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Undercurrents

There are raw political calculations -- and a mouthwatering power prize -- behind the blasts of moral outrage Broward commissioners are firing at "Plantation Bob" Lockwood's racial discrimination settlement.

With an all-out assault, some Democratic strategists hope to drive the 76-year-old Lockwood into retirement -- opening the Clerk of Courts job just in time to provide shelter for a deserving state politician downsized by year-2000 term limits.

Attempting a preemptive strike against potential opponents, Lockwood last year made the super-early announcement that he will seek reelection in 2000, putting forth the intellectual rationale, "Why shouldn't I run?"

Now commissioners have an answer: Because you stuck taxpayers with a $1.3 million tab for running the Clerk's office like your "private plantation." Since racial-bias charges alone won't shame Lockwood into leaving, commissioners broadened their attack to include Lockwood's overall management record -- demanding details on patronage consulting contracts and in-depth audits of budget and personnel files. Access to those internal documents could provide ammunition for prolonged political embarrassment, encouraging Lockwood to retire.

If that strategy succeeds, the South Broward power crowd already has anointed a Clerk-apparent: State Rep. Fred Lippman of Hollywood, long-time buddy of Lord High Sheriff Ken Jenne. With term limits ousting Lippman from the legislature in 2000, what better place for him to land than the Clerk's office, a constitutionally independent political nirvana with 600 jobs and a $23 million budget to spread around.

Undercurrents agrees. Indeed, to a Clerk's office reeling from discrimination charges, Lippman will bring unique strategic insights: Back in 1988, when a House committee staffer accused him of sexual harassment, Lippman maneuvered to buy her silence with $47,000 in state tax money. When that deal exploded into a public sex scandal in 1991, a House investigative committee heard lurid testimony about his chairpersonship of a committee consumed by graphic sexual jokes and X-rated propositions. Still, his state-paid legal fees in that scandal amounted to only about $50,000; thus, getting Lippman off his harassment hook cost taxpayers less than $100,000 -- a bargain by Lockwood standards.

Besides paying his hush money upfront, Lippman demonstrated fine strategic thinking in his harassment defenses. When committee staffer Kathyrine Jennings testified that Lippman, after a party at her house, returned the next morning and went upstairs to her bedroom to tell her he loved her, our Clerk-to-be replied he only went to the top of the stairs and shouted for everyone to get out of bed.

And when Jennings testified that at a committee dinner she threw a steak in Lippman's lap after he rubbed her leg with his sock-only foot, Lippman's defense was that he needs two hands to take off his cowboy boots and his "little Jewish legs" were too short to reach Jennings under the table.

This is the kind of creative leadership the Clerk's office needs. If Lippman can just keep his boots on, perhaps one day soon Lockwood's plantation will become Freddie's ranch.

Undercurrents wants to know about any and all political deals, media screwups, and particularly dumb memos from bureaucrats. Let us know. Call 954-233-1572, fax 954-233-1571, or e-mail [email protected].

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