Recent reports that The Wave streetcar for downtown Fort Lauderdale is going to cost far more than anticipated should cause city officials to rethink the whole idea of building an expensive, old fashioned system that is likely to make traffic worse, rather than better. That does not seem to be much of a return on an investment that is now pushing $200 million.
As planned, the streetcar will run on rails and be powered by overhead electrical wires. This is the kind of system that once was found in many cities, but today survives only as a novelty in a few places. San Francisco is one, but San Francisco has also preserved its cable cars, which are so funky and historic that they are a tourist attraction. They also make some sense on some of the extreme inclines in that city. New Orleans also has old streetcars, but they run unobstructed in wide medians of roads and therefore get people around pretty fast. Philadelphia once had an elaborate streetcar system, but the only one that survives has the advantage of running underground beside the subway system until it clears downtown congestion.
Most cities gave up streetcars decades ago because they ceased making sense. The advantage of putting a lot of people in one electric vehicle was an idea that preceded the widespread use of automobiles. Eventually their efficiency was offset when they slowed traffic by occupying traffic lanes, and their need to stop virtually every block to serve passengers.
There are cases where they still make sense, but only as part of a more elaborate rail system. A good illustration is Denver, where multiple-unit cars run on dedicated lanes in the downtown. They don’t impede other traffic and get the right-of-way at traffic lights. They stop every few blocks, but then they connect to the main rail corridors and become commuter trains, whisking people to suburban destinations such as Littleton, or the airport, 25 miles away. If The Wave connected to the FEC corridor where Tri-Rail plans commuter service, it would be a great idea. But that is not planned. What is planned is the kind of service other cities have deemed obsolete. And that includes the overhead wires that at least one public figure, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, sees as totally out of character with leafy Las Olas Boulevard. Note that promotional renderings for The Wave (above) show modern vehicles, but not the overhead wires. Nor do they show traffic backed up behind the rail cars, which is the reality of such a system.
Its proponents emphasize that The Wave is a first step in what could be expansion to the airport and west Broward. Nice idea, but only if the streetcars have a dedicated right-of-way, and there are no plans for that.
It isn’t as if there aren’t options, and vastly cheaper ones at that. Electric buses, running on batteries, are silent, non-polluting and require no overhead electrical system. With improving technology constantly expanding their range, they are gaining popularity. Some experimental electric buses have gotten more than 250 miles on a single charge. Chattanooga, which has serious air pollution problems, has run small electric buses on a downtown shuttle for 20 years. They run every five minutes and are great fun. They are also free, supported by parking fees, although patrons are asked to make a contribution of a quarter at the major terminal. We suspect most do.
This is a modern version of Atlantic City’s famous jitneys, mini buses that have run on several major streets since 1915. Buses, of course, share the same traffic lanes with other vehicles, but they are more flexible. They can pass stopped traffic, and often get out of the way when taking on passengers. It says here that The Wave idea should be shelved and electric buses given a shot. The system would be inexpensive and, if it didn’t work, you could always sell the buses to Chattanooga, who loves them.
Sunday’s Sun-Sentinel had an interesting piece on the history of spring break. It reported on a documentary tracing the beginnings of the now legendary spring rite of passage for college kids. It gave the usual credit to the 1960 film “Where The Boys Are,” but it also noted that as far back as the 1930s, Fort Lauderdale (then a very small place) attracted college swim meets. It also said that during World War II, college students came to Fort Lauderdale to ease the tensions of a war they might soon be in.
There is undoubted truth to the impact of “Where The Boys Are” in attracting the enormous crowds of young people who took over Fort Lauderdale’s beach, generating raucous behavior, which eventually caused the city to crack down and discourage the kids from coming in such numbers. Our late attorney friend George Hess was among those who came to Fort Lauderdale after seeing the film. George was from the Philadelphia area, but was in college in Colorado when the film inspired a visit to Fort Lauderdale. He enjoyed his spring break so much he was two weeks late returning to school. Moreover, after law school he returned to Fort Lauderdale to practice for the next 40 years.
We like to think, however, that one movie does not deserve all the responsibility for making Fort Lauderdale famous. Our first trip to Fort Lauderdale was in 1959, on a public relations assignment for RCA. That was a year before the film, and we knew all about Fort Lauderdale’s reputation as a college playpen. For some years in the 1950s the La Salle College (now university) crew visited Florida during the Easter break. A lot of northern schools do that today, but then it was unusual.
La Salle was a rowing power among smaller schools. There were three La Salle oarsmen in the 1964 Vesper Boat Club eight-oared boat, which won the Olympics. One reason for its success was the spring trip. It was still cold on Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River; occasionally the river was blocked with ice. La Salle had a training advantage by coming to warm Florida. It rowed separate races against Tampa, Rollins and Florida Southern. Rollins was good competition, sometimes winning in Florida, but usually losing later in the season when it came north for the big Dad Vail Regatta in Philadelphia, by which time La Salle’s conditioning had caught up.
