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The Pulp Endorses the Jenne Turtle

We're going to have some real federal drama in town next month, and it's not going to have a thing to do with Scott Rothstein.

I'm talking about former Miramar Commissioner Fitzroy Salesman's criminal trial, where we're going to learn more details than ever before about the FBI sting operation that netted Beverly Gallagher and Josephus Eggelletion. We'll learn about the origin of the entire operation, which began with the arrest of gang member Alden "Alpo" Budhoo. We'll hear the tapes of Salesman engaging in bribes and learn a whole lot more about the nest of corruption that is Miramar. It very well may culminate with Salesman himself taking the stand in his own defense.

It's starting on March 22, it's going to be good, and the Pulp will be all over it. I've begun doing some research on the case, and one of the first things I saw was a March 2005 endorsement of Salesman by the Sun-Sentinel. The endorsement forgot to mention that Salesman was a gun-wielding menace to the public and that he was as corrupt as the day is long. Small oversight.

Of course, the newspaper couldn't have known about all of Salesman's flaws, and he hadn't pulled his gun on a fellow customer at Winn-Dixie yet. But it still looks silly to have endorsed such a joke of an elected official. Newspaper endorsements in general are such an idiotic and arrogant idea in the beginning; journalists are here to scrutinize and investigate politicians, not promote them. It's like a cop endorsing his favorite street gang leader. And the Sun-Sentinel has made some extremely embarrassing endorsements over the years. Let's look at a countdown of the Top Five newspaper's stupidest endorsements.

5. Ken Jenne

In 2004, the newspaper endorsed then-Sheriff (and above-pictured) Ken Jenne, writing that he was an "outstanding sheriff" who "deserved

another term in office." Understand that the case-fixing and crime state-rigging Powertrac scandal had already broken out when the endorsement appeared.  

During 32 years of public service, he has compiled a record of integrity and ethical behavior, and has proved to be an innovator with strong leadership abilities. He has applied those high standards and abilities to his job as sheriff, in which he runs the largest nationally accredited sheriff's office in the United States.

The endorsement pooh-poohed the Powertrac scandal, saying it existed prior to Jenne (not true) and writing that "Jenne took the initiative and requested several independent investigations." Unbelievable. Jenne never accepted responsibility, and his "independent" investigation was conducted by his longtime big campaign contributor and lobbyist friend Tom Panza, who did a whitewash and would eventually collect more than a million dollars in taxpayers' money for it. 

After his reelection, Jenne, despite all that integrity, was hit with one scandal after another after his reelection and would finish the term in prison.

4.  Pompano Mayor Bill Griffin

In 2003, the Sun-Sentinel endorsed Griffin with these words: "Griffin wants to continue pursuing goals identified by a city workshop organized to address needs."

Read that line again; it is the definition of meaningless gobbledygook. The truth was that Griffin was crusading at the time for turning over the last of the city's beach land to controversial developer Michael Swerdlow to build a new International Swimming Hall of Fame and high-rise condo towers that voters didn't want. I'd broken the story at the time that Griffin, at the same time he was doing Swerdlow's bidding on the dais, had landed a job with Swerdlow's help at Turner Construction, the company that was slated to build the project. That had sparked a half-assed investigation by the State Attorney's Office. The newspaper mentioned the scandal but couched it as a "personal attack" from his opponent, Susan Foster. 

Thankfully, the voters didn't listen to the newspaper and voted Griffin out of office.

3. Deerfield Beach Mayor Al Capellini

In 2005, the Sun-Sentinel endorsed Capellini, stating:

"He has positive plans for the city's future, including expansion of affordable housing, completion of the new public works facility, establishment of a downtown redevelopment area and improvements along State Road A1A. His leadership style is well suited to Deerfield Beach."

What it didn't bother to uncover was the fact that Capellini, whom it called a "professional engineer," was using his office to benefit his good friend Bill Gallo and was also using his mayor's seat to benefit his own engineering firm. He was reelected but wouldn't finish out his term. Instead, he was booked into jail on a felony charge of receiving unlawful compensation and now awaits trial.

2. Hollywood Commissioner Keith Wasserstrom

OK, in 2005, the Sentinel actually endorsed Wasserstrom's opponent, Richard Blattner, but the editorial board also gave its stamp of approval to Wasserstrom, who was already under criminal investigation for overseeing a dirty sewage deal in his city that he planned to personally profit from. "Residents are in a win-win situation in this contest," the newspaper declared. "Both the incumbent and his challenger are solid candidates."

Here's more:

Incumbent Keith Wasserstrom, 36, has plenty of appealing qualities. By his own admission, Wasserstrom, a lawyer who is the law partner of one of Giulianti's sons, got off to a slow start in his first term, preferring to remain quiet while he learned the ropes. Nevertheless, Wasserstrom is bright and reflects a younger demographic.

If he is re-elected, he would like to work with school groups and the School Board to improve schools in Hollywood. He also wants to address landscaping, parks, drainage and traffic calming efforts.

How's that for a hot steaming plate of gobbledygook served up by your morning newspaper? Like the others, Wasserstrom never finished his term and was convicted at trial for official misconduct in the sewage deal. He's currently serving his sentence in the Broward County Jail.

1. Broward County Commissioner Stacy Ritter

Everyone who knew Ritter knew she was way too close to one of the more conniving lobbyists in town, a fellow named Russell Klenet. In fact, he was her husband. Klenet already had a controversial record in Broward after he convinced his commissioner friends to buy voting machines from his client, ES&S, that turned out to be big waste of taxpayers' money.

Just based on that fact alone, any self-respecting newspaper should have taken an arm's-length view of Ritter. Not the Sentinel. "Voters have an easy choice in the race for the District 3 seat on the Broward County Commission," the newspaper published on October 24, 2006. "The South Florida Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board enthusiastically endorses Stacy Ritter. Ritter, 46, a lawyer who lives in Parkland, has a stellar political resume."

Well, voters went ahead and elected Ritter, and it's been one little scandal after another. The couple promised that Klenet wouldn't lobby the county. Conflicts of interest abounded. A notebook was discovered that showed Klenet maintained a lobbying relationship with airport management firm URS while his wife touted the firm and served as the county's airport liaison. As a commissioner, she voted to give her husband's employer, ES&S, a $5.4 million no-bid contract. They found a loophole here, though. Klenet claimed not to be personally representing ES&S anymore. Instead the lobbying firm he had joined -- Tallahassee-based Dutko, Poole, McKinley -- was now representing the voting machine company. Klenet just served as managing director of Broward operations for the lobbying firm. His new firm was also representing Vista Health when Ritter enthusiastically voted to give Vista the county health insurance contract. It was sleazy stuff, but the inept Florida Commission on Ethics issued an absurd opinion in her favor. 

Then there was her husband's work for convicted felon and Ponzi schemer Joel Steinger, who renovated the couple's Parkland home to the tune of more than $100,000. When she was a state rep, Ritter voted for legislation backed by Steinger's Mutual Benefits firm while her husband was in his employ. More recently, we have the golf cart given to her by crooked developer Bruce Chait. It goes on and on with Ritter; click here for more details

Unlike the others on this list, we haven't seen how Ritter's political career will turn out. You have to wonder if the Sentinel will ever get the chance to endorse her again.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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