Fred Grimm

Hallandale’s political acrimony enough to make Donald Trump blanch

The three GPS tracker devices Hallandale Beach Commissioner Keith London said he and his political allies discovered on their cars on Oct. 13.
The three GPS tracker devices Hallandale Beach Commissioner Keith London said he and his political allies discovered on their cars on Oct. 13.

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.

We’ve got accusations. We’ve got investigations. Both sides of Hallandale Beach’s warring factions have sicced the Broward state attorney on their rivals, claiming laws have been broken.

We’ve got sniping during commission meetings. We’ve got interrupting. We’ve got yelling. We’ve got Commissioner Keith London at one point grabbing the gavel from his arch nemesis, Mayor Joy Cooper, and pounding on the table, according to the Sun Sentinel’s Susannah Bryan, whose experiences covering the ongoing conflict in Hallandale Beach could qualify her to cover the Syrian civil war or the WWE. It’s so rowdy that Donald Trump would be embarrassed at the lack of decorum.

At a commission meeting in August, Cooper cut off the microphones of London and fellow Commissioner Michele Lazarow. Then the mayor ordered the pair removed from the dais. The two had insisted on veering off the agenda to discuss the odd and self-incriminating remarks that Commissioner Bill Julian unwittingly recorded on a telephone answering machine (now the object of one of those state attorney investigations). Julian, by the way, generally sides with the mayor in these squabbles.

And now we’ve got spying. London told reporters last week that for several weeks he had suspected that his car was being tailed “at all hours” by someone driving a Chevrolet Tahoe — a vehicle he said was registered to a Hallandale-based private investigator. His suspicions, he said, deepened after what looked like surveillance footage of London and Lazarow showed up in a political attack ad against Lazarow, who is up for reelection on Nov. 8.

London said that on Oct. 13, he searched his car and found a small, black GPS tracker that had been attached by velcro under the rear bumper of his SUV. He said he then checked Lazarow’s car and found a similar device. They called Anabelle Taub, an ally running against Julian, and also summoned WPLG Local 10’s Bob Norman to witness the third search. Indeed, another tracker was found attached to her car.

At the press conference, Taub talked about campaigning, sometimes out alone, knowing that she had a “group of creepy hired guns stalking and illegally tracking me.”

The three filed a criminal complaint with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

It was Norman who had obtained a voice mail recording that had captured Julian (who apparently didn’t realize he had failed to hang up his telephone) as he seemed to be explaining to an unidentified woman how he expected special recompense for his vote approving a $450 million hotel and condo complex at the Diplomat Golf & Tennis Club. He talked about getting a new van for his favorite charity. He can be heard saying, “What they don’t know is they’re buying the food bank a frigging van that I couldn’t tell anybody.”

He also suggested that the developer had promised him a small army of campaign workers in return for his potentially unpopular vote in favor of their project. He said he was told, “Don’t worry, we’ll have 300 people out in the street for you when you run for office.”

Odder still, when Norman confronted Julian with the tape in late August, Julian reiterated that the developer had promised him a van and campaign workers. “Isn’t that illegal for you to say that?” Norman asked him, camera rolling. “For you to accept that?”

“I don’t know if it’s illegal,” Julian answered. “I don’t know.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Cooper has gone after London and Lazarow for alleged Sunshine Law violations, complaining in a letter to the Broward state attorney that Lazarow had “firsthand knowledge” of what agenda items London had planned to pull for discussion during a commission meeting.

The feud between Cooper and London and their various allies goes back a decade. Unseemly doings around Hallandale Beach, however, date back to the 1930s, when Meyer and Jake Lansky, Lucky Luciano and Jimmy Blue Eyes Alo operated 26 illegal casinos in Hallandale. Gangsters essentially ran the wide open town.

The Miami Herald won its first Pulitzer Prize in 1948 reporting on the corruption thereabouts. In 1950, crime-busting U.S. Sen. Estes Kefauver called Hallandale “the sin city capital of the south, a wide open den of inequity.”

A couple of decades later, Hallandale suffered more infamy when former Mayor John David Steele (1963-65) was busted on marijuana smuggling charges.

The Cooper-London imbroglio, measured against the city’s historic misadventures, might seem ordinary. Their disputes aren’t much different from those of other South Florida cities, where elected leaders argue over development issues. And where developers and their oily lobbyists somehow manage to wangle city commission approvals for controversial building projects.

Except this quarrel, raging since 2006, has turned bitterly personal. At their press conference Monday, London and Lazarow were asked the inevitable question in city where the politics has turned so toxic.

No, Keith said, he and Michele weren’t having an affair.