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The next rung on the political ladder may be a tall one for the current mayor of Fort Lauderdale. It looks like Jim Naugle is not the front-runner for the job of director of the state Department of Environmental Protection. Naugle is hindered by the fact that he is a Democrat and the new governor is certainly not. Naugle is also a white male in a time when Jeb Bush is trying to out-Demo the Democrats in minority hiring practices.

But Naugle is a respectable candidate because he's shown interest in water-quality issues and the restoration of the Everglades. He's also been able to get some Republican support for his political campaigns. But whether he is handed the job by the Bushmaster (a large venomous snake found in the tropics) or not, the possibility of a vacancy has created some interesting scenarios and political maneuverings over at city hall.

We hear that commissioners John Aurelius, Jack Latona, and Tim Smith are all interested in taking over the top spot while Carlton Moore is not. Politicos say the Big Three contenders have been gauging support during the past few weeks.

While Naugle waited by the phone for a final decision, we asked him who he would vote for among the commissioners. After all, who better to recognize the qualifications for the job, and he's certainly seen the contending commissioners at work. At first Naugle did the political thing by pointing out that he would have to move if appointed and couldn't possibly vote for his replacement. So we did the political journalism thing by posing the dreaded hypothetical question anyway.

"Well then, I'd vote for Latona," Naugle said. "Jack is best equipped for the job." And just to cover another base, Naugle quickly added that Tim Smith "will make a good mayor some day."

That day may be far off if Naugle doesn't get the nod from Bush; Naugle says he plans to stand for reelection in 2000.

If tact is a necessary tool in any aspiring politician's tool belt, Broward school board member Paul D. Eichner may be in need of a special trip to the hardware store. Halfway through the December 15 school board meeting, just as the nine members embarked upon an eye-glazingly boring discussion of construction contracts, the newly elected Eichner decided to liven up the proceedings with a display of his finely honed diplomatic skills.

"I'm not passing judgment," he announced, referring to contracts the previous board had approved last year. "But I believe that what was done was done poorly. Shabbily. Horribly." Geez, then what was he passing if not judgment?

Eichner's approach prompted a small exchange of glances among the five surviving members of the previous board. Perhaps it was an expression of their admiration for the newcomer Eichner's ability to make friends quickly and easily.

Undercurrents wants to know about any and all political deals, media screwups, and particularly dumb memos from bureaucrats. Let us know. Call 954-233-1581, fax 954-233-1571, or e-mail [email protected].

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