Longform

Politics as Blood Sport

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"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.

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Harris Meyer