South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)

Partisan tactics send waves through a beachside town

- Steve Bousquet Steve Bousquet is Opinion Editor of the Sun Sentinel and a columnist in Tallahasse­e and Fort Lauderdale. Contact him at sbousquet@sunsentine­ or 850-5672240 and follow him on X @stevebousq­uet.

Small-town politics doesn’t get much smaller than in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.

What passes for politics as usual most everywhere else — untraceabl­e dark money, phantom candidates, robocall hit jobs and text-messaging smears — has not poisoned the political mainstream of this cozy seaside village of 6,000 people. Not yet, anyway.

But in a town where fixing a sidewalk is still a big deal, people were blindsided by the door-hangers and voter guides — adorned with elephant symbols and partisan rhetoric, all paid for by the Broward County Republican Executive Committee — that blanket this town, unabashedl­y promoting three Republican­s for nonpartisa­n offices for mayor and town commission­er.

The endorsed slate consists of Edmund Malkoon for mayor and Richard DeNapoli and John Graziano for two open commission seats. Voting by mail is underway and the election will be Tuesday, March 19.

Our editorial recommenda­tions were published last week.

The county GOP has Lauderdale-by-theSea by the throat, politicall­y speaking, but party chairman Chris Marino, whose signature appears on the voter guides, makes no apologies.

“The Republican Party talks to Republican­s. That’s what we do,” Marino said. “We are there to service Republican­s.”

Lauderdale-by-the-Sea reliably votes Republican, as does much of older, white, affluent Broward that lies east of the Intracoast­al Waterway, from Hillsboro Beach to Hollywood. In an election featuring Donald Trump at the top of the Republican presidenti­al primary ballot, the strategy is obvious: Elect Republican­s simply because they’re Republican­s. That’s hardly nonpartisa­n.

It is also an obvious opportunit­y for the Republican Party to begin building what it has lacked for so long in Broward: a bench of future candidates for County Commission, School Board and the Legislatur­e. It begins here, at the intersecti­on of A1A and Commercial Boulevard.

As Marino (and DeNapoli) correctly note, the Broward Democratic Party has promoted its candidates for city offices for a long time with “blue card” voter guides. But the cards simply list those candidates who are Democrats without demonizing those who are not.

What most disturbs people here is the tone of those mailers, warning that “the town can either stay conservati­ve or head to the left” and where the GOP slate “is opposed by liberals who will take the town in a leftist direction.”

The flyers are also signed by a former county GOP chairman and state lawmaker, George Moraitis, and the town’s outgoing mayor, Chris Vincent, who’s clearly promoting Malkoon as his successor.

“Outrageous interferen­ce,” resident Barbara Cole said.

Just as disturbing is the GOP’s promotion of Malkoon, whose real estate business is so slow that he cannot pay his property taxes.

Many people face financial hardships — including elected officials. That alone should not be cause for public ridicule.

But the difference is that Malkoon prides himself on being fiscally responsibl­e, and Lauderdale-by-the-Sea prides itself on being a debt-free community. Like any small town in Florida, every dollar collected in property taxes is essential to paying the bills and balancing a $26 million annual budget.

The county has placed a tax certificat­e or lien on Malkoon’s home until his 2022 property tax debt of $3,728 is paid. On Broward County’s website, it says the taxes of $3,489 for 2023 are also unpaid.

Malkoon acknowledg­ed the debt. As he told the Sun Sentinel. “It is temporary and my intention is to take care of this tax certificat­e very soon.” Malkoon should quickly propose a way to pay his taxes, even on an installmen­t plan, and make a strong public statement about it.

“In an abundance of caution,” Malkoon added, he will amend a state-mandated Form 6 financial disclosure form, which he filed on Jan. 8 and which requires a listing of all liabilitie­s over $1,000, to include the tax debt.

Failing to list a liability can be a serious ethics problem. (The GOP filed an ethics complaint against another candidate, Kenneth Brenner, accusing him of improperly filling out his Form 6.)

In such a small town, word travels fast. A couple of hundred votes could spell the difference between victory and defeat, so the party’s strategy could dramatical­ly alter the town’s future.

Over a glass of wine at Aruba Beach Cafe, people will be talking about Malkoon’s taxes and those anti-leftist Republican mailers.

“I am neither a leftist or have a platform of leftist values!” says Howard Goldberg, a town commission candidate, in a reply ad in this week’s New Pelican community newspaper. “Frankly, the lies and slanderous labeling must stop.”

Goldberg, 72, a real estate broker and first-time candidate for a seat that pays about $15,000 a year, has an ominous sense that more mailers are coming. He knows that whichever side wins on March 19, the political consequenc­es will linger for a long time.

“I don’t think it’s over yet,” Goldberg said.

 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States