The long, exhausting election season is beginning to seem to Tailpipe a lot like Napoleon's march on Moscow. No snow yet, maybe, but a grueling retreat for all the blow-dried candidates of January and plenty of bodies along the road.
It's in the blizzard of second-tier races, though, that the hand-to-hand combat continues. (The rusty car part read about this in War and Peace.) There's one Broward County contest that, in a sense, ranks right up there in significance with McBarack. Floridians know better than anybody: Nothing's more important than deciding who counts the votes. Currently, it's Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, a Democrat who was appointed to the post in 2003 by a Republican governor to replace Miriam Oliphant. Snipes won election the next year.
In the past five years, Snipes has presided over a series of mishaps, gaffes, and head-scratching decisions, leaving many voters somewhat less-than-confident that their votes will be counted accurately. Now, Snipes herself gets tested in the gauntlet of the election process. For the August 26 Democratic primary, Adrian Reesey, a Broward Sheriff's Office community relations specialist, is challenging Snipes. The vice president of the Dolphin Democratic Club and a former poll worker, Reesey says she stands for "restoring confidence in the community and having its voice be heard in the election process."
Perhaps a tougher test, though, will come in November, when Snipes goes head to head with one of the voting bureaucracy's chief nemeses, Ellen Brodsky.
The Brooklyn-born Brodsky is a voting-procedures junkie who has worked in the trenches of the Broward County polls (though now, because of her aggressive criticism, she has been declared persona non grata by county elections officials, she says). She's a contentious presence at public meetings about voting procedures and an outspoken critic of the county elections. Like, what about that precinct in the January presidential preference election where there were 79 more votes than registered voters?
Brodsky, who lives in Coral Springs, says she first got interested in the process when her mother worked as a poll clerk and talked about how voters were being wrongfully purged as "felons" because their names or birth dates were similar to those of people with actual records.
When Brodsky got a job at a Coral Springs voting precinct during the 2002 gubernatorial election, in the midst of the controversy about touchscreen machines, she says, she noticed peculiar disparities in the vote count. "I counted 713 people voting in my precinct, but the total from the machines was 749," she says.
Thinking that county elections officials would blow the whistle and investigate, Brodsky instead found them mysteriously upbeat. "When I went to the office after the election, everybody was jubilant, because, they said, an error of plus or minus 10 percent meant a successful election."
Under Snipes, the county has moved from touchscreens to "optical scanners," which provide a paper trail in case there are any foul-ups — though the infamous iVotronics machines are still in use for disabled voters. The new machines go into Broward voting places in the August primary and stick around for the Big Show in November.
Despite reassurances from Snipes, Reesey and Brodsky have their doubts about the new machines, which were bought last year with a no-bid contract from Election Systems & Software of Omaha, Nebraska. This is the same company that brought the county the iVotronics, those glitch-prone touchscreens.
Tailpipe is taking no sides in the election, but, for the record, both Brodsky and Reesey have websites where would-be contributors or campaign volunteers can sign up. Brodsky's is runellenrun.com, and Reesey's is votereesey2008.com. Snipes' website is brendasnipes4soe.com.
Change You Won't Believe In
Speaking of the Big Show, one Florida presidential candidate is just getting warmed up.
"I'm huffing and puffing, full steam ahead," Ryan Lipner told Tailpipe the other day, talking about his bid for the White House. The Tamarac native — who, Tailpipe can safely say, is "certifiable" — has miraculously qualified to be on the ballot in Florida, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Missouri, and California. These are the states with the cheapest, simplest standards for presidential candidacy — but still.
"I thought about running against John Kerry in 2004," says Lipner, but he was only 20 years old then. Now 24, he feels more seasoned. You say he doesn't meet the constitutional requirement of being 35 years old? No sweat. He'll get an amendment.
Tailpipe shrinks a little further from the young man.
Lipner says he's managed to clear up some of his past legal troubles, which started at age 16, when he launched a greeting-card store with pirated Hallmark merchandise. He owns the distinction of being one of the state's only "vexatious litigators," the result of his having filed 158 lawsuits during six weeks in 2003. That was just a youthful manic episode, Lipner says. It happened because he wasn't taking medication for bipolar disorder. The presidential bid, he's quick to say, is absolutely not a manifestation of mental illness — though his court-ordered counselor wasn't convinced.
"Last week, when I told my psychologist at Henderson [Mental Health Center] that I'm still running for president, he had me Baker Acted," Lipner says. (This means to be forcibly taken to a mental hospital for observation.)
