In his taupe suit jacket, lavender shirt, and purple tie, Eric Haynes looks more GQ executive than Lauderdale Lakes commissioner. But in a city where minorities form the majority and where octogenarian Samuel Brown is mayor, a young vice mayor looks a lot like the heir to the city's future. Even more so because, after a cautious, largely quiet first two terms, Haynes has lately been stretching his political legs. He understands how the closure of Lauderdale Lakes' only Starbucks is an ominous sign for the city's cosmopolitan aspirations, exhorting residents to consider $4 coffee an investment in their commercial district's future. He quit the Broward Black Elected Officials the moment its officers failed to account for missing funds. And he has been the most energetic political advocate for Boyd Anderson High School, the largely black school that is lacking books and needing repairs — unlike Cooper City's largely white high school, which was built at the same time, folks around Lauderdale Lakes have noted.
"In the past, I sat back and watched my colleagues take the lead," Haynes says after a commission meeting in late July, "but after hearing reports from the community, I decided more aggressive action needed to be taken." That means threatening to file suit against the Broward County School District if Boyd Anderson's needs are not addressed soon. "We want to make sure we're at the table and that we're eating steak instead of Spam," Haynes says.
At 37, with his winning smile and engaging manner, Haynes could go a long way in politics, maybe further than this working-class city, an idea that's occurred to him. "I might consider running at the state level," he says.
But that vision seems to vanish the moment he hears the name Beverly Key, his former mistress. "Oh, man!" says Haynes, smiling — or wincing — in spite of himself.
Lauderdale Lakes' most promising young political leader has Clintonian charms and, apparently, Clintonian vices. Haynes had a ten-year affair with Key that ended a year after she gave birth to his baby. Now, Key says Haynes is breaking the law to cheat her and their daughter out of child-support payments. For young politicians, the rocky end of Haynes' extramarital affair could serve as a cautionary tale about breaking personal promises in an era of transparent government and cyberinformation. The residue hangs around out there forever.
Haynes recently refused to discuss Key's claims, saying only, "That's a personal matter. We're in litigation right now. That will be left up to the court to decide."
Since the court route favors Haynes, who can afford to hire an attorney, Key is going public. Key hopes, she says, that her former lover's civic responsibilities will spur him to attend more diligently to his personal responsibilities. "He does a great job as vice mayor of Lauderdale Lakes," Key says. "Just take some of that energy and devote it to your flesh and blood."
Key was in the midst of a divorce in 1997, shopping for a new home, when she met Haynes, who was then working for a homebuilder. "Charismatic, young, very intelligent, ambitious, driven," says Key, recalling her first impressions. "But the attributes he's showing right now, if you'd have told me he'd do this to his daughter, I'd have spat in your face."
Haynes was married with a son, but all through the late 1990s and early 2000s, they were involved romantically, a period during which Haynes founded several companies, including Gemini Construction and Development, for buying and fixing up homes. They remained close when, in 2002, Haynes' local activism turned into a bid for City Commission. Key wanted him to leave his wife. Haynes promised he would — eventually.
In 2005, he recorded an audiotape for Key, which she shared with New Times, in which Haynes pleads for just a little more time: "You've said before, 'Boo, if you love me, then why aren't you right here with me?' And for years, I couldn't give you an answer. But now more than ever, I really know that I love you and that I need to be with you and that I'm going to be with you."
A moment later, Haynes admits, "I'm scared, because it's uncharted territory."
Unwilling to follow through on the divorce, Haynes tried to mollify Key with symbolic gestures. He gave her a diamond engagement ring that he asked her to wear on her left hand. It was Haynes' idea, Key says, to open a joint checking account. He wanted to start a business with her. One day, Haynes took her to a lot where he said the two would build a home, raise a family. Key says that Haynes was so eager to start their new life, "He wanted to get me pregnant," which he did, in 2005.
That same year, he surprised Key by flying to Washington, D.C., to attend her family reunion, where, she says, he told relatives that the two would soon be married.
But Key says that during her pregnancy, the relationship became more turbulent — fights followed by dramatic makeups in which Haynes would shower Key with promises and gifts. During a 2005 trip to New York City, after watching Denzel Washington play Julius Caesar on Broadway, Haynes bought Key a diamond necklace. In a note, he said the necklace's three tiers stood for "past, present, and future."
When their daughter was born in May 2006, Key named her Erica, after her father. Mother and daughter moved into a home Haynes bought for them. Since he was giving Key a few thousand dollars per month, she saw no need to seek a judgment for child support.
But she was sick of playing the mistress. She says Haynes had begun another affair. Beginning in April 2007, Key says, she warded off Haynes' advances. When Key herself began to date, she says, Haynes became enraged. "He said, 'I'll stop paying the mortgage, and you'll go into foreclosure,' " Key contends.
She was so fed-up with arguing, Key says, she asked the court in early 2008 to mandate that Haynes make his payments through a child support agency, not directly to her. But in doing so, she says Haynes managed get his payment reduced to only $460 a month. Since Key couldn't afford an attorney she had difficulty proving that Haynes could afford to pay more.
Key says Haynes owned multiple cars and dressed in expensive clothes. He had taken her on expensive trips and on dates to upscale restaurants, she says. But he told the court that he counted on his wife to be the breadwinner. Haynes reported making only about $21,000 — the salary of a Lauderdale Lakes commissioner. According to Key, Haynes told the court he had not filed income tax returns since 2004.
Most elected officials file financial information with the Office of the Supervisor of Elections, but Haynes is one of a handful in Broward County who failed to file the so-called Form 1 financial disclosure worksheets between 2003 and 2005. For that, he faces $4,500 in penalties, says Kerrie Stillman, a spokeswoman for the Florida Commission on Ethics. Last year, the compliance rate among Broward officials was 98 percent.
Haynes did file Form 1 for 2007 in which he named Gemini Construction and Development as his primary and secondary source of income. The company is listed as the owner of several homes in the county. When asked to account for these, Haynes himself says, "Look at the depressed housing market. If anything, I'm paying money to stave off foreclosure."
He cautions against relying on Key's version of events, saying he has phoned police twice in the past year when she has harassed him.
After Key took Haynes to court and his checks stopped coming, she was herself unable to avoid foreclosure. In June, she and her 2-year-old daughter were evicted from their Plantation home and spent the next two months sleeping at the homes of friends or family. For two nights, Key says, the two slept in her car. She finally found an apartment in mid-August.
It has been a grueling year, but Key says she found strength within. "My head is so much clearer now," she says. "I've put so much behind me. It will work out."
Key claims that Haynes has spent no more than 40 hours with their daughter in the 28 months since she was born — barely enough to make him a familiar face. "She knows he's somebody," Key says. "But I don't think she's made the connection that he's her daddy." Beverly Key says 2-year-old Erica barely knows her father.