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.

Sitting behind a half-moon-shape desk on a weekday in November, he works two phones while watching the Palm Beach County Commission meeting on cable TV. Fladell has agreed to let New Times listen in on his conversations with politicians on the condition that the callers not be identified. One of the phones rings. "Chiropractic center," Fladell answers in his rapid-fire Brooklyn accent. Barefoot and unshaven, he's wearing baggy blue-denim shorts and a tank top. The caller is a woman who wants help running for city commissioner. "Get me the names of all the civic and condo associations," Fladell tells her. "We'll meet next Thursday, and I'll tell you what to do. Congratulations, you're going to win an election."

Fladell doesn't operate the same way he did in the '80s, when he was the highly visible mastermind behind a powerful coalition of condo associations in southwest Palm Beach County. The coalition forced developers to reduce the density of proposed projects and pay fees for roads, schools, parks, and utilities. In 1990, however, the county turned its at-large election process into one in which voters in each of seven districts elect their own commissioner. As a result the condo associations lost their ability to shape the full commission, and Fladell's power waned.

So he switched tactics. While maintaining close ties with the condo troops, he cultivated relationships with new groups, such as police officers, Haitian-Americans, and business councils, whom he serves by enlisting the aid of politicians he helped get elected. When those same politicians need election support, he solicits votes from the groups he's befriended.

Several county commissioners, state legislators, congressmen, and school board members are indebted to Fladell. He chooses candidates who, in his view, fight for victims, not predators. The victims, he says, are homeowners, hard-working families, and put-upon civil servants. The predators are those who want to make money through projects that negatively affect the quality of life in Palm Beach County. But he feels no malice toward predators. "When the cat kills the canary, do you get mad at the cat?" he asks. "My job is to keep the cat away from the canary."

Today, manning the phones in his office, Fladell hopes to convince a member of the school board that Superintendent Joan Kowal should be fired. Kowal's autocratic management style has alienated several board members, who have been trying to dump her for the past two years. "She's really shit," he tells a visitor. "She gets an F in people skills, management skills, and political skills. Getting rid of her could change the entire course of education in this county."

He dials up the school board member, whom he helped get elected, and uses this pitch: "I could use 120 seconds of your time, then you could hang up on me. History has landed at your feet. We have an ineffective leader as superintendent. I'm not saying she's good or bad. You got a bunch of kids who don't want to get involved in who's good and who's bad. That's my call for 1999. Have a happy and healthy and wonderful New Year." The best way to lobby, he says after hanging up, is without anger or finger-pointing. "I think calls like that will make a difference," he adds. (The school board fired Kowal on December 6.)

Soon another rookie candidate for city commission arrives at Fladell's office for advice. Fladell tells the earnest, midthirtyish neophyte how to charm voters on street corners. "I would work intersections only on Friday, Saturday, and Monday," he said. "I can tell you which homeowners are going to be going in which direction. All you need to do is smile and wave. The two guys standing next to you are critical. Your image is based on who's with you. Decide how old they should be and what they look like. Every intersection requires a different group. For certain areas you need women with baby carriages."

After the grateful candidate leaves, Fladell assesses the man's strengths and weaknesses and in doing so points up a contradiction in his own views about the desirability of honesty in politicians. "He's perfect for local government. You can't buy him, he's not trying to make money." His downside? "He's going to say things he really believes, and it's going to cost him votes because the public doesn't want that."

Politics is pushed aside for a moment as Fladell's office manager, Shannon Cleaver, asks the chiropractor about a patient. Fladell still sees patients three days a week, and to demonstrate just how altruistic he is, he gives Cleaver a little quiz.

"How much do I worry about patients paying or not paying, on a one-to-ten scale?" he asks.

"Four," Cleaver responds.

"Good. If they don't have money, what do we do?"

"Exchange services for bagels."

"Right. How many people this morning paid in food?"

"Five or six."

Despite taking payment in bagels, Fladell isn't hurting financially. "I make a great living," he explains, after Cleaver exits. "How much can one person spend? I got a beach chair, I got suntan lotion, I got some volleyballs. I have enough. Having no wife and no kids makes you rich," says Fladell, who's been divorced for 12 years from Darlene Javits, a former Miss New York and the niece of the late U.S. Senator Jacob Javits. He married Javits when she was 20 years old and he was 32.