Anyway, after the rigorous three-race schedule within a week’s time, the La Salle guys came down to Fort Lauderdale to unwind. As the word spread on campus, guys who weren’t on the crew began tagging along for the adventure. It may have been just one school, but the spring break charms of Fort Lauderdale were common knowledge at La Salle and its famous Boathouse Row several years before the film appeared.
The film took the event national, of course, and there we were in the mid-80s when Notre Dame brought two busloads of students to participate in the frivolity. By then, the crowds not only immobilized A1A, but had spread to the routes leading to the beach. Florida resident Mark McCormick was aboard one of the buses, which was stuck in traffic. We mean really stuck. It was on Sunrise Boulevard near the Galleria, literally within walking distance of its destination—the Sheraton Yankee Trader Hotel. But it was not moving.
Mark suggested to the bus driver that he show him a shortcut by cutting over to Las Olas Boulevard and coming to the hotel by the back door. The driver said he had his orders to follow this route, and no other. He was a real marine. Mark then got four friends to disembark, and walk the mile to our place near Las Olas. The boys hung out for about half an hour, before we took them down Las Olas and up Birch Road (still one of South Florida’s best and little-known shortcuts).
It had been at least an hour since they jumped bus on Sunrise Boulevard. We arrived at the Yankee Trader just as the Notre Dame buses were crawling to the entrance. Such numbers of young people and the fact that they shut down A1A for several days did not go unnoticed by the city fathers. We did not know it then, but the days of such numbers were numbered.
The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has given us a new word. "Originalist" has been frequently used to describe his concept of the constitution. Oddly enough, originalist means relating to the original, or in this case the intent of the founders who originally worded the constitution. Thus, Scalia interpreted the second amendment's "right to bear arms" as anti-gun control. And the first amendment "right of free speech" to extend the right of major companies to speak their opinions by buying legislators with massive campaign contributions. Many consider such as legal bribes. Now, if that is not an original interpretation of the founders’ original thinking, we don’t know what is.
Justice Scalia, no nitpicker, did not think it made any difference if the founding fathers defined "arms" in terms of their time, when lances and smooth bore muskets were about the “baddest” arms one could bear, and when none could envision bad guys bearing automatic weapons against police. In other words, he interpreted the constitution to have applications none of the founders could possibly have in mind—exactly the criticism he would make of judges who viewed the constitution as a general outline subject to interpretation with inevitable social changes over two centuries.
This, of course, is not a criticism of Scalia or originalism. We are also an originalist, and we think the founding fathers would never have approved a right to bear arms without including a right to use them. They certainly would have no objection to people shooting other people, especially if they did not like them. In fact, nobody got very upset when Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, when the ink on the constitution was barely dry. History notes Burr mostly as a bad guy, and we know the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Oops, Hamilton did have a gun, but so what? Burr caught some temporary heat for that one, but died in bed 32 years later. Andrew Jackson also was known to engage in many duels, although he is officially credited with only one kill. And he was elected president.
We would not, of course, recommend that you shoot anybody, only people who threatened you, and certainly not more than one or two per day. You know, Stand Your Ground law, a great Florida tradition, permits criminals to get away with murder, as long as they say they were threatened. We personally would like to be able to shoot people who make vulgar gestures in our direction when driving, or fail to react promptly when the light turns because they are arguing with somebody on a cell phone. And, especially, people who do not clean up after their dogs.
Some people may regard these as extreme interpretations of the second amendment, but they would not be extreme if the National Rifle Association would give us the kind of support they do when showering public officials with campaign contributions (which are legal) or using the money to defeat those they don’t like. Those contributions, along with those from many other organizations, have effectively changed the meaning of the word bribe, which is, thanks to the Supreme Court, no longer a pejorative. And it’s certainly not libelous.
The NRA, however, does not bribe journalists, which is why the organization gets bad press from almost every responsible media. The media has reported that the NRA, while ostensibly a group of law-abiding gun owners, is actually heavily funded by gun manufacturers, who don’t seem to care how many kids get killed in drive-by shootings as long as they sell guns. In fact, they may welcome mass shootings, for they seem to spike gun sales. That perception could change if the NRA sent money to media figures, not to bribe us, of course, but to assure freedom of the press.
Justice Scalia, God rest him, would be on our side.
