Larry Hawkins The Man Who Loved Women

Vietnam left him paralyzed and in constant pain. But his female co-workers -- who have spent the past fifteen years fending off unwanted advances and inappropriate comments -- say his greatest handicaps are from the neck up.

"Larry is in a constant war with women," says Susann Wild. "He loves women, but he always seems to be at odds with them." Wild and Hawkins first met in Tallahassee in 1979. As a travel agent, she had many clients who were politicians, and she prided herself on taking special care of her influential customers -- upgrades to first class, short layovers, VIP treatment. Hawkins soon found his way to her door, and she was eager to be of assistance.

Wild had been making his travel arrangements for several months when Hawkins ran into her one night in a bar near the capitol. She was there talking to a couple of lobbyists, she recalls, and Hawkins rolled up behind her, reached under her skirt, and grabbed her. "I turned around and I slugged him," Wild says. Hawkins seemed unfazed. "He thought this was all great fun," she remembers. "I said, 'Larry, you've embarrassed me and you've belittled me and I don't work with people like that.'" Wild told Hawkins to find himself another travel agent, and stormed out of the bar. After three months of what she guesses was lousy service from the other travel agents, Hawkins began calling her and apologizing profusely. Eventually she took him back as a client.

As she sits in her West Dade living room recounting this fifteen-year-old incident, Wild explains she's doing so not to humiliate Hawkins but to show that there are lessons to be learned from dealing with him. "He plays with women to see what he can get away with," she says candidly. "But the problem often is that the women don't know how to handle it. They go along until it's too late, and then they feel trapped. After that [episode in the bar], he never did anything to me because I wouldn't put up with it. And he knew that." This firmly established understanding allowed for a friendship that led Wild in 1984 to join Hawkins's staff. She helped run his district office in South Dade while he was in Tallahassee. "Larry's good points far outweigh the bad," she insists. "Larry was a hero. He may be a dirty old man, but he was a war hero."

Another woman who worked for Hawkins while he was in the legislature, and who asked that her name not be used in this article, says she never personally felt sexually harassed by him, but she does recall plenty of occasions on which he would remark upon the appearance of women around him. "He'd say things like, 'My, you've got a good-looking pair of breasts.' Or 'You have a cute ass.' He's always made dumb comments," she recalls. "That's more for attention than sexual fulfillment. His biggest problem is he's got too much mouth. He's never sexually matured much past the age of twenty. He just thinks he's cute. If he would only put it in perspective -- who he is and how old he is."

She disagrees with the notion that Hawkins says the things he does because of some chronic need to assert his authority. "I don't think he has a power complex where he does it to twist or demean women," the former employee continues. "He loves women. The bottom line with him is he doesn't think. He doesn't think. And the sad part is I think Larry does a good job. He's just a child."

After serving eight years in the legislature, Hawkins embarked on a new adventure in 1986 -- he ran for state education commissioner. More precisely, he wheeled for the position, nearly 1200 miles. Hawkins set out from the northwest corner of the state, at the Florida-Alabama border, propelled himself east to the Atlantic Ocean, then zigzagged his way south. Averaging about 30 miles a day, and campaigning at every opportunity, he took nearly two months to complete the journey. Though he was applauded for his physical accomplishment, he finished second in the Democratic primary.

Hawkins, however, didn't remain politically idle for long. A reform movement was sweeping across Dade County, and he was encouraged to join the 1988 race for the county commission. He ran successfully against Clara Oesterle, a veteran commissioner from South Dade.

As a county commissioner Hawkins has excelled. He is known for his meticulous preparation and planning, and his skills as a politician are envied by many on the commission and have earned him the sobriquet "Deals on Wheels." He has been a tireless advocate for the disabled, and while he was chairman of the commission's health and human services committee, he was cited for his commitment to Jackson Memorial Hospital and the health concerns of Dade's indigent population. Before the State of Florida had a family-leave law on the books, Hawkins led the fight to have Dade County pass a similar measure, guaranteeing most employees time off following the birth of a child. Next week the county commission is expected to pass another of Hawkins's proposals -- an ordinance to protect consumers from unscrupulous moving and storage companies.

But it is Hawkins's personal behavior, not his political acumen, that may determine his future. Signs of trouble arose almost from the outset. For example, in 1989, while Hawkins was chairman of the county's internal management committee, he announced during a meeting a number of changes on the commission's general staff. (As head of internal management, Hawkins controlled personnel who worked for the commission as