Fladell is proud of the fact that he was once married to a senator's niece. In fact, for someone who likes to dress like a beach bum, he seems surprisingly concerned with how he's viewed by the hoi polloi. He greatly values his friendship with E. Llwd Ecclestone, Jr., chairman of the PGA Resort Co., with whom he used to clash over development issues. Being invited to the patrician developer's wedding was one of the high points of Fladell's life. "You can't come from being a Jewish kid in Brooklyn and sit down with the Llwd Ecclestones of the world unless you've got integrity," he says. "People trust me because I never lie."

Lately Fladell's war against greedy developers has taken a back seat to his new fight against affirmative action -- an odd twist considering that Fladell was once a student radical who fought for civil rights. On a Sunday afternoon, he's racing to Temple Sinai in Delray Beach to give a speech. The Parents of North American Israelis group has invited him to talk about Israel, a subject close to his heart. But the 50 elderly Jews gathered in the large meeting hall are in for a surprise, because he plans to talk about something completely different.

Standing behind a long table in front of the audience, the president of the group, Lenore Eisenberg, introduces Fladell as someone who has "done tremendous things for politics in our town and in our country." Fladell impatiently seizes the microphone. "When I was young, there were segregated bathrooms, and blacks couldn't sit on a bus or get into a university or union," he tells them. "But it's 35 years later, and I don't see the segregated bathrooms, and I don't see anyone in the back of the bus."

A clearly uncomfortable Eisenberg stands up and tries to steer Fladell back to the subject of Israel. But he's more interested in taking shots at groups he sees as anti-Jewish and anti-white. "As far as Israel goes, we have 160 million Arabs living around our little country, and all they really want to do is exterminate every Jew so they can get into heaven. But my job is here, to make sure that elected officials in Florida know the interests of Jews around the world. [Affirmative action] is germane to you, because it puts Jewish children in this country at a disadvantage in school."

Fladell strongly supports the proposed state referendum to eliminate preferential policies based on race. An added advantage of the referendum, he says, is that it will draw angry minority voters to the polls next fall to support Democratic candidates, particularly U.S. Senate candidate Bill Nelson, whom he is advising. Nelson, however, supports affirmative action. Richard Reeves, Nelson's campaign finance director, seemed surprised to hear about Fladell's stance. "I don't even know if Bill knows about that," Reeves says.

As part of his drive, Fladell is gunning for Maude Ford Lee, the first black ever to sit on the Palm Beach County Commission. Lee's top priority, as commission chair, is greater economic opportunities for blacks, and Fladell considers her stance divisive. "I detest racism, and Maude Lee is the worst example in a human being," he says. His hostility toward Lee was born five years ago, when Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, whose views have often been called anti-Semitic, gave a speech in West Palm Beach. Despite protests beforehand, Lee chose to sit on the dais with Farrakhan. In an effort to unseat Lee, Fladell is working with state representative Addie Greene, a black woman who plans to challenge Lee in next September's election.

Lee failed to return repeated calls for comment for this article. But her administrative assistant, Eugene Herring, angrily denied the racism charge and accused Fladell of being indifferent to black concerns. "He's very focused on making sure Jewish folk will be protected, and that makes sense, just like Commissioner Lee is focused on the plight of black people," says Herring.

County commissioner Mary McCarty, a close friend and ally of Fladell even though she's a Republican, says he's wasting his time trying to knock Lee out of office. "He may think the black community would be better served by someone else, but that's not for him to decide," she says. "Andre doesn't know how that constituency thinks, although he thinks he does."

Fladell insists that he does know. "I speak in front of Haitian groups, and they're black," he says, fudging the difference between Haitian-Americans and other African-Americans. "I speak fluent Creole. I've been in Haiti, in the National Palace with [former Haitian president] Aristide. You wouldn't believe my relationship with that group. I've got my network all set up."

But one cannot have all the good qualities, nor always act in a praiseworthy fashion, for we do not live in an ideal world.

-- Machiavelli, The Prince

It's Monday night, and Fladell is bounding up an escalator at Pompano Park Raceway in unlaced sneakers. Two nights a week, he tests himself in yet another competitive arena by betting on harness races, and he clearly knows the turf. His father owned trotters, and Fladell has been handicapping races since he was 15 years old. Greeting track employees with kisses on the cheek, he hustles up to the betting counter, where the yellow neon light is blinding. The teller promptly asks him for the inside political scoop.

"I'm so fed up with the school system," he complains.

"Do you have the superintendent out or not?"

"One vote short," Fladell replies. "Give me until December 6th." Then he places his bets.

A slender, young bleached blonde, wearing skintight black capri pants and a taut gray pullover top, is sitting in his private box, waiting for him. Identifying herself to a visitor only as Sloane, she explains that she's a senior at Florida Atlantic University and plans to go to law school. Fladell's friends say he has a penchant for dating college girls and helping put them through law school, as he did with his ex-wife.

