Three months later, Clayborne quotes unnamed "pundits" and calls Eggelletion a "one-timer" who is "too busy smoking cigars" with lobbyists. An unattributed quote reads, "Joe ran on a platform of "People First' but some are saying it's now "Joe First.'" In a December 7 column entitled "Say It Ain't So Joe!" Clayborne writes that the politician "will never win elective office again" but provides no evidence supporting his prediction.
In the midst of the voting-machine debate this past winter, Clayborne wrote that Eggelletion wanted Broward's $17.2 million voting-equipment contract to go to Election Systems and Software, based in Nebraska. Although the contract eventually went to ES&S, Eggelletion ranked another bidder, Global Election Systems of California, number one. The paper's mistake made it appear that Eggelletion did not question ES&S's failure to meet a county requirement to give 10 percent of the contract to minority and disadvantaged small business.
"It seems like I'm not for helping blacks and minorities," Eggelletion complains, adding that he frequently scans the crowds at public meetings for Clayborne. "I've been at more than one meeting that he's not been at, and then the next week I'll see that he's written about the meeting as if he were there. Keith just tells out-and-out lies in his newspaper. He hardly ever attributes quotes. I've not once been interviewed by Keith or any of his reporters."
Eggelletion says he's contemplated suing the Broward Times for libel. But as a public figure, the commissioner knows that to prove libel, one must show that an article is not merely offensive or insulting but also harms a person's reputation; false information must also have been deliberately published.
According to county records, the Times has never been sued for libel.
Feeling powerless, the commissioner has simply stopped reading the Times. But he still fumes about names Clayborne has called him in print. "He's called me a "spook that sits by the door,'" Eggelletion says. "A spook is a derogatory term in the old South to describe blacks. He's called blacks "niggers' in his paper; he's called [blacks] "handkerchief heads.' If the Sentinel or the Miami Herald were to use those same terms, the black community would ask for a boycott and apologies."
Clayborne responds by asserting that his columns aren't personal but focus on the issues. Regarding the accusation that he doesn't attend meetings he reports about, Clayborne says, "I may not be at all the meetings, but I am there. You see, I have ears there. I have people who tell me what goes on."
He says that the men were friends when Eggelletion ran for the commission. Eggelletion even visited the publisher's home to brainstorm campaign strategy, says Clayborne. But some time after the commissioner was elected, they had a falling-out. "I realized that Joe wasn't all about what he said he was about. He said he would do something to help blacks, and I can't tell you one thing he has done. You know, [Joe] will shake your hand and tell you how great you are and then tell people across the street how bad you are," Clayborne claims. "I had a campaign party for Joe, and someone came up to me and said Joe was talking about me. He said he didn't want people to think we were on the same side. I said, "Fine, I know you be talking out two sides of your mouth.'"
With a monologue that builds to Muhammad Ali-like bravado, he continues, "Joe hasn't done anything for blacks. I force him to, to come out when I write about him. That's my job, to force Joe out of the pocket. Black politicians don't want to be put on the line, and I tell 'em that they can put the people out but they can't count me out. I can create the synergy to put Joe out of office."
Eggelletion and other black politicians believe that Clayborne does not criticize white politicians. "He (Clayborne) knows that the white community won't allow that. Whites will lash out at his paper with a vengeance," charges state Rep. Chris Smith.
Smith consulted an attorney about suing the Broward Times when Clayborne reported in early 2001 that the Fort Lauderdale Democrat was running Walter "Mickey" Hinton's race against Carlton Moore for Fort Lauderdale City Commission. Hinton is Smith's uncle; Moore is Smith's longtime political mentor. "I met with both of them before the election and said that I was staying out of the race," says Smith. "So when the Times came out with that, I got a call from one of Carlton's supporters accusing me of lying."
Smith says he sent a letter to Clayborne demanding a correction. "I didn't hear back, so I called him. You know what he said to me? "So now you're saying you're not running Mickey's campaign?' He told me that he read it in the Sentinel," Smith says.