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FLORIDA DIGEST March 20, 2007

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The Sun-Sentinel,0,2734695,print.story?coll=sfla-home-headlines

Changing Oakland Park gets its first openly gay mayor

By Elizabeth Baier
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
March 20, 2007

Oakland Park - When voters elected Larry Gierer to the City Commission in2001, he hoped his status as an elected official would break barriers forgays and HIV-positive people.

His bid for public office alone had already made him an unlikely candidatein Oakland Park, a blue-collar suburb with a history of social and acialintolerance. During the campaign, Gierer's opponent publicly questioned hisability to serve as an elected official because of his sexuality andHIV-status.

On other occasions, Gierer, 51, also received anonymous letters at his homequoting Leviticus 18:22 -- "You shall not lie with a male as one lies with afemale; it is an abomination" -- and once was surprised to find a group ofresidents praying for his health and well-being outside his home.

"Some people thought that intimidating me would keep me from running foroffice," Gierer said. "But I've never thought a person's health statusshould keep them from doing what they wanted to do. I never hid mysexuality."

On Wednesday, Gierer will take on a new role, becoming the city's firstopenly gay mayor and the first openly HIV-positive mayor in Broward County.He'll serve in the city's top seat for one year while Layne Walls serves asvice mayor. The position rotates annually among commissioners.

Of Broward's 31 cities, only Wilton Manors has had openly gay mayors. In2000, John Fiore became that city's first openly gay mayor, followed twoyears later by Jim Stork.

Gierer's new title will be a highly anticipated moment for Oakland Park'sbudding gay population. Oakland Park residents elected the city's firstopenly gay candidate, Chris Wilson, in 1993, but he did not gather enoughvotes to rotate into the mayor's position before his term expired.

Other minority residents see Gierer's role as yet another step towardhealing the city's past struggles with diversity. In 2003, CommissionerAllegra Murphy became the city's first black elected official and two yearslater, she served as the city's first black mayor.

"It's says our city is all-inclusive," Murphy said. "I want to believe thatpeople look at all of us as individuals ... without referencing ourethnicity and sexual orientation. I see it as a positive sign of our times."

Gierer's turn in office means Florida now has three openly gay mayors inoffice, with the others serving North Miami and Pahokee. Nationally, just 17of about 1,200 mayors of large cities are openly gay, according to theWashington D.C.-based Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.

Gay issues will be high on Gierer's agenda during his term as mayor of thecity of almost 40,000. His first of two priorities will be to helppersonalize the AIDS epidemic affecting Broward County. He's one of sixBroward residents tapped to promote the AIDS Walk Fort Lauderdale in Apriland has publicly spoken about his health status to a group of Broward Housevolunteers as well as other elected officials at the Broward League ofCities.

"I would be remiss if I did not become the person that could display thatyou can live with AIDS and lead a productive life," said Gierer, a formermodel and actor. "I feel it's my responsibility."

His second priority will be to push for a statewide law that would allowcities in Florida to eliminate sales of individual bottles or cans ofalcohol at convenience stores and gas stations.

While it's impossible to know exactly how many gay residents live in thecity, Gierer says Oakland Park's gay community has mushroomed during thepast 10 years. The Independent, a weekly gay newspaper, has its headquartersin Oakland Park, as does Georgie's Alibi, a franchise of gay bars with onein Wilton Manors, he said. The city also receives a lot of the spilloverfrom neighboring Wilton Manors, whose gay population is estimated at 35 to40 percent.

With Gierer as mayor, Oakland Park will be able to boast that it is anopen-minded and progressive place to live, resident Kevin Bernardi said.

"[Gierer] has had to overcome the fact that he's an out and proud gay man,"Bernardi said. "It takes an extra degree of hard work and tenacity just tokeep going and not let prejudices slow you down."

Several of Broward County's elected officials are expected to attendGierer's swearing-in ceremony, including Wilton Manors and Pembroke Pinescommissioners; Shelley Goren, vice president of development for the BrowardHouse, an agency that provides services to HIV-positive people. BrowardCounty Court Judge Gisele Pollack will conduct the ceremony.

John Metsopoulos will watch with pride as Gierer takes the oath.Metsopoulos, an Oakland Park resident since 2004, says Gierer could be anexample for other gay elected officials.

"There's still ignorance out there that gay people are not good enough toserve in public office or do other jobs," said Metsopoulos, who served inpublic office in Connecticut for 16 years before disclosing he is a gay man."When an individual such as [Gierer] gets to a position of public office, itdoes a lot to dispel that ignorance."

Elizabeth Baier can be reached at or 954-356-4637.


March 20, 2007
Two men charged with hate killing in Florida

Two men have been charged with a hate crime in the fatal stabbing of a gayman in Bartow, Fla. According to The Ledger, a central Florida newspaper,Joseph Bearden, 21, and William David Brown, 20, made their first appearancein a Bartow courtroom Sunday morning and were charged with the death of RyanKeith Skipper.