The discovery last month that Marco Rubio, our own Florida candidate, is a robot is perhaps the most bizarre incident in a presidential primary campaign that has not been lacking in bizarreness. He showed what many consider a fundamental weakness, when the windup key in the middle of his back got stuck at a most unfortunate time—the last Republican debate before the critical New Hampshire primary. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie could not stop giggling as Rubio, four times, repeated the same inane comment about President Barack Obama knowing exactly what he was doing, which is basically destroying the American way of life as we know it. He did it even after Christie began mocking him, to the amusement of whomever was still watching, when most of the world was focusing on the upcoming debate between Peyton Manning and Cam Newton. Rubio should have excused himself to visit the men’s room and get an attendant to jiggle the windup key, freeing it the way you do a toilet handle when the flushing float gets stuck.
Well, one thing it did was stop the comparison between Rubio and Obama, and even sometimes President John F. Kennedy, when it comes to youth and inexperience. The Obama comparison is fair, in terms of their common youth and short-term experience on the national level. And like Kennedy, he was able to attract rich supporters, although in Kennedy’s case the principal backer was his father. Other than that, any comparison to Kennedy is bogus. Republicans attacked Kennedy for his youth in 1960. President Dwight D. Eisenhower contemptuously called him “that boy” although to his credit, not in public. Well, that boy was in Nazi Germany before World War II, and appalled by the blatant anti-Semitism, and the war he saw coming. In contrast, his father, ambassador to England at the time, seemed to admire the German regime. Kennedy wrote a book, “Why England Slept,” while still at Harvard. Later, he won one of the highest awards the U.S. Navy can give for extraordinary actions when his Patrol Torpedo boat was sunk off Guadalcanal. He lost a brother and brother-in-law in that war, so he was entitled to an opinion when it came to the use of military force. It is hard to believe that he would not be more perceptive than most of the presidential candidates on matters such as ISIS.
One gets the impression that most of our current candidates, if given a blank world map, would put Damascus in the hills of Virginia and Cairo in Illinois.
Kennedy served in Congress and then in the Senate for 14 years before he ran for president. He visited Vietnam (along with his brother Bobby) in the 1950s when the French were fighting a losing war against a nationalist movement, and returned home convinced that efforts to thwart such movements were doomed to failure. His reluctance to continue supporting our unfortunate involvement in Vietnam is one of the reasons he was murdered by the military-industrial complex. So much for his inexperience.
Unlike Rubio, Kennedy was never accused of robotic responses to questions. It has been written that Rubio speaks in paragraphs, flawlessly delivered and, his opponents say, memorized. Kennedy, although one of the greatest political speakers in our history, was much different in spontaneous remarks. He was the master of the “uh” delay.
When asked about an important subject at a press conference, his response would sound like this:
“I would, uh, just, uh, let me say this on that. We’re, uh, prepahing a white papah on the subject of Cuber and that will be released next week.”
And, almost always, that shut up the press, and most of them didn’t ask what ever happened to the “white papah.”
Today we fret about the amount of money that goes into politics. Your average politician loses sleep trying to figure out ways to hide it. Rubio’s wife has been on a major benefactor’s payroll. These politicians in Florida with enormous PACs can’t find enough relatives to put on their payrolls.
When challenged decades ago on a similar subject, Kennedy produced a telegram he attributed to his father: “Don’t buy one vote more than you need. I refuse to pay for a landslide.”
After his debate disaster, it was reported that longtime Rubio associates say he suffers from anxiety problems, which sometimes lead to panic attacks. Are we dealing with a mental health issue here? If so, his health might benefit if he studied Kennedy’s style, especially his use of the “uh” factor.
He, uh, might, uh, also, uh, seek less stressful work, such as, uh—bahtendah.
The walls are exceptionally tall, and they are shrouded by lush shrubbery. The shrubbery is obviously there to beautify and lessen the impact of the walls, which otherwise might resemble a prison. That impact needs to be lessened, lest people buying units in the development begin wondering why the walls are so high in the first place. They might wonder what is behind such tall walls.
What is behind them is a vast tank farm; part of the oil storage complex at Port Everglades and it has been there long before the development was built in 1998. The tanks contain the gasoline brought to the port by ship—gasoline which eventually gets pumped into trucks that take it to gas stations where it winds up in your car.
The development on top of the tank farm is called Village East, and it is a good example of a place where no residential housing should ever have been permitted. But, as the Sun-Sentinel reported last week, the development was approved by the city in 1998, even though one of the oil companies beyond the big wall objected to it on the grounds that residents might someday object to the expansion of the storage facility.
The developer, a well-known fellow who is a friend of ours, promised that he would never object to such expansion, but that was then, and this is the “someday” the oil company feared would come. The developer is gone, so his promise is not relevant. The Sun-Sentinel reported that some residents (there are 264 units) are objecting to a plan by Marathon Petroleum Corporation to build a tank to store 6.7 million gallons of gasoline only 90 feet from the development. They say that an explosion of a gas tank would endanger them.
