Walter Browne, the brash labor leader who has curried favor with Broward's political elite while chairing the Port Everglades Authority, is losing support amid a cross fire of questions about shoddy port management.
Today, the port authority is expected to elect a new chairman -- and most likely, it won't be Browne.
One year after he took the job, Browne now says he has no intention of running again. In fact, he is expected to miss today's meeting to attend the special legislative session in Tallahassee.
"I feel I've gotten enough whiplash," Browne, 38, said in a recent interview.
Once considered untouchable, Browne is under fire from an expanding group of critics who object to the port's lavish spending, new property tax and political dealings.
When Browne was elected chairman, the port faced few critics, in part because the port wasn't taxing Broward residents.
Yet during Browne's year as chairman:
* The FBI has begun questioning former port employees about possible corruption at the port. The ex-workers say agents are investigating possible illegalities in bond deals and alleged extortion at the port.
* Just this week, state legislators ordered an audit of the port, saying they were disturbed by reports of questionable spending for gold rings and opera tickets, among other things.
* A private consultant hired by the port, Booz-Allen & Hamilton, issued a critical report in September that said the port could save up to $3 million a year by cutting 52 unneeded jobs. The consultant said that although revenues had soared, the port's profits had drastically dipped because of massive spending.
* Over the boos and catcalls of taxpayers angry about port spending, the port commissioners imposed a new tax Sept. 25. The port spent thousands of dollars entertaining influential Broward politicians with fancy dinners, helicopter tours and an assortment of gifts.
As the port's stock dipped, so did Browne's.
Labor leaders -- who lobbied county commissioners to appoint him to the seat in 1984 and again in 1988 -- now want him out. Just last month, the Broward AFL-CIO voted 51-19 to withdraw its support of Browne.
Their gripes? That he hires friends, double-dips into port funds as head of a private lobbying group and does little for labor.
But Walter "Buster" Browne is not easily discouraged. The strapping, tough-talking Brooklyn native said he won't bow to pressure and intends to serve on the commission until at least 1992, when his term expires. He describes himself as "very aggressive, very cunning."
Browne is confident the recent flow of criticism will soon swing past the port, which he says has gotten an unfair black eye because of a "media frenzy."
"There's been no mismanagement, and I've done nothing improper," Browne said. "I'm not going to be run out of town and I'm not going to be railroaded. I'm going to win here. I'm not here to be labor's flunkie."
His labor critics? "A bunch of malcontents who are incompetent and playing petty politics."
Those critics say Browne is incompetent.
"Browne has done little to help labor," said Alexander "Doc" Cullison, who replaced Browne at the 4,700-member Federation of Public Employees, which represents about 80 port workers. "He has been so eager to help his political friends that he's been insensitive to appearances of cronyism and conflict of interest."
Browne acknowledges he likes to do business with friends. Several have landed port contracts: