. "I'd rather people underestimate me and think I'm silly," he says. "It disarms them." His surreal dress is echoed in his taste in art. Nightmarish drawings by Salvador Dali -- originals that are worth a fortune -- line the hallway.

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Harris Meyer