It sure would, and we wonder if sales people told potential buyers of that danger, and especially the fact than an oil company had objected to their development precisely because owners, someday realizing the danger, would object to their business expansion. We guess the sales people did not slap prospects in the face to make sure they understood that dynamite was next door. We also wonder if, because of that big wall blocking their view, some buyers even gave a second thought to what lay beyond the barrier. Perhaps all they saw were nice town homes at a location convenient to busy 17th Street, the airport and the beach.
We change pace now from what might appear to be an anti-stupid development rant. What we really see here is an opportunity for lawyers to open up virtually a new field. We know all the good land use lawyers around here, and they are all fine folks and usually brilliant advocates for their clients when they rush to build on every square foot of land, whether it sits on a powder keg or might be underwater sooner than people think.
The latter is a warning from several prominent area geologists who think sea levels are rising faster than commonly projected, and are appalled that there is enormous new construction taking place at exactly the places (such as downtown Miami) that are most likely to be flooded so often as to be unlivable, in perhaps as soon as 50 years. One hopes the experts are wrong, but it seems folly to ignore them—unless you are a lawyer who can make serious money if their dire predictions come true. Or even threaten to.
Here’s how the gig works. A land use attorney takes on a big job, such as convincing people worried about major proposed developments at Fort Lauderdale’s Galleria Mall or Bahia Mar. They use their skills and their charts and renderings to show that thousands of new residents will not affect traffic, and very tall buildings on the beach will not cast shadows on the sand on afternoons filled with tourists seeking the rays. They say climate change is a fiction (just ask Governor Scott), and sea level rise is nothing compared to the enormous economic benefits, such as tax dollars, which their clients will generate. When they win, and they usually do, here is where the new opportunity for riches appears.
They wait awhile, at least until the check clears, and the new developments are built and sold out, and then they find the people who have moved in and are alarmed by reports, and increasing evidence, that the sea is actually moving in with them, and access to their new homes or businesses is sometimes blocked by flooding. Especially if, as some are convinced will happen, powerful storms wipe out the highway leading to their front doors. This already happened in Fort Lauderdale, a section of AIA collapsed, caused by rushing tides related to a storm that hit a thousand miles to the north.
Now, the same lawyers who argued to permit the developments, can double dip by rounding up disgruntled buyers and suing the developers they formerly worked for, arguing that no one told their clients (as no one warned of the tank farm next door) of the dangers of the location. They can make money coming and going. If some consider representing both sides of a case to be a conflict of interest, they can point out that their representation came at different times. Who can predict the future, except some mad scientists? And, as Jeb Bush says, stuff happens. This is not a conflict of interest; to the contrary, it is a parallel of interest. There is, of course, ample precedent for switching sides in law. Criminal defense attorneys often start as prosecutors. They know the territory.
We are not picking on land use lawyers; it simply makes sense for those who made the case for the developers, and understand the objections, to have an advantage in presenting the opposite side. They can pull out renderings (such as shown above) which will shock the court.
If it turns out that clients are hard to find, lawyers can always beat the bushes through advertising, preferably in local magazines. They might say that even if you are not a disgruntled buyer, call anyway. You may be eligible for an award. But warn of possible side effects, including high blood pressure, blurry vision, constipation and, in rare cases, death. Ask your doctor if this lawyer is right for you.
As we concluded Gold Coast magazine’s 50th anniversary year in December, we were reminded that over the years Gold Coast and Gulfstream Media Group’s other magazines have become part of the record of an era. You don’t think about that when publishing a story about an event (such as the birth of the Honda Classic as The Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic in 1972) or an individual, such as the hundreds of profiles we have run over the years, but those stories have legs. It sometimes takes years to recognize that, but it hits home when there is a request for a photo or story that appeared decades ago. You can spend hours just finding the right issue, if it even exists, and more time copying it, sometimes from a bound volume.
Case in point: In 1982, the late Gaeton Fonzi wrote a three-part piece on Ken Burnstine. The name may mean little to many people today, but in the 1970s Burnstine was a notorious drug runner, and flamboyant South Florida figure. He was a fast man with his fists and kept lions on his property in the Coral Ridge neighborhood of Fort Lauderdale. He started out straight. He spent three years at the University of Pennsylvania, graduated from Northwestern, and served in the Marine Corps. He became a respected developer in Florida. He built the round Kenann Building at Oakland Park Boulevard and U.S. 1 in Fort Lauderdale. The name was a combination of his name and his wife, Ann. He was also an air racer. His beautiful P-51 fighter of World War II vintage made Gold Coast’s cover in 1974.
