Politics as Blood Sport

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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."

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Harris Meyer