Not surprisingly, Broward and Palm Beach counties had more than their share of backroom deals, slimy alliances, ego trips, and moral shilly-shallying this year. So many scoundrels, so many liars, so many wimps and turncoats. So many bums stalking our backyards in 2008, in fact, that New Times considered expanding its annual Dirty Dozen list.
Why the crowd of contenders for the bottom this year? Two words: Election year. While our winners weren't all connected to electoral politics, they all fed on the seasonal impulse to climb to the top over other people's backs or the yearning to get rich quick via the old snatch-and-grab-and-the-rest-be-damned.
All right, call us suckers for tradition. We settled for 12. Among those who measured up to our low standards: an NBA coach, a war profiteer, a rapper, an election supervisor, and a wannabe sheriff who was way too hungry. One list-topper fibbed about working for "the man" while acting all hard and anti-authority. Another is a fighter who tossed his street cred to the curb when he fell limp during the first few seconds of a bout.
Each gets a rating on our Dirt Meter, with one being merely nauseating and 10 for downright despicable.
Brenda Snipes Broward County's starchy supervisor of elections cuts an imposing figure. The former elementary school principal looks like she has paddled the behinds of many an errant schoolchild. Lately, though, voting rights activist Ellen Brodsky seems to be the one on the receiving end of those floggings. Brodsky culled an impressive 100,000-plus votes in her November run as an Independent for Snipes' job. Snipes still won easily. Maybe she thought an electoral beat-down would finally keep the activist away from her public meetings. Nope. There was Brodsky, like an annoying eye twitch, repeatedly monitoring proceedings, asking embarrassing questions. At a recent public meeting, Brodsky was escorted out for raising her hand to ask a question. Then, a week later, Brodsky was arrested at the direction of Snipes' deputy. That's one way to take out political foes. It's not as if Snipes and her bumbling department are beyond criticism. For example, county election officials sent absentee voters return envelopes for ballots in the November 4 race that identified the voters' party affiliations on the outside. What nitwit came up with that idea? Dirty Meter reading: 7 (Classic vendetta.)
Scott Israel In the wide open, five-candidate race for the Democratic nomination for Broward sheriff that raged last summer, Scott Israel distinguished himself as the most desperate, unscrupulous option. The police chief of tiny North Bay Village had been a lifelong Republican, an affiliation he hoped would earn him an interview with our GOP governor. In the fall of 2007, Crist needed an interim replacement for Sheriff Ken Jenne, who pleaded guilty to corruption charges. But Crist didn't even give Israel an interview before he appointed Al Lamberti. Then Israel changed his party registration to Democrat. Presumably, after selling that part of one's political soul, it's easier to part with what's left. Israel hired a ruthless campaign adviser in Judy Stern, and then embarked on a fundraising drive that included vendors who served the Broward Sheriff's Office, suggesting that he learned nothing from Jenne about the danger of mingling contracts with political favors. Flush with campaign dollars, Israel's name was plastered all over Broward, though not on the malicious literature aimed at his rivals. One hit mailer portrayed former federal prosecutor Bruce Udolf, a Southwest Ranches resident, as a hayseed. Another contained a cartoon likeness of Wiley Thompson, an African-American, wearing a bow tie (a brilliant attempt to suggest Uncle Tom sell-out to black voters and black Muslim to paranoid white voters). Israel won the primary. But his dirty games backfired. In a general election where Barack Obama's candidacy drove high Democrat turnout, droves of voters cast ballots for Republican Lamberti. Israel made a deal with the Devil, and he learned a hard lesson in how the Devil gets his due. Dirty Meter reading: 6 (Anything higher is like dancing on a grave.)
Charlie Crist Behind the governor's handsome, tanned, "good guy" mug is a man who enjoys backroom back-scratching. Don't believe it? Check out his $1.34 billion offer to buy U.S. Sugar. The official rationale behind this taxpayer-funded takeover is that the state gets to revert 180,000 acres of agricultural soil back to wetlands, thus restoring the water flow between the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee. Wow! We have a green governor! Uh, not so fast. In its latest incarnation, the deal allows the sugar company to lease the land back at a cut-rate price until mid-2016. The South Florida Water Management District has the option to extend that lease. So, U.S. Sugar gets money in the bank, and it gets to stay in business. Brilliant! For them. The company would also be exempted from contributing cash to clean up the same Everglades it helped pollute all these years — the residents of the state of Florida will be solely responsible for that baby. The deal gets muckier if we remember that Crist is buddy-buddy with several fellas who lobby and represent the sugar industry. Crist has so many pals, it seems like he's still living in the frat house. Dirty Meter reading: 8 (We're getting much too used to bailouts.)