Archive for January, 2009

Claudine Ryce
January 21, 2009

I depart from the usual focus of this blog to note the death of Claudine Ryce.  She wasn’t a politician, though tragedy thrust her into the role of lobbyist and policy advocate, briefly.

Claudine was the mother of Jimmy Ryce.  I met her shortly after Jimmy, age 9 at the time, disappeared. He’d gotten off his school bus one September afternoon in the 1995 in a rural neighborhood south of Miami, and was never seen alive again.

It turned out Jimmy had been abducted, molested, and killed by a handyman at a nearby ranch.  When that evil man went on trial in Orlando (trial moved, because most folks in south Florida wanted to string up the defendant on the spot), I got to know Claudine Ryce and her husband Don, a little better.

She died, says a family publicist, of a heart attack.  But her heart had been torn apart and hurting since her only son was snatched from her.

She and Don learned well how to deal with the media, as they pushed to get the Jimmy Ryce Act (which required sexual predators to get extra judicial review before being allowed to leave prison), and as they went through the torture of a murder trial.  They graciously accommodated reporters seeking interviews, and my heart always ached for them afterward.

During the trial in Orlando, the Ryces celebrated a wedding anniversary.  Knowing that their resources were strained by having to miss work and stay in a hotel while attending the trial, the media gaggle pooled resources, and bought them dinner at a nice restaurant near the courthouse.

Technically, that violated everyone’s journalistic integrity, I suppose, but it certainly seemed the right thing to do. We wanted to give this decent, ravaged couple a night out during which they might, even for a second, forget the heartache that haunted them.

We cover a lot of people touched by tragedy, and you can’t take every story to heart.  But the Ryces stay with me, always.  Maybe even more, since I had a child.

They are a scary reminder that awful things happen to good people.  They doted on their son, were mindful of his safety, and still– it wasn’t enough to keep Jimmy from the clutches of a ghoul of a human.

My heart goes out, once again, to Don.  Rest in Peace– finally– Claudine.

Wall-to-Wall Balls for All
January 19, 2009

Washingtonian magazine says there are more than 30 balls and parties around Washington on this Inaugural eve.  A couple of hundred Floridians done up in black tie are dining and dancing at the Corcoran Museum of Art, a stone’s throw from the White House.

Streets all around the Corcoran– and throughout central Washington– have been shut down for security reasons.  That means cabs are in short supply, traffic is backed up, and the Metro is attracting a really well-dressed crowd this evening.  We saw scads of black ties and sequined gowns on the Red Line.

Tickets to the “Sunshine and Stars” ball– priced at $150 to $500 a pop– have been sold out for weeks.  Among notable Dems we saw were state CFO Alex Sink– who’s just decided she’s not running to comer here as a US Senator in 2010– and Cong. Ron Klein, who said again tonight he’s pondering a Senate bid. Barack Obama’s first prominent FL political supporter– Cong. Rob Wexler– was also there.

Pretty much everyone you talk to is impressed by the size and the good humor of the crowds that descended on Capitol Hill today.  Security screening created huge lines outside Congressional office buildings, as people from around the country tried to get Inaugural tickets being distributed by Congresspeople.

But I never heard an angry word out of any of those folks.  They chatted, made new Obama-phile friends, took pictures of each other and the occasion passing political celebrity (Bob Graham got pulled into a few snaps for the folks back home, and I obliged a few people who wanted me to pretend I was interviewing them).

The crowds are well-behaved, but boy, are they big.  I’ve heard that Washington’s Metro subway set a new daily ridership record on Sunday (some 616,000 rides), and probably set another one today.

Almost certainly, tomorrow will set another record, and will provide a severe test for the Metro.  Bridges to and from Virginia are closed to most cars tomorrow, so the trains will be the favored means olf transportation.  Even with the Metro providing its most-frequent rush-hour service throughout the day, a lot of people fear the trains won’t be up to the task.

I met a young Virginian who said he’ll spend the night in the DC beauty salon  where he works, to ensure he won’t miss the Inaugural ceremony. Another friend– a reporter for a California newspaper– is sleeping in his DC office tonight, rather than hazard a commute in from McLean, VA.

Floridians who make it through tomorrow and have energy left to party have one more chance Tuesday evening— the Southern States ball will be held at DC’s National Guard Armory, with the Derek Trucks Band providing Southern-fried boogie, and the Will Gravatt Band playing more sedate numbers.