Sloane says she met Fladell at the track and has known him for five months. She leans close to him to study his handicapping sheets. Despite the intimacy Fladell denies that he and Sloane are anything more than friends. "Different days you hook up with different people," he says evasively. "Everybody who I like, I share my handicapping with. I may be as good a handicapper as any person who's ever been here."

Fladell doesn't bet just first-place winners, because that's too easy. He bets trifectas, which requires picking the first three finishers in the correct order. He and Sloane watch the small TV monitor in the front of their box, which beams in races from across the country. They tune in to a race at Garden State Park.

Sloane leans forward nervously, watching the monitor, while Fladell sits back, expressionless. "We got the six to win, the five for second, we just need the seven for third," he says, as the trotters near the finish line. He frequently says "we" when he really means "I." "There's your six, there's your five, there's your horse, seven. We have it." Did both he and Sloane win? "No, I bet for me; other people bet for themselves. There's no sharing here."

Sloane sulks. "He can be your best friend or your worst enemy," she says.

After winning steadily for an hour and a half, Fladell is on his feet. "OK, we're going up to collect," he says. "I won six trifectas tonight. What you're looking at is a profit of $1000, which is about average for me. I have a lot of luck. But the day I try to make a living at this is the day everything would change."

Walking to the counter, he passes a cluster of people shouting as the horses outside round the bend into the home stretch. "The louder they scream, the worse their gambling problems are," he says, contemptuously.

Sloane calls after him: "Andre, don't leave without letting me know."

At the counter the teller takes Fladell's winning tickets and hands him a stack of bills, which he adds to a $5000 wad in his pocket. "Money is a fun thing," he explains, when asked why he carries so much cash. "You can take care of your friends."

If you take control of a state, you should make a list of all the crimes you have to commit and do them all at once. That way you will not have to commit new atrocities every day….

-- Machiavelli, The Prince

Fladell's most conspicuous display of wealth is his 6000-square-foot bachelor pad in the Sherwood Park section of Delray Beach. He designed it himself six years ago and describes it as "a cross between a moderate acid trip and I don't know what." Cactus plants stud the front lawn. Lovebirds chirp in a large cage outside the front door. A sculpture made from mirror fragments, crafted by Fladell himself, gleams on the front wall.

Inside, glass sharks, whales, and panthers lurk everywhere. A big chunk of coral reef, populated with glass angelfish, sits on the kitchen counter. In Fladell's bedroom 100 pairs of garishly colored basketball shoes sit, ready for action, on numerous shelves. Most are one-of-a-kind, collected in Fladell's travels, just for show. Four closets house his collections of cutoff shorts, blue-collar work shirts ("When people think you're a mechanic named Tony, the conversations you have are different than if they think you're a doctor"), and dress-up costumes, including a purple velvet dinner jacket.

"This is my Republican room," he says, walking a visitor through a conventional living room furnished with white sofas and chairs. "It's very sedate, very quiet, everything is neat and clean. If people come over who are very grown-up and normal, this is a good place." Another living room features black-and-gray checkerboard walls, a multicolored ceiling, a powerful sound system, and more of Fladell's mirror creations. "This is my Democratic room," he explains. "It's a little more berserk."

The showstopper is the "Andre Dome," an indoor basketball court with a 30-foot ceiling and giant loudspeakers. "You can have fun in my house," Fladell brags, like a boy showing off his marble collection. "You can throw darts, ride a bike, have birds fly around. You're allowed to throw a ball against the wall and make noise. Everyone can find a place that works for them." Everyone except Fladell's parents, who prefer to stay at the nearby Marriott when they visit. The house is too wacky for them.

Martin Fladell, now retired from his successful catering and resort businesses in Long Island and living in Lake Success, New York, says his son was always political and unconventional. When Andre was 21 years old, the senior Fladell recalls, he suddenly grabbed a knapsack and took a six-month trip to Europe and Israel. When he returned, he looked like Moses, sporting long hair and a wild beard, wearing a white robe, and carrying a wooden staff. "He was going to become the messiah," his father says. "It took two or three months before I finally convinced him to take off the robe, shave the beard, and become the old Andre."

Andre calls his journey a "one-man fact-finding tour." He talked politics with everyone he met. Israel was "just OK" until he visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the surviving fragment of the Great Temple of Solomon. Standing before the ancient stone for ten minutes, he recalls, "I felt in touch with my entire history as a species. It totally blew me away. It convinced me that I had a destiny."

