Nowhere in America is
corruption as sunny, open and in your-face brazen as it is in the state of
Florida. The state that couldn’t count the votes in
2000 (but had no trouble training terrorists to fly)
has been in the news almost ever since.
The gold standard for
corruption used to be Miami, but that torch appears to
have been passed (when no one was looking, natch)
to a Tony haven for the nouveau riche on the
Gulf Coast, Katherine Harris' hometown,
It "might could," as
they say in Texas, even be part of some long-term
plan, since George W. Bush's famous cadre of rich
supporters, the Rangers, were incorporated, strangely,
not in Texas, but in Sarasota,
in the long ago year of
Sarasota demonstrated its big league credentials once
again recently when it played host to yet-another
"botched" (read STOLEN)
Congressional contest between Democrat Christine
Jennings and Republican Vern Buchanan, where
almost 18,000 voters found themselves disenfranchised,
and their votes uncounted.
A 'conspiracy theorists' field trip to Sarasota
A first hint that
something might be untoward perhaps came a few days before the
election, when President Bush reluctantly made a campaign appearance in support
of Republican ultra-rich car dealer Buchanan. It was
his first visit to Sarasota since the memorable morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
As many recall, Mr. Bush
was reading aloud from the book “My Pet Goat” in a Sarasota
classroom when Andrew Card stepped forward to whisper news of the attack on the Twin Towers.
Nine long minutes then
went by before Bush rose from his seat and returned to his presidential duties,
and there has since been
much speculation as to why. We think the answer
may be something as simple as the fact that “My Pet Goat” is a
page-turner, and Mr. Bush might have just been getting to the good
Alternatively, Bush, like many readers, may have felt
scared at that point in the story where the girl's dad
says the goat has to go, because he eats too many
Sadly, we may never know.
An 'accidental' candidate gets a
It should be noted that
Vern Buchanan was very much an accidental candidate; despite spending millions,
he owed his success in the Republican primary, in large measure, to his
opponent's unfortunate observation that it is common knowledge
that black folks can’t swim.
Even in Sarasota, this
was thought to be, perhaps, a little much.
Enter one of the main
characters in the election drama, Sarasota Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent, whose most
significant decision in office, reported the local
Sarasota Herald Tribune, had been to push
Sarasota County to purchase touch screen voting machines in
Some questioned the accuracy of the machines, not to
mention their whopping 4.8 million price tag. But Kathy Dent was steadfast in
her support. She stayed the
electronic touch screen course.
John Gotti, Potter Palmer... and Cruella
Before addressing the
nuts and bolts of Ms. Dent's singular accomplishments, let's first take a look
at the city of Sarasota, where they occurred.
Sarasota is a community
whose conservative Republican family values can, alas,
occasionally seem as smudged as Katherine Harris’ lipstick after an evening out
with an enthusiastic right-minded young male intern somewhere on the campaign
An aside: Ms. Harris'
local reputation, before becoming famous as Florida's Secretary of State in the
botched 2000 Presidential election, was not what anyone would characterize as
Also not thought of as
conservative was former Mafia Don John
Gotti, who owned a three-lot completely walled-in
complex on the Gulf in Sarasota which, we understand, positively bristled with state-of-the-art security
An all-too-brief history of the idle rich
This slice of Florida's Gulf Coast (from Sarasota to Venice, a distance of 20 miles) ultimately owes its place in
the annals of civilization to Potter Palmer, a wealthy Chicago merchant of
Potter Palmer's widow, Bertha, used a portion of his
considerable fortune to buy up land for what became the huge Ponderosa-sized
Palmer Ranch, where
she entertained friends who came down to visit during the frigid Midwestern winters.
Another aside: When Potter Palmer was
drawing up his will, which left everything to Bertha, reputedly a headstrong
woman with an indomitable spirit, his lawyer counseled against it, warning him
that his fortune might end up in the hands of a stranger if his wife ever
To which Palmer
retorted: "If she does, he'll need the money."
More about those Republican Family Values
Almost a hundred years
later, the Palmer Ranch still owned 70% of the land suitable for development in
That's when it was
purchased by the multimillionaire owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Hugh
While Hugh Culverhouse
is not likely to appear anytime soon in the NFL’S Hall of Fame, he is,
remembered, if only for his passing.
At the age of 75,
stricken by cancer, and in a last-ditch effort opted for a radical
treatment never tested before (or probably since) on a human being.
Culverhouse was infused with
a massive dose of radioactive iodine, which had been previously attached to a hormone designed to seek out the tumors so
the radiation would kill them.
Smart bombs, foolish choices
So much radioactive iodine was
required to synthesize this biochemical smart bomb that the work
was done in a sterile hot room in a nuclear power plant in Lima, Peru.
(Trust us. You can't
make this sort of thing up.)
Eventually Hugh Culverhouse had a
hospital wing all to himself. But it wasn't a matter of luxury and
near him for two minutes was the equivalent of getting a chest X-ray. The
medical team wore the same protective clothing used by nuclear power plant
A post-nup, some radiation, then off to Vegas baby
time he was diagnosed with the cancer that would kill him, Culverhouse was worth
well over $200-million. But he led his wife to believe he was near
Only by signing a post-nup, she was told, could she
stay out of the poorhouse. So she signed.
Culverhouse died in a New Orleans hospital on Aug. 25, 1994 at age 75, he was
eulogized as a "world-class philanthropist" and "a real gentleman."
well before his wife discovered that he was, in fact, a world-class
Culverhouse was banking on walking out of the hospital--a new man at age 75-–
and then divorcing his wife, of 52 years, so he could marry one of his
which girlfriend? Ay, there's the rub.
The best-laid plans of mice
girlfriend, a country club waitress turned photographer, got $150,000 to keep
their affair quiet. Another contender for the honor of being the next Mrs.
Culverhouse was Susan Brinkley, the wife of broadcaster David
had given Susan Brinkley a job decorating his Palmer Ranch real
estate project in Sarasota. The two took
vacations to Africa together. Susan Brinkley began telling her friends that she
and Culverhouse were planning to marry.
Culverhouse left behind a series of secret mistresses, as well as one very angry
None of his
mistresses was by his bedside when he died. Neither was his wife, nor anyone
from his family.
The Palmer Ranch story pay-off
Culverhouse's poor widow
testified later that she never knew of her husband's infidelities, she told
reporters outside the courtroom, "I'd like to pull him out of the grave and shoot him."
It was somewhere around this time
that Sarasota Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent, at the center of today's
controversy over the 18,000 missing votes in the Congressional contest in Florida’s
13th district, first moved to Sarasota.
husband, John, had just become the Palmer Ranch’s in-house attorney.
Jackie Gleason used to say, "Away we go!"
Tomorrow: Part II: The Psy-Op
Helping to Steal Sarasota's Election