Sore Winner

Bruce Kaplan won his county commission race this past spring, but don't look for him when hey're handing out the Mr. Nice Guy awards

As Metro commission meetings go, this one was running relatively smoothly. Commissioners had agreed to ask voters to consider a new property tax, with the money to be earmarked to fight juvenile crime. They passed an anti-graffiti ordinance and a measure urging the federal government to build a new commissary at Homestead Air Force Base. It was a little past 7:30 p.m. on November 3, and all that was left to do was for each commissioner to announce any new appointments to the county's numerous voluntary boards and committees.

Having revamped the committee structure earlier in the year, the thirteen commissioners have been faced with the task of selecting more than 700 people to fill various posts. Depending on the size of the board, each commissioner gets to appoint one or two people. And with so many positions to fill, it has been a matter of custom that choices are approved without question.

And so it went during this meeting, with each commissioner's nominees winning swift ratification by colleagues without discussion or debate. Until Commission Chairman Art Teele reached the eighth name on his list of twelve.

"Mr. Chairman, I object to your appointment to the Film, Television, and Print Board," announced Commissioner Bruce Kaplan.

The person Kaplan found irksome was Jacqueline Basha, whom Teele sought to reappoint to the Film, Print and Broadcast Advisory Board, which seeks to promote Dade County as a locale for movies, TV shows, and photo shoots. A member of the board for the past year, Basha has worked as a political consultant in Dade for more than a decade, along with her husband Phil Hamersmith.

"Mr. Chairman, I would no more appoint someone who would go on TV as recently as two weeks ago and call you a criminal, than I'm sure you would appoint someone who had done that to me, as Ms. Basha has," Kaplan asserted, claiming that Basha had made derogatory comments about him while a guest of Michael Putney on WPLG-TV Channel 10's This Week in South Florida. Specifically, Kaplan fumed, Basha had branded him "a criminal" for the way he ran his commission campaign against Conchy Bretos in the spring. Both Basha and Hamersmith had worked for Bretos.

"I think that anybody that has exhibited very personal, continuing, and virulent animus toward any member of this commission is not qualified and they should not be permitted to serve on any one of these boards," charged Kaplan, whose district includes parts of Miami Beach and Little Havana. "This is a collegial body, Mr. Chairman, and if somebody is to be accorded the honor of serving on any one of these boards, then they ought to respect A they ought to respect each and every member of this board that appoints them."

His indignation rising, Kaplan continued, "We're not trying to turn this into a political football, Mr. Chairman. But I'll tell you what: Somebody who went on the Michael Putney show and accused me of being a criminal certainly in my mind doesn't fit the bill of being qualified to serve on any board in this county."

Teele clearly was taken aback. "I will take your objection under advisement," the chairman said. "I'd like to speak to Ms. Basha. As a courtesy to you, I will defer making that appointment." But he admonished Kaplan to be careful. "We should seek not a political agenda," he said. "I can tell you right now, ladies and gentlemen, when you all start letting people impose objections over you, the collegiality [of the commission] is going to break down real quick."

"I've got the tape in my office!" Kaplan bellowed as the meeting drew to a close. "I'll be happy to show you."

Jacqueline Basha didn't learn about the controversy until later that night, when she arrived home to hear a half-dozen answering machine messages from people who had seen Kaplan's outburst. The next morning she got a videotape of the commission meeting and watched as Kaplan lambasted her from the dais. "I was shocked," says Basha. "I have never before seen a county commissioner use his power like this to attack a private citizen. I wasn't even there to defend myself. It is a very dangerous precedent."

Basha says what surprised her most were Kaplan's accusations regarding This Week in South Florida A on which she was a guest along with Phil Hamersmith and Miami Herald political editor Tom Fiedler A which were utterly inaccurate. "I have never spoken about him in public in a negative way," she says.

In fact, a review of the September 5 segment of This Week in South Florida reveals that Basha only mentioned Kaplan once. During the twenty-minute discussion, which concerned an in-depth article that had appeared recently in the Herald's Tropic magazine, Basha complained that one of Kaplan's campaign workers also worked at Radio Mambi. That fact, she added, may have accounted for the Spanish-language radio station's harsh attacks on Bretos. She made no allegation of any "criminal" activity whatsoever.

Basha says Kaplan called her husband the day after the commission meeting and suggested the three of them meet to declare a truce. He also admitted, according to Basha, that he never actually watched Basha's appearance on This Week in South Florida. "He takes all of this very lightly," she says. "Like it's all some sort of joke. Well, I don't take a tarnish on my reputation lightly. Because of the very loud and public statements he made against me, I think it will always create a little doubt with other commissioners."

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