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Broward County Commissioner Scott Cowan has nothing to worry about this coming Election Day, he ran unopposed. But the cunning campaigner still spent thousands of donated dollars to buy information about, well, us.

On his shopping list: The names, birth dates, races, and ages of all registered voters; the names of all homeowners, and a list of those who buy specialized license plates from the state.

He set about using his campaign's computer equipment (tens of thousands of dollars' worth -- which he gets to keep) to process the information for direct mailings.

"We like to think it's all about the issues, but let's be serious," says Cowan. "It's really not. They vote for you by affinity. I probably get more of my share of voters whose names or whose children's names are Scott, for instance."

He found the computerized information can help him develop new affinities. Like with Jews.

Cowan, who is Jewish, has a computer program that can separate Jewish people from a list of names. While he says it's 99 percent accurate, it's not foolproof. For instance, Scott Cowan, hardly a traditional Jewish name, doesn't come back.

Armed with that list, he sends mailings targeted to registered Jewish Democrats, touting the fact that he too is Jewish. Another mailing targets black registered Democrats. People with panther or manatee specialty license plates get an environmentalist mailing.

Consider his one-time targeting of the Florida cracker vote. The state of birth used to be part of the information the elections office had on every registered voter. So Cowan would isolate citizens who were born in Florida, age 35 or older, and white.

"I'd send them literature that talked about how good things used to be in Broward County in the old days," he says. "I didn't send it to blacks, of course, because they obviously didn't see anything good about it."

While we're rather awestruck by the purity of Cowan's cynicism, his provincialism is just as apparent.

There seems to be a pecking order in the news media that goes like this: The dailies pick on TV, the weeklies pick on the dailies and TV, and still smaller publications pick on everyone.

Our evidence lies with a monthly newsletter-like paper that popped up in Palm Beach County called the Free Press. As you might imagine, they fill the thing up with hard-hitting journalism, posing questions such as "What does a koala eat?" They've cut and pasted in a feature typical to mediocre rags: Print a list of quotes stolen from other newspapers. They must think it makes their product look substantial. The Press even stole City Link's inventive title for the filler, "Quotes."

The newcomer picked on us, of course, about our not knowing that a restaurant in our listings had closed two months ago. (Sorry!) But the Press is kinda cute with those small pages stapled together, so it's hard to get mad at the little fella. But then we thought some basic fanny-slapping might help the upstart.

They promote themselves by writing that their new paper "is still be the largest alternative newsweekly published in Palm Beach County." Beyond the grammatically challenged construction and the dubious claim, we will also note it comes out monthly.

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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