The victim was found on the side of a dirt road in Wahneta, Fla., his bodyriddled with 20 stab wounds. Police initially told the press that the casewas being investigated as a robbery homicide because Skipper's car andcomputer had been stolen. However, a witness came forward who reported thatthe two defendants had told several people that they murdered Skipperbecause he had made sexual advances toward Brown, leading officials tobelieve that the murder could have been a hate crime.

According to police reports, Skipper was driving around Wahneta on March 13at approximately 11 p.m. when he encountered Bearden. Bearden took a ridewith Skipper and went back to his house, where they allegedly discussedusing Skipper's computer for fraudulent activity. The two left the residenceand went to Brown's home, where the suspects and Skipper left in his car.The two allegedly attacked Skipper inside his car, and his body wasabandoned on the side of the road. The suspects then reportedly drove toanother home where they discarded items from the car, then made a stop toanother location where they attempted to clean the vehicle.

A source for the sheriff's narcotics unit called in to report witnessingBrown and Bearden attempting to clean out the car, according to the article.

The vehicle was found Wednesday on a dock near Lake Pansy in Winter Haven,where Brown's fingerprints were discovered.


The Sun-Sentinel,0,3211716,print.story?coll=sfla-home-headlines

Longtime Broward judge accused of smoking pot in Hollywood park

By Paula McMahon & Marlene Naanes
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
March 20, 2007

HOLLYWOOD -- Broward Circuit Judge Lawrence Korda is facing a misdemeanorcharge of marijuana possession after city police officers said they bustedhim for smoking pot in a Hollywood park Sunday afternoon.

The judge played a role in the Anna Nicole Smith case when he brieflyhandled a small part of the paternity battle over the former Playboycenterfold's infant daughter. Korda, 59, was not arrested but was issued anotice to appear on April 26 in the satellite courthouse in Hollywood.

Court and state law enforcement records show no prior legal problems for thejudge so he could qualify for a first-time offender pre-trial drug diversionprogram. But the allegation he used an illegal drug could result in acomplaint to the Judicial Qualification Commission and possible discipline,several legal experts said. If the judicial watchdog agency found hisconduct violated judicial rules, he could face a reprimand or removal fromthe bench. Anyone can file a complaint with the commission. Korda could notbe reached for comment despite messages left with his judicial assistant andat his chambers Monday. It was not clear if he had hired an attorney. Hisassistant said he was on the bench Monday presiding over a trial.

Also unclear was whether Korda, a Family Court judge, would remain on thebench while the charge is pending. The Judicial Qualification Commissionsaid Monday that no complaint has been filed with the agency so far and, atthis point, it is up to Broward's Chief Judge Dale Ross to decide if Kordashould continue to work until the case is resolved.

Through a spokesman, Ross said he had not yet decided what to do.


The Sun-Sentinel,0,5281270,print.story?coll=sfla-home-headlines

$800-a-night rooms replacing affordable hotels in S. Florida beachcommunities

By Tom Stieghorst
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
March 20, 2007

For years, one of the great bargains in tourism was spending the winter inFort Lauderdale. Or Hollywood. Or Pompano Beach. Even Palm Beach County,amid the high society, had its pockets of affordability.

Now all that is on the way out. There are still reasonable hotels withinwalking distance of a beach in South Florida. But their days are numbered.Every year, more are torn down.

Rising in their place are rooms for the rich. Some are hotels, otherscondominiums. A few are hybrids of the two. Their target market: Anyone whocan pay $500 to $800 a night for a hotel room or $750,000 and up for acondo.

That leaves out people like Diane Payne, a retired buyer for the schoolboard in Montreal, and her friend, Monique Poirier. They split a two-bedroomunit in a small hotel in Deerfield Beach this winter that rents for $225 anight, considered a moderate price for a South Florida hotel in the winter.

Payne said that if her hotel and others like it were knocked down, shewouldn't be able to afford what goes up in its place.


March 20, 2007
Our view: Time to get serious

With House tax plan stalled, lawmakers should address a responsible fix

Three weeks into Florida's 2007 legislative session, it's clear the Houseplan for property-tax reform pushed by Republican Speaker Mark Rubio isfloundering.

While tax changes are definitely needed, his idea -- to end property taxesand replace some of the revenue by adding 2.5 cents to the state's salestax -- is making even some members of his own party queasy.

Not to mention the Senate has been rightly cool to the proposal from thestart. Getting it on the November ballot would take a 75 percent vote bylawmakers and it's obvious the votes aren't there.

That's good news for the people of Florida.

Not just because the switch would deeply cut the budgets of localgovernments as costs are rising.


Palm Beach Post

Record rush for Fla. pre-K worries, pleases
By Sonja Isger
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Nearly half the state's 4-year-olds have enrolled in Florida'sfreepreschool - an effort that at once impresses and worries those in thefieldof educating young children.Impressive because, while other states havepromised to offer pre-K to all,no other state has managed to enroll such alarge population in a mere twoyears.How the state program stacksupThirty-eight states enrolled nearly 950,000 children intheirpre-kindergarten programs in 2005-06, according to the NationalInstitutefor Early Education Research annual yearbook rating those efforts.

By its account:. Florida ranks fourth for access, enrolling 47 percent ofall 4-year-olds.Only Oklahoma, Georgia and Vermont reach a larger portion ofthe population.


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