When he got into financial trouble, Burnstine turned to drug running. Everybody knew he was a crook; he all but admitted it. His planes loaded with dope kept crashing, but it took years for the law to catch up with him. When the feds finally did, he became an informant and was about to bring down dozens of associates when he died in the crash of his P-51 while preparing for an air race in California. At the time there were reports he had faked his death—that the body in the plane was not his and that he had been spotted in Spain and elsewhere.
Fonzi’s articles, “Ken Burnstine Is Still Dead,” debunked those theories, but opened a dramatic door, suggesting Burnstine’s plane may have been sabotaged to keep him from testifying in court. Fonzi also revealed that the man had intelligence connections going back to his Marine Corps days, and may have been involved with the CIA in its Latin America machinations even as he was running drugs.
Requests for copies of those three issues have been made over the years, and two came within a few months last fall. One was a man working on a book in which Burnstine plays a minor role. The other was from a nephew of a pilot killed while he was working for Burnstine. He had heard about the CIA connection and was hoping to discover his uncle was not a bad guy, but might have been working for the government through Burnstine.
Another recent example of the importance of good archives was a request for a copy of a 1976 story we ran on Scotland Cay. Margaret Walker, our associate editor at the time, was friendly with Stan Smoker who, with a few Fort Lauderdale investors, had begun developing the almost empty island. It was one of those investors who wanted a copy of the 1976 piece. Photographer Bob Ruff had accompanied Walker for a weekend as Smoker’s guest on this little island in the Abacos. They presented a portrait of the handful of residents, several from South Florida, who were living a very natural life on the island. It had only recently gotten electricity, and phone service was a novelty, but it did have a runway and a primitive harbor. That was Smoker’s concept. He wanted no commercial interests on the island, and over the years the growing homeowners association resisted efforts to build hotels and stores to attract tourists.
We barely knew Smoker at the time, but he and his son, Ed, have since become well known for development in Fort Lauderdale. He told us that our 1976 story was a landmark in the history of Scotland Cay, and just last month he presented a copy of a new book that says as much.
Scotland Cay: A short history of a small island is a hardback coffee table publication that traces Scotland Cay back to the 1600s when a few hardy souls farmed on the island. Their descendants are in the book, along with dozens of photos of more recent arrivals, many of who are highly visible South Floridians. The book is charmingly written by Laurence Coppedge, with contributions from a number of those who figured in the history of the place. Smoker, now 94, sent along a copy of the book with an expression of appreciation for the old magazine story.
“Your article in the 1976 issue of Gold Coast regarding Scotland Cay brought me affluent European and American buyers. It was responsible for the growth and success of the island,” Smoker wrote. He added that in 1976 there were only five houses on the island; today there are more than 80. To our surprise and pleasure, the magazine article is included in the historical timeline covering several centuries, pictured above.
It is good to know that somebody besides its publisher saved that story.
Ronald Dumpt, a New York builder who gained fame by appearances on the popular radio show, The Original Amateur Hour, has surprised the nation by announcing that he is running for the Republican nomination for president. He hopes to beat GOP front-runner Thomas Dewey and then unseat Franklin Roosevelt, who is seeking an unprecedented fourth term. Gold Coast magazine caught up with Mr. Dumpt at his beautiful Palm Beach residence, Watchya Lingo, to find out why he wants to unseat a wartime president.
Magazine: Mr. Dumpt, why do you want to unseat a wartime president?
Dumpt: The country has no leadership. The Germans and Japs are making us look stupid. The Germans own half of Europe; the Japs own half of China and the Pacific. The next thing you know they’ll be in California. Our borders are a joke.
Magazine: Some people think the term Jap is an ethnic slur.
Dumpt: I’m tired of political correctness. The polls show I’m right.
Magazine: Mr. Dumpt, what polls? There are no polls. They haven’t been invented yet.
Dumpt: But they will be, and they’ll show I’m 50 percent and Dewey is five and Roosevelt is zero. Do you know that man is a cripple? He can’t even walk. (Dumpt mimics a man dragging 10-pound braces on his legs.) And have you seen his wife? Can you imagine looking at that face for four more years?
Magazine: Some people think making fun of a man’s disability is in bad taste. Tom Dewey, who's running against him, would never stoop that low.
Dumpt: He’s low energy. I like Tom, but he’s low energy. He can’t wait for weekends so he can get out of New York and sit around his farm with his thumb…. I guess I shouldn’t say that. Look, all I’m saying is this country needs somebody who can make us great again. I’m very smart and I won’t let other countries push us around. They think we’re stupid. Look what the Japs did at Pearl Harbor. We were asleep. Roosevelt should have resigned.
Magazine: Your opponents say mocking the First Lady’s appearance is cruel.
Dumpt: I never made fun of her. I would never make fun of anybody’s appearance.
