We are currently less than two weeks away from the 25th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew,1 [1. HistoryMiami Museum at 101 W. Flagler St. currently has an exhibit, Hurricane Andrew: 25 Years Later which is open through January 14, 2018. For a historical remembrance on the anniversary with notorious meteorologist Bryan Norcross, visit the HistoryMiami Museum on August 24, 2017 at 6 p.m. For more on Norcross, Andrew, and the exhibit, see Maria de Los Angeles, What if Hurricane Andrew Hit Today? Bryan Norcross’ Advice for Future Storms, Miami New Times (May 30, 2017, 8:00 AM).] which hit South Florida on August 24, 1992. It was a Monday. I was supposed to start high school that day in Davie, but no schools were open that morning except to be used as shelters. By the middle of the morning, all of South Florida stood still—huddled together without power in our homes or power over the direction of Andrew’s destruction.
The memories of that devastation are still vivid. If you were spared the worst, your friends and family weren’t. Traveling through Miami was difficult, both physically and emotionally. Many roads were impassable and there were unspeakable scenes of loss and suffering. Spray painted signs begged for help or gave warning that trespassing = death. Each hurricane season since, every storm is measured against Andrew. Every hurricane season, South Floridians are left to wonder: 1) if UM will ever win an ACC Championship; and 2) if a predictably unpredictable weather phenomenon is going to wipe away life as we know it.
In Hallandale Beach, election season is nearly as bad. Politics in Hallandale Beach is marked with scandals, investigations, accusations, intimidation, viciousness, foolishness, and mischief such that one wonders if we should rate the various storms as Categories 1 through 5.2 [2. See, e.g., Sun Sentinel Editorial Board, The Dirtiest Election in Broward County, Sun Sentinel (Nov. 5, 2016, 4:20 PM); Susannah Bryan, Hatfield and McCoy Feuding Puts Hallandale City Hall in Spotlight , Sun Sentinel (Feb. 20, 2015, 4:47 PM).] Just as each hurricane season threatens disastrous consequences for communities, so too does each election season in Hallandale. And while there is not another scheduled election in Hallandale until November 2018, a special election will take place in the City sometime within the next three months to fill a vacant Commission seat. Residents should be prepared for rough weather ahead.
The Political Climate in Hallandale Beach
Infighting plagues the Hallandale Beach City Commission, making politics here particularly vicious and uncivil.
Call this place Rancordale Beach, the town where City Hall fairly drips with political venom. Or is that bad blood? Sorry, but writing about the internecine conflicts in Hallandale Beach can wear out a thesaurus. We’ve got acrimony. Spite. Plots. Hostility. Antagonism. Resentment. Revenge. We’ve got rancor up the wazoo.3 [3. Fred Grimm, Hallandale’s Political Acrimony Enough to Make Donald Trump Blanch, Miami Herald (Oct. 27, 2016, 7:28 PM).]
Since the last election in November 2016, there has been no shortage of controversy from our elected officials. Vice Mayor Keith London was caught on video berating a local worker in a rant that was “too vulgar for television.” Commissioners Michele Lazarow and Anabelle Taub are being investigated for allegedly making “improper payments to campaign volunteers during early voting” last election. Id. And now Commissioner Anthony Sanders has been accused of financial misconduct and has responded by resigning from the “toxic” and “volatile” dais.
Sanders, the lone Commissioner from the historically black Northwest sector of Hallandale, is only the third black Commissioner in Hallandale Beach’s 90-year history. Segregation and discrimination have defined the city geographically and politically since it was founded. Sanders’ resignation means the loss of yet another prominent black figure in Hallandale Beach since the new majority took power last November. Since then, Vice Mayor London, along with his coalition of Commissioners Lazarow and Taub, have purged the city of black representation, firing the City Attorney and City Manager, forcing the resignation of the Chief of Police,4 [4. New City Manager Roger Carlton stated that Chief Dwayne Flournoy “was not encouraged to resign.” This is patently false.] and threatening or causing the loss of numerous other black City employees. The racism from the dais is thinly veiled; at Commission meetings, London referred to the City’s Northwest residents as “inmates . . . running the asylum,”5 [5. Hallandale Beach City Comm’n Meeting, Jan. 25, 2017 (remarks begin at 18:40); Hallandale Beach City Comm’n Meeting, Feb. 1, 2017 (remarks begin at 7:15). ] while Commissioner Taub has referred to certain residents as “thugs.”6 [6. Hallandale Beach City Comm’n Meeting, June 21, 2017 (remarks begin at 2:02:54).] The City is rife with discrimination and civil rights lawsuits.
The loss of Commissioner Sanders is potentially devastating for the black community in Hallandale. The black community in the Northwest relies heavily on Commissioner Sanders for representation, as the majority of the Commission refuses to engage with the Northwest residents and has voted against project after project that benefit the Northwest. City programs that benefit the Northwest and its residents—including the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), Community Benefit Program (CBP), and Hallandale Opportunity Project (HOP)7 [7. See William Gjebre, Hallandale Freezes Payments for City Development, Jobs Programs Citing Waste and Fraud, Florida Bulldog (July 19, 2017, 6:00 AM).]—are all under threat by Commissioners who have displayed open hostility to the City’s black population.8 [8. See Brian. M. Stewart, Do Black Lives Matter in Hallandale Beach?, @LawBlarg (Mar. 15, 2017).]
Upcoming Special Election: What is at Stake
The loss of Commissioner Sanders will hit Northwest Hallandale particularly hard. Sanders—the highly respected pastor at Higher Vision Ministries—is an icon in the area. He is featured prominently in Foster Park in the heart of the Northwest for his dedication to the community and his charitable work throughout Hallandale Beach. Sanders’ faith and charity have been instrumental in the progress the City has made in serving its neglected and under-served residents. Sanders’ resignation is the result of dirty politics in the City more than any misappropriation of public funds. Sanders has always been an honorable and decent man, and his reputation among those who know him will not be tarnished by the mud slung by his political opponents.
The Hallandale Beach City Commission consists of five at-large members, though some of the Commissioners have openly acknowledged that they do not represent the entire city equally. The new majority has already begun dismantling the progressive gains Sanders has helped to achieve in the city since he was first elected in 2008. With Sanders off the Commission, Mayor Joy Cooper is left alone to fight—and fighting there will be—against the twisted, discriminatory social agenda of the new majority.
Former Commissioner/Vice Mayor Bill Julian—who lost his seat to Annabelle Taub last November—has already declared his interest in running for Sanders’ vacated seat. Julian has a long record of charitable work and public service in Hallandale, but was significantly hurt by a scandal last election season. Other contenders for Sanders’ vacated seat will emerge soon. There are at least three potential candidates from Northwest Hallandale with deep ties to the community, although it is not yet clear who will appear on the ballot at election time.
Dishonesty, disrespect, and dysfunction have defined the Hallandale Beach Commission for quite some time. It has gotten significantly worse since last November. Vice Mayor London, Commissioner Lazarow, and Commissioner Taub have engaged in vicious attacks on fellow Commissioners, city employees, city residents, and the media since taking office. A reliable counterweight to their toxic brand of political gamesmanship is needed to protect the city and its people. Election season is upon us again in Hallandale. Let us pray that we remain safe from the potential devastation to our city.
Suggested citation: Brian M. Stewart, Storm Warning: Election Season Approaching in Hallandale Beach, @LawBlarg (Aug. 15, 2017), http://blarg.legalmechanics.us/election-season-hallandale-beach.