Me– after a second 16-hour work day, I’ll be asleep.

The Travails of Taravella
January 19, 2009

The only Florida high school band marching in tomorrow’s Inaugural parade almost suffered a 20% cutback.  Taravella’s Marching Trojans– 174 strong– found out today they were short 34 credentials.

Would the woodwinds be winnowed, as a result?  Would the band be down a drummer or two?  Given the security at this Inauguration, nobody– NOBODY– will be marching without a credential.  Hey, police dogs sniffed Taravella’s instruments BEFORE they left Coral Springs last Friday.

The Trojans will march intact.  Just after 6, band director Neil Jenkins told me he had the last 5 passes he needed.

Taravella, we’re told, will be the 24th unit in the 4th division of the parade (the parade’s divided into 6 divisions, on for each branch of the Armed Services).  Scheduled step-off time, around 4:30… all 174 band members, properly credentialed.

DC Update– 2 Days Away
January 18, 2009

  Washington’s weather warmed up a bit (thankfully, temps near 40, instead of the mid-20’s), and the atmosphere heated up quite a bit, in other ways.

  This afternoon’s concert– U2, Beyonce, Stevie Wonder, Springsteen (what a  lineup!)– also offered us something of a preview of coming gridlock attractions.  My photographer, Steve Paine, arrived at midday, just about the time that hordes of folks were heading to the Lincoln Memorial.  The result?  A two-hour ordeal navigating the Washington Metro from Reagan Airport to our workspace near Union Station– 30 minutes just to get a ticket to ride, then long lines for the trains themselves.

  I fear this is what Steve and everyone else staying in Virginia will face on Tuesday morning.  Bridges to and from Virginia will be closed to most traffic, so the pressure will really be on the Metro system. I may have to sketch Inaugural Day highlights, if Steve gets stuck.

  One prominent Floridian already in town– former Gov. & Sen. Bob Graham, who was taking grandkids to the “Newseum” today.  Sen. Graham (you address him as Senator here or anywhere else outside Florida, but in the Sunshine State, protocol demands you address him as Governor.  He told me that a few years ago.  Very few people pose that particular etiquette quandary.  His grandkids, as I recall, just call him “Doodle”).

  Other South Floridians are arriving.  I talked with Vivian Shelton today, the Miami-Dade schoolteacher who’s taking her granddaughters, age 5 & 7, to the inaugural ceremony.

  Jamaican-born Miami lawyer Marlon Hill is already here, jokingly describing DC weather as “wonderfully warm and cozy” in a text message
(and that was earlier, when temps were in the 20’s).

  And the Washington Post says one of the hottest Inauguration-night parties will be thrown by South FL developer Don Peebles, a member of Obama’s national finance team.  Peebles and wife Katrina will reportedly host a soiree at the Georgetown Club, Tuesday.  Peebles, a DC native, quoted as saying he’s made lots of new friends through the campaign and is hoping to “kind of help them in their transition.”

  I’m sure the transitioning will be  pleasant at the Georgetown Club.

DC– 3 Days Away
January 17, 2009

  Some initial impressions of Washington (I’m not doing TV until Monday, but am in town visiting relatives).

  It’s cold.  Bone-chilling cold. We tried to check out the Lincoln Memorial today (only to find it off-limits, due to construction of the stage for tomorrow’s mega-concert featuring Springsteen, Beyonce, and countless others). After a four-block walk from the car, not only was my 8-year-old crying, but he reported that his tears were frozen on his cheeks.  For the record– bank thermometer signs read 25-degrees, and there was about a 10 MPH wind.  Sunday is expected to be 10-degreees warmer.

  The city is busy, but not immobilized by inaugural visitors– yet.  Satellite trucks line the streets on the Mall.  Lots of technicians are tweaking the TV equipment, and the Jumbo-tron screens on which most visitors will see the swearing-in ceremony.

  Indeed, while I’ve covered the mad scramble for the 250,000 Inaugural ceremony tickets, I can tell you that the folks in the back of the ticketed section will have a far worse view of the proceedings than those a little farther back, who can watch the Jumbo-trons.