Magazine: You just did.
Dumpt: Now you be fair. I never made fun of her. I think she’s beautiful. All I want is to be treated fairly.
Magazine: And I guess you never mentioned the president’s disability.
Dumpt: I would never do that. I would never make fun of anybody’s physical problem. But have you seen him lately? He’s the most dead-looking live man I’ve ever seen. And what happens if he goes? We got that other moron running with him.
Magazine: You mean Harry Truman?
Dumpt: He’s a pants salesman from Kansas. And he failed at that.
Magazine: I think he’s from Missouri.
Dumpt: No difference. Those yokels are all the same.
Magazine: We gather you think the war is being badly run.
Dumpt: Badly? We can’t even beat an enemy that has Italians who would rather be fighting with us. General Eisenhower is another loser. He wasted all that time in North Africa. I would have gone directly into Germany. I like generals who win. And I would win. You will see so much winning you won’t believe it. Besides, I hear he’s got a bit of skirt going for him—his driver or something. We should be bombing hell out of them.
Magazine: I think we are. Just last month we shot down 1,000 German planes in one week. They're already calling it “Big Week.”
Dumpt: I would have shot down 10,000. It’s not enough. I’d atom bomb hell out of them.
Magazine: That’s another thing that hasn’t been invented.
Dumpt: I’d invent it. I get things done. I know how to build things. Wait till I end this war and we can get gas again. I’ll build towns like you won’t believe. I’ll build casinos in Atlantic City. I’ll pave over those Florida swamps. We’ll be great again. We’ll win at everything.
Magazine: We just read that Adolf Hitler has called you brilliant, outstanding and a leader. He says you’re the best candidate in the field. Do you like that from a dictator who started a war and is killing millions of people?
Dumpt: You always like it when somebody calls you brilliant. Especially coming from the leader of Germany. At least he’s a leader, which is more than we have in this country.
Magazine: But they say he has killed journalists and political opponents.
Dumpt: I’d like to kill a few myself. Actually, I never said that. I would never kill a reporter no matter how ugly she is.
Magazine: Well, we’re out of time. Mr. Dumpt, thank you for taking time to talk with us.
Dumpt: Thank you for having me.
Magazine: Thank you for thanking us.
Dumpt: Thank you for thanking me for thanking you. I’ll be glad to thank you any time. Just be fair.
Magazine: This interview has been brought to you by Lucky Strike. L.S.M.F.T. Lucky Strike means fine tobacco.
The legal proceedings seem to go on forever, but actually it was only about nine years. Toward the end, when we finally got the case heard after it seemed like 500 continuances, we had a break from the courtroom drama. Walking the halls of the Broward County Courthouse, we happened to look through the peep hole in the door of another court room. We saw a not-so-young guy in front of a jury. He was crouched, like a guard in a basketball game—arms extended, weaving from side to side, obviously making some important point. We had rarely seen a lawyer so animated, especially one who obviously wasn’t working his first trial.
“Who’s that?” we asked our lawyer, Ted Galatis Jr. He looked through the port, paused for a few seconds, then said, with a touch of excitement in his tone,“That’s Shelly Schlesinger.”
“How much time do we have?” we asked.
“Fifteen minutes,” said Galatis.
We went into the court room and watched a man with the reputation as one of the best in the field of medical malpractice do his stuff. We saw enough to get inspiration—a story for the Sun Sentinel’s Sunday magazine, Sunshine, for which we had written on a fairly regular basis.
We decided to follow the trial, which involved Broward General Hospital, and in the course of it approached Shelly Schlesinger about doing a story. He was wary. In fact, we did not talk to him directly; rather his co-counsel. We did not get a quick answer. We suspect he was checking us out, and when the answer came it was OK, but only after this trial was over.
We eventually met in his office, at the time a converted house on Third Avenue, close to the spectacular courthouse-style building on Davie Boulevard that was soon to house his firm. By then we had gained his trust, and the interview was one of the most interesting and easiest we ever had.
He told us how he began after law school at the University of Miami. He hung up his shingle and got three cases. One was a domestic dispute, which he detested. Can’t recall the second, but it bored him. The third was a medical issue, by far the most interesting of the cases. He decided to make it his specialty. Medical malpractice was not a common legal category in 1954. Schlesinger literally helped invent the specialty.
His most notable cases were often theater. He could exude charm at times, but in describing a child trying to breathe after a medical error, he could appear on the verge of a coronary. You could almost see jurors trying to breathe themselves.
One of his most famous cases was Susan Von Stetina. Every Sunday for years we heard prayers for her at St. Anthony Church. Schlesinger arranged a visit with the woman, or what was left of her. She had been in a vegetative state for more than a decade after a respiratory failure in a busy emergency room. Old photos showed a pretty young girl. The woman we saw was pasty and inert—not recognizable as the same person who had been in an auto accident. It became known as a $38 million case.
