Welcome to the new blog.
It’s a little different from the old one. For one — and hopefully not for long — there are no “jumps” on this thing. So the entire post is on this home page and you have to scroll down to comment. There’s also kind of a double scroll bar thing happening that’s not wildly convenient. We’re working on these things right now.
For the newbies, you may not know me, but you’ve probably seen the work. I’ve broken a lot of stories that gotten some public officials into trouble, some of them landing in jail. Got some good scoops too. Remember the FBI investigation undercover corruption operation and the implosion of Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein? They first appeared on the old blog, The Daily Pulp. Now we’ll just break those kinds of things right here on Local 10.
I came here because I was ready for a new challenge, namely bringing my brand of journalism to the airwaves. But this blog isn’t about me. It’s about you — and about this odd and awesome place where we live. Thanks to you the old blog truly became an intrinsic part of the town, like a little online revolution. It was a gathering place, sometimes a hearth, sometimes a madhouse, like a costume party where everyone is saying whatever the hell they want to say, no matter how brilliant or boorish. It’s a community, with solid regulars (I won’t start to list them because it will get too long), and I hope you’ll get to know them here too and join in when you feel the urge.
We can’t know the future, but I do know a few stories I’m working on right now that should push the envelope. It’s a free-for-all in South Florida, a journalistic wonderland — and the most explosive stories come when you least expect it. But for those of you playing along at home, here are a handful of the hot topics and personalities that will surely pop up on this blog in the coming months.
THE BROWARD COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD
The board right now is $2 billion in debt and wasted hundreds of millions of dollars by pandering to the lobbyists and contractors who filled their campaign coffers. A statewide grand jury recently blasted it as inept and apparently corrupt, saying that if it wasn’t consitutionally required they would want to dismantle the entire mess. It’s run by Jim Notter, the failed superintendent pictured at right, who announced his resignation in disgrace but remains in power while the board looks for a replacement. Facing $114 million in budget cuts, Notter and the Board are slashing teachers — 1,400 of them — and staff while protecting a bloated overpaid bureaucracy. Former School Board Member Lois Wexler, now a county commissioner, once told me that under every rock at the school board you’ll find slime. That time she was dead right.
THE STATE ATTORNEY’S CORRUPTION INVESTIGATION
State Attorney Michael Satz, after a quarter century of very little action on the corruption front, has arrested a slew of politicians in the past few years, leading to a cavalcade of mugshots. Among them, School Board Member Stephanie Kraft, Tamarac Mayor Beth Talabisco, Tamarac commissioners Patti Atkins-Grad and Marc Sultanof, former Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Cyndi Hutchinson, Deerfield Beach Mayor Al Capellini, Deerfield Beach Commissioner Steve Gonot, and county commissioners Diana Wasserman-Rubin and Joe Eggelletion. It’s quite a list and many of those arrests are connected to dirty developers Bruce and Shawn Chait, who paid off just about everybody in their path as they won approval for a controversial housing project on two golf courses in Tamarac. One leading witness is current County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman, whose husband, Stuart Michelson, represented the Chaits after she voted for their project. Another politician involved in that case is …
There are a lot of interesting characters on the commission but the self-proclaimed “queen,” Stacy Ritter, pictured at right, is the most intriguing. A former state representative, Ritter is facing administrative charges from the state Elections Commission after she and her lobbyist husband Russ Klenet spent tens of thousands of dollars out of her lobbyist and contractor stuffed campaign coffers on lavish meals and other dubious items. She’s also under criminal investigation by the State Attorney’s Office. One thing they’re looking at is a golf cart she received from the aforementioned Chaits. Behind her is Klenet, who was once the right-hand man to Ponzi schemer Joel Steinger, of Mutual Benefits infamy. Despite her troubles, Ritter recently filed to run for reelection. This time she’s facing state Rep. Ari Porth, a state prosecutor who will give her a run for her money if she make it to election day.
RICK SCOTT AND THE TEA PARTY
Our illustrious and reclusive governor is on a crusade to hand Florida over to developers, make the workings of government more secretive, gut public education and state services, and transfer as much power as he possibly can to business interests who will make out like bandits. He threw away a billion dollars the high speed rail — a project that would have revolutionized travel in Florida and bolster the all-important tourist industry. But then again what would you expect from a man whose company committed the largest Medicare fraud in U.S. history? As a bonus, he looks a little bit like a scary alien (have you ever actually seen him blink his eyes?). Behind him is the Tea Party, a band of shrill gun-toting bible-quoting right-wing zealots who adore the likes of Scott and Congressman Allen West, another fellow we’ll be watching here.
Broward County is building a new $328 million courthouse that voters told them the didn’t want. The contracts and inevitable government waste involving that project will surely provide fodder. But its the antics of those who work in the building, namely judges, that are sure to light up this place. Every few months a judge does something ridiculous — makes an inappropriate comment, hangs out with mobsters, is accused of pedophilia, that kind of thing. Sometimes they get in lot of trouble. Former chief criminal Judge Ana Gardiner engaged in ex parte communication — and a whole lot more — with a homicide prosecutor. After the JQC hit her with administrative charges, she resigned. And who can forget the bizarre Judge Larry “Cryin'” Seidlin of Anna Nicole fame. Maybe the current building really is “sick” — because s.
That’s just an overview (and I didn’t even get to the sheriff’s office). We’ll see what really happens next — and this time it will be televised.