Given his messianic streak, it's not surprising that Fladell organized protests against the Vietnam War while he was a college student in the late '60s. As a leader in Students For a Democratic Society, he convinced fellow students to lie down at major intersections and block traffic to call attention to the group's antiwar message.

But he got tired of being beaten -- and beaten up -- by the establishment and decided he'd be more effective fighting from the inside. After leaving Hofstra University in 1971, he worked for his father but found the catering business unsatisfying. Going to chiropractic school was a way to get his parents to support him while he decided what to do next. After graduating in 1978, he looked around for a new political frontier. Florida was wide open; the population was growing rapidly, and there were lots of Jews and Italians -- just like in Brooklyn, where he grew up. "I figured I'd come down here, dig myself a foxhole, and get involved politically in everything I could," he recalls.

When he arrived in 1979, Palm Beach County was a largely rural area dominated by farmers and long-time locals who, according to Fladell, resented the invasion of Jews and other ethnics from the Northeast. Within a week of arriving, Fladell signed up as a candidate for mayor of Delray Beach. He lost and decided never to run for office again. Instead he found his niche as a campaign strategist and power broker. His first project was to organize the squabbling, heavily Jewish condo associations in the southwest part of the county into a cohesive voting bloc. Their main goal, ironically, was to limit commercial and residential development, which their own moves to South Florida had helped trigger.

Fladell quickly identified the local farmers as potential allies. Like the condo dwellers, they hated the burgeoning development of the county's swamps and fields. But first Fladell had to overcome the farmers' anti-Semitism. He cultivated a friendship with a skeptical Billy Bowman, a leader of the farmers, by arranging a mock bar mitzvah for the very Gentile dairyman. Bowman returned the favor by taking Fladell to Ralph's Standup Bar, a tough roadhouse in Jupiter. Following Bowman's instructions, the 300-pound bartender told Fladell that Jews weren't welcome. A flustered Fladell plunked down a $100 bill and offered to buy a round for the house. "The change is right," the bartender growled, "but we still don't serve Jews."

Bowman guffaws at the memory. He says that "Andre's eyes were as big as saucers" until he finally told him it was only a joke.

The odd alliance proved fruitful. Bowman and many of his fellow farmers had already become wealthy by selling Dade County farmland to developers, then moving their operations to Palm Beach County, where they weren't interested in selling. So they funded Fladell's antidevelopment efforts while the condo commandos delivered the votes. As a result many county and city commissioners and state legislators fell in line with Fladell's limited-growth agenda.

Last year Fladell and Bowman teamed up again to support a proposed $100 million bond issue that would allow the county to buy land from farmers inside the 21,000-acre Agricultural Reserve in southwest Palm Beach County. The purpose of the bill was twofold: Lease as much of the county-owned land to farmers as possible, and control development on the rest of the reserve. Fladell's allies on the county commission, particularly Burt Aaronson, strongly backed the plan. Some environmental groups, however, claimed that the land could be saved through zoning restrictions -- without paying millions of dollars to already-wealthy landowners, including Bowman.

A leading critic of the buyout was Rep. Barry Silver (D-Boca Raton), who accused the county commissioners of caving in to farmers and developers who had contributed to their election campaigns. Silver, a clever self-promoter, went around the county singing a little ditty to the Hanukkah tune "I Have a Little Dreidel." The most inflammatory verse went: "O Palm Beach County Commission, we mean no disrespect, but when developers seek submission, you need not genuflect." A furious Commissioner Aaronson called Fladell and asked him to help his candidate, Curt Levine, beat Silver in the Democratic primary.

Fladell and Silver were friends, having fought side by side throughout the '90s to preserve abortion rights and block various Christian Right initiatives. They often played Frisbee and volleyball together on the beach. Even so, Fladell accepted the campaign assignment because of his close ties to Aaronson and Bowman and his sense that Silver had mortally insulted his allies. Fladell's friendships seem to depend on their political usefulness. In fact he often uses the terms my friends and my network interchangeably.

The highlight of the Silver-Levine race took place in July 1998, during a debate between Silver and Fladell at Kings Point Democratic Club in Delray Beach. Silver still fumes over Fladell's tactics. Sitting in a small conference room in his Boca Raton law office last month, the wiry-haired and unshaven Silver played a videotape of the debate. It showed Fladell at his most Machiavellian. Uncharacteristically wearing a suit and tie, he walked to the microphone and told the 250 people in the audience that he didn't want the debate to get personal. But he promptly made it very personal.