After that visit, we had interviews with medical people who knew him well (and not always happily), as well as other lawyers who uniformly revered him.
We learned that the worst mistake doctors made was challenging him, a lawyer, when it came to their medical expertise. When they got sniffy or condescending, he destroyed them. He often seemed to know more about medicine than the doctors he faced in court.
That piece wrote itself. Sunshine made it a cover story. Schlesinger liked it, and not long after suggested we help him write a book. He gave us some money to get started, but after we knocked off an introduction he changed his mind. He did not want a book that glorified his career. Instead, he graciously turned the money into an investment in a new company we were forming. We had won our case and needed to revive Gold Coast magazine.
In short order Fred Ruffner came along. Instead of investing, he bought the magazine, which had published only one unimpressive issue. Our handful of investors, including Scheslinger, made a few quick bucks. Eighteen months later Fred Ruffner was losing money like foam over a waterfall, and wanted to sell it back to us. His investment and good taste had restored the magazine’s credibility. But we needed to raise serious money fast. Son Mark McCormick was joining our effort. Over the years in this business you meet some credit-worthy people, and we decided to approach successful men who had sons who could represent them on a new board. Dads would invest and it would be nice association for the young people.
Shelly Schlesinger was one of the first we approached. He had two sons who had joined him in his firm. It took just a few minutes to explain the father-son concept.
“How much are you looking for?” he asked, cutting to the chase.
“We’re thinking about $25,000,” we said.
“I’ll go two bits,” he said, that quickly.
We saw little of Shelly Schlesinger during the last 20 years, but his lawyer son Gregg, on our board, kept him advised. Last spring he called. He had read about the 50th anniversary of the magazine. He said how pleased he felt to have been part of it these last two decades. He said he knew how difficult it was to keep a business going that long. He may have been thinking that his own law practice was more than 60 years old, and that he would leave behind a reputation as one of the giants in his field.
And that he has done, as of Wednesday. He came to work, age 85, probably dressed in a jacket and tie that he usually wore. He did not go home. He died with his boots on, as they say.
A funeral service will be at 2 p.m. Sunday at Temple Beth El, 1351 S. 14th Ave., Hollywood
It was a big event for us. George Romney was paying a visit to a small paper in a declining Pennsylvania industrial town where we did not often see prominent national figures. Romney was one. He had a distinguished business career as CEO of American Motors. He was governor of Michigan. He came to Chester that day to meet with our editorial board and make his case to be the next president of the United States.
This was an old newspaper office, right out of the "Front Page" era. It had pneumatic tubes, which took copy from the newsroom up to the composing room, where the clank of machines stamping out metal type seemed non-stop. You only see that communication technology today at bank drive-thru stations. The editors worked under low-hanging lamps and wore green eyeshades. The senior woman who wrote obituaries studied the racing sheets and mumbled names of horses and jockeys between chats with funeral homes. When the presses on the ground floor rolled, the whole building shook. The reporters’ desks were old and had generations of coffee stains that turned the finish to tar. If you sat on the edge of a desk, it stained your pants.
We were not aware at the time that we had an editorial board, but we put one together pretty fast. Mr. Romney showed up looking very presidential—a handsome man with silver slicked back hair, he exuded command and control. He was a candidate for the Republican nomination. Many of us thought we were meeting a future president. Not long after, the man was toast.
In September 1967, Romney gave an interview with a Detroit TV reporter. He was asked about the Vietnam War, which had grown unpopular, and Romney, apparently caught in a contradiction with a previous stance—not uncommon in politics—said he had been “brainwashed” by military figures. Had he used that same term when he met with us some months before, it might not even have made the paper. At that time, everybody was brainwashed by the military, who kept saying we were winning a war in which the shipping caskets bearing dead young men were arriving more frequently every day, with very little to show for it. Nobody realized it then, but President Kennedy’s growing opposition to that war is one reason he was killed.
But when George Romney used the term that day, expressing a thought so common as to be almost irrelevant, his political career was over. The press picked it up and made Romney look like an earnest dunce who had to rely on military spokesmen, including the secretary of defense, to form his opinions about world affairs. Romney quickly fell out of favor with his party, and the result was the election of Richard Nixon, whose 1968 campaign consisted of appearances before audiences that were hand-picked and who, upon election, approved an idea for Republicans to counter their perceived media bias by starting their own news network. Today it is called Fox News.
We have wondered over the years why George Romney’s phrase was such a big deal. We wonder it more strongly today when we see what outrageous things politicians say and it seems to make no difference to their fans. Despite, we should add, almost universal criticism from the media.