Lipner was released four days later. "Mental illness is talking about things that are not reality," Lipner argues. "But if you're actually running for president, that's not mental illness."
Last Thursday morning, Lipner took his campaign to the sidewalk in front of the Broward County Courthouse, where he greeted prospective voters who formed a queue outside the metal detectors. The next time Tailpipe heard from him, he was phoning from the padded walls of Tamarac's University Pavilion.
"I thought that would be a perfect place to ask for votes," Lipner explains. Instead, he attracted the attention of cops. "The deputies came out and asked what I was doing. I said I was running for president — and they threw me in handcuffs. Do you see the problem I'm having here? Hillary and Barack run for president and everybody believes them, but the moment I try to run for president, they think I'm crazy."
Unfortunately, the incident made it impossible for Lipner and his running mate, Jules, a Siberian husky, to make a Tailpipe photo shoot scheduled for the next day, filling the candidate with regret. "We had her groomed and everything," he says.
It would have been a photo for the ages.
Hey! Stop That Yacht!
This is Bill Casey, a linebacker-sized 45-year-old construction worker and father of two from Pompano Beach. He was hanging out on a pier in the Hillsboro Inlet a few weeks ago when a runaway yacht slammed into the pier. In saving a preschool boy, Casey injured his hand. He's still trying to track down the owner of the luxury vessel, named Day Dreams.
"It happened so fast," Casey recounts. "I was standing there at the end of the pier, you know, talking to some guys fishing. Next thing I know, we see this yacht getting closer — like a four-story, 92-foot yacht. You know, there's a lot of boats in the inlet. Everybody fishing was screaming at the people on the boat. This kid was sittin' there, like within arm's reach of me. I said to him: 'Hey, that boat's gettin' awful close.'
"The boat — I guess the back end of the yacht — spun and hit the pier. I reached and grabbed the kid and pulled him back. And my hand got caught between a sign and the boat and the pier. Then I ran down the pier trying to holler at the guy in the boat. You know, 'You smashed my hand in between there, you idiot!' I said some more words than that, but I was mad. Fish and Wildlife officers had to track this guy down. They told the owner, 'Hey, this guy just wants his deductible paid.' Like a $750 deductible. Pay my deductible, and whatever, we'll call it even. They gave him my phone number... I never heard a word. I never sued nobody in my life. I just think he deserves to pay my deductible."
Watch out, Day Dreamer. You're about to be in another collision.
You think the world's a scary place? What if you were just a pint-sized little pooch?
On a Saturday in February, 11-year-old Cheyenne Pino was walking in Hollywood with her grandmother and Gran's 24-pound Pomeranian, Kuahlia (pronounced Kahlua). A loose pit bull "came up and started looking at Kuahlia and suddenly just tackled him," Cheyenne remembers. What happened next could have been a scene from Cujo: the big dog a flash of teeth, the furry little victim spouting blood from its punctured neck. The attack stopped only when a passing off-duty firefighter twisted the pit's collar and choked it.
"I was scared for Kuahlia too," Cheyenne says, "but Gran was crying her eyes out, and it scared me to see her like that. I've never seen her cry before. Even now, she starts bursting out crying whenever she talks about it."
That's true. Gran — AKA 82-year-old Lena Yock — sounds choked up as she remembers: "Kuahlia laid on the grass, unconscious, with his little legs straight up in the air like he was dead." A vet performed emergency surgery, and a few days later, Gran received a bill for $1,260.
According to Gran, the pit bull's owners, Crystal Pointe and Nathan Thompson, said they would reimburse her for the costs. They handed over two payments totaling $360. Meanwhile, Gran filled out a "dangerous dog declaration" and went to a hearing about the case. Pointe and Thompson failed to show up. According to Gran, the judge said that the couple should continue their "good faith effort" to repay her. Not long after, though, Gran saw a moving van in front of their house. "These scumbag people left this past week," she says, and they left no contact information. "They moved so they didn't have to pay me." She was out $900, and her only recourse would be to file suit in civil court.
Gran thinks the law is too easy on rogue pet owners. While Hollywood's municipal code prevents dogs from drinking beer ("No animal shall be given an alcoholic beverage," it says), the fines she saw doled out in animal court were hardly deterrent, and admonitions to obtain animal licenses would probably never be enforced.
Nowadays, Kuahlia is OK physically, Cheyenne says, but she can tell the pooch is scarred. "His bark has changed, and he's more cautious," she says. No wonder. Gran is scared to go for walks, so Kuahlia is confined to the yard. Adds Gran: "My dog doesn't like to do his business in the backyard."