  I don’t know what the final attendance will be, but it does appear that early reports that locals would get mega-money to rent their houses to Inaugural visitors were overblown. I’m staying with a cousin who, at first, said he was hoping to rent his townhouse (3 blocks from the Capitol, a prime spot) for $15,000 for the week.

  He tells me now that most of his neighbors planned to do the same thing, but deep-pocketed visitors never actually got around to making the outrageous offers they were hoping for.  He says all his friends are doing what he’s doing– opening their homes to relatives coming to the Inauguration.

   I don’t know if the lack of a big-dollar rental market means that fewer people are coming, or just that visitors are being frugal and creative in making their travel arrangements. Vicki Hall, a Miami union official who’d originally said she’d sleep in her car if she had to, to see the swearing-in, found a $100-a-night hotel room an hour away a few days ago.  I talked with Vicki Saturday afternoon– she and her husband were driving on I-95, just crossing the South Carolina border.

  A bus company executive I spoke with a few days ago thought the tough economy had scuttled a lot of plans to attend the Inaugural festivities.  He was figuring on running 15 buses up to DC from south Florida.  He wound up filling five.

Senate Race Starting Gun
January 13, 2009

Cong. Kendrick Meek– in.  St. Sen. Dan Gelber, near-certain to enter the fray next week.  Cong. Alan Boyd, pondering a run for Senate.  State CFO Alex Sink, saying she’s doing due diligence, promising a decision soon, chuckling that the tension is killing her.  Cong. Ron Klein might also be interested.

And that’s just the Democrats.

Meek was first to announce.  He’ll have the backing of Bill Clinton, he said, and it appeared that one of Clinton’s financial angels is on board already.  Hugh Westbrook, who made a fortune in hospice care and was a six-figure political donor last year, was in Meek’s home just prior to his announcement.

Meek steadfastly refused to put a price tag on his Senatorial bid.  Gelber estimates a good primary run will cost $4-5 million.

Meek insisted that Barack Obama’s Florida victory was not a big factor in his decision to run.  He claimed Floridians have been ready for some time to elect diverse candidates, though Obama was the first African-American ever to carry the state.

Obama’s Florida campaign-meisters will face off against each other in this Senate contest.  Meek said he’s hired Steve Hildebrand– who was National Deputy Director of  Obama’s campaign– to strategize his senate campaign.  Hildebrand was dispatched to Florida during the fall, and teamed with State Director Steve Schale to put the Sunshine State in the Obama column.

Schale, meanwhile, is likely to run Gelber’s campaign.  He teamed with Gelber in 2006 , engineering a seven-seat pickup for the Democrats in the State House of Reps.

If  all possible contenders get in, this is a race that could be won with 30% of the vote, or even less.  Remember, there’s no second primary.

Each candidate would have clear strengths.  Boyd’s a panhandle blue-dog Democrat.  Sink’s a woman from the I-4 corridor (she’d be Florida’s second female Senator ever).  Meek would dominate the African-American vote.  Gelber and Klein would run strong with South Florida’s Jewish voters.

The Republican field– now that Jeb Bush is out of the picture– could be equally crowded.  Former House Speaker Marco Rubio is a near-lock to run, having told associates that if Jeb was out, he ‘d be in.

Others eying a bid–Attorney General Bill McCollum, who’d be making his third try for Senate;  Cong. Connie Mack III, hoping to succeed his father in the Senate; ex-House Speaker Allan Bense; House Majority Leader Adam Hasner; Sarasota Cong. Vern Buchanan.

It’s pretty wide-open on both sides, one reason why the declarations of candidacy have already begun.

“No We Can’t” Cruise
January 7, 2009

  The “Yes We Can 2009” cruise to the Obama inauguration has been spiked, due to anemic sales.

  Volunteers in the Lauderhill Obama for President office had dreamed up the cruise from Port Everglades to the Port of Baltimore, after realizing they needed places to stay and a way to get to the Inaugural Festivities on January 20th.

  They leased a cruise ship and gathered a travel-packaging corporate partner, but their efforts finally ran aground late last week.  Joseph Namphy, one of the organizers, said people just didn’t have the $1800 and 8 days to spend on the “Yes We Can” cruise.

  Namphy and the other Lauderhill Obamites have found an alternative for getting to Washington, though.  They’ve rented a bus that will take them to hotel accommodations outside DC.  The cost– about a third of the cruise tab.