Take Donald Trump’s assertion that thousands of people cheered in New Jersey when the twin towers went down. There is no way that could have happened without thousands of reporters screaming about it. But Trump insists he is correct. He also insists he would never make fun of a person’s handicap, although he clearly made fun of a reporter shaking as the result of a nerve disease. These are just the most recent of a series of statements, including mocking John McCain’s war record, which back in the 1960s would have destroyed him, or any other candidate who made them.
And yet, if we believe the polls, they seem to make little difference to his Republican fans. And we think of poor George Romney, looking presidential as could be, until he made a statement, which was as true as it seems, today, innocuous.
Are Republicans today really that dumb? Or were they dumb in 1967?
In the grand plan, there was to be no uniform comment this season. However, uniforms have been so uniformly disgusting this football fall, that good taste requires some comment. This became glaringly apparent when Notre Dame, whose uniforms are about as traditional as they get, came out against Boston College in uniforms variously described as the GEICO creature, or in the words of Byron Calhoun, who notices trivia, like a horde of Peter Pans. While intended as a novelty getup to enliven the game between the only two Catholic schools in big time football, they caused even some Oregon fans to suffer gastric distress. Notre Dame has succumbed to this trend of departing from tradition a few times in recent years, which is a good reason to fire the coach and president of the school. Not to mention, Notre Dame barely won a game in which it was a solid favorite.
Before that, of course, Notre Dame had worn the same outfits almost since the time football players started using helmets. People probably thought they were too cheap to get new outfits. Pictures of Johnny Lujack in the 1940s show a uniform almost identical to what Tim Brown wore 40 years later and what Will Fuller wears today—gleaming gold helmets and pants with either navy blue jerseys at home or white on the road, with a minimum of decoration anywhere to be seen. And, once in awhile (usually to provide inspiration for big games) they pull out green jerseys. But that is part of tradition and quite acceptable.
During the last 70 years there have been occasional insults to the tradition, and each time God punished the Irish for their sacrilege. Back in the late 1950s, they abandoned the gold helmets for unpainted and very old-fashioned looking leather helmets. The players responded with some of the worst seasons in Irish history, including a 2-8 record in 1960. The only other major deviation from its legendary style was when the high school coach, Gerry Faust, changed the dark blue to a Blessed Mother blue, and was rewarded with four mediocre years, crowned by a 58-7 loss to Miami in 1985.
Notre Dame’s recent putrid performance broke the camel’s back, but it was hardly the worst uniform offense of the season. Closer to home, UM has set its program back light years by changing looks every other game so that the players don’t even recognize their own teammates in clutch situations, frequently passing the ball to the other team or tackling cheerleaders. Some of the looks have been just awful, but the worst was going to dark helmets on dark uniforms. The color was schwartzgrun—a black-green—probably with paint left over from the Luftwaffe, which used the same shade on Messerschmitts. It totally negated the effect of one of the most recognizable logos in sports—the green and orange “U,” which adorned their white helmets since the glory days of Howard Schnellenberger and Jim Kelly. The “U” stands out boldly against white, but virtually disappears on a dark background. Miami’s success disappeared with it.
Much as we admired coach Al Golden and hated to see him go, he frankly sealed his fate by allowing his team to dress like buffoons. It is hard to believe a man who came out of the Penn State program, with such unaffected and recognizable uniforms, right up there with Notre Dame, Alabama, Michigan and Texas, could have let the hot weather here affect his judgment.
Other local disgraces: FAU keeps switching its look. We saw them in dark blue helmets, then against Florida last week they came out in all white. Not bad, except there is no sense of the past, of tradition. They almost beat Florida, but only because Florida wore those stupid blue pants. You will never be accepted in modern society until you decide who you are, and what you look like. FAU appears hopeless.
Finally, the pros. This one is subtle. The Dolphins changed their color, ever so gently, but ever so stupidly. Back in the glory days they wore aqua—sort of a feminine color, but don’t mention that to Larry Csonka. The Dolphins made that shade formidable with the great, undefeated team and two Super Bowl wins. Who would ever change the look of success? Well, some fool at the Dolphins did, when the aqua changed to a lighter, almost flowery blue—same mistake Notre Dame made years before. And look at the result: coach fired, for a uniform change that has no rational explanation, and will haunt the team until Garo rises from the grave.
Do uniforms count? We are not alone. When Howard Schnellenberger took FAU from a startup to national recognition in record time, we chatted one day about the uniforms. We told him we liked them.
Thanks, I designed them, he said. It was about the time Miami, his former team, began screwing up its championship look—with uniforms that featured Arabian Nights slashes. We asked what he thought about the new UM look.
It’s awful, he said. And that said it all.