"From elected officials you deserve the whole truth, not half-truths," was his opening volley. Ignoring boos from the crowd, he fired a long burst of charges at Silver, most of which later proved to be inaccurate or misleading. He particularly attacked Silver for accusing the commissioners of "genuflecting" to developers and sugar interests -- a charge he seemed to take very personally. "I don't work for developers or for sugar," he cried. "But what Democrat in the state didn't take sugar money?"

Several audience members had a ready reply. "Barry Silver," they called out. Fladell ended his diatribe with a mocking grin.

Silver took his turn at the mic, obviously shaken. "There's so much misinformation that's it's impossible to refute it all," he said.

After Silver answered a few of the charges, Fladell piled on more. "Everyone who opposes Barry gets accused of some crime, thievery, lie, or cheating," he declared. "He's dividing Democrat against Democrat, Jew against Jew." That remark drew more boos.

Watching the video Silver slumped in his chair, looking mournful. "It was very sad to see someone I was close to say such hurtful things in order to serve his allies," he said. Fair or not Fladell's tactics worked. Levine, who outspent Silver five to one, ended up winning the primary by 185 votes and ran unopposed in the general election. The Ag Reserve bond issue was approved by county voters earlier this year, with 66 percent of the vote. The battle between Silver and Fladell isn't over yet. Silver plans to run for an open seat in the Florida House, and Fladell says he'll probably help one of Silver's opponents once again.

The chiropractor gloats about knocking off a popular incumbent who was considered unbeatable. "We couldn't allow Barry to continue accusing everyone who disagreed with him of being dishonest and crooked," says Fladell, who regularly blasts lobbyists and their campaign contributions as the bane of good government. "That's the worst form of government."

But the dispute was really a battle between idealism and pragmatism. Silver is a purist on environmental issues, while Fladell, a friend of farmers and developers, is always looking for a deal that satisfies all sides. "You respect your opponents, give them honor, back off your position, and meet in the middle," Fladell says. "It may stink, but it's the best system we know of." He insists that he bears no hard feelings toward Silver. "I like Barry; he's an articulate, good kid, and his issues are great. He's just not suited for the political process."

But Silver is right when he says that Fladell's need to appease his political allies sometimes eclipses his sense of right and wrong. Two years ago, Fladell tried to broker a peace agreement between a Hispanic youth gang and police in Palm Beach County. He raises funds for many police groups, and he even founded Delray Citizens For Delray Police. But Fladell is also friendly with a young man named Tito, who heads a gang known as La Familia. They met when Tito went to Fladell for chiropractic treatment after being injured in a fight. He gradually convinced Fladell that the members of his gang wanted to go straight and that they had legitimate grievances about abusive police behavior. Fladell came to see these low-income minority youths as victims of societal neglect.

Overcoming deep skepticism on both sides, Fladell arranged a meeting at his office of the leaders of La Familia, police officials, and several elected officials, including County Commissioner Mary McCarty. The meeting was cordial, but the outcome was deeply disappointing. "The law-enforcement people didn't really like it," Fladell laments. "I thought they'd be tickled pink, but it was exactly the opposite."

McCarty puts it more strongly. "The law-enforcement guys were not interested in developing a line of communications to the gang members," she says. "They thought that all this touchy-feely talk stuff was just a scam and a waste of time."

Sitting in his office, Fladell says he still talks with Tito regularly and helps La Familia members with referrals for jobs and scholarships. By way of proof, he dials the gang leader's beeper and switches to speakerphone. Tito's recorded message features an angry rap song. Fladell leaves a message in gangster idiom: "Hey, blood, what up? Not crying, just flying, gimme a call, you know where, you know when, you know how, play play bye."

A few minutes later, Tito calls back. When he's asked questions about his relationship with Fladell, Tito's replies are brief and guarded. As Tito hangs up, Fladell is beaming. "Tito trusts me," he declares. But he admits that he chose not to use his political clout to fight for fairer police treatment of the gang members, because it would have alienated his police buddies. "I can't," he says, looking pained. "I protect these kids as best as I can. But it's not where I'm going to declare my war. I've got a constituent base I need to maintain."

So has the idealistic '60s radical been co-opted by the establishment? "What is co-opted?" he sputters. "What does that mean? I try to be a social conscience. I want to show you something."

He jumps up on his desk barefoot, reaches into his shorts pocket, and pulls out a thick wad of $100 bills, along with a crumpled slip of paper. The slip is a $100,000 dividend check from Microsoft. "They write me checks, and it don't mean nothin'," he says. "I have millions of dollars, so no one can hurt me. There's nothing they can do to shut me up."

Contact Harris Meyer at his e-mail address:

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Harris Meyer