Politics as Blood Sport

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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.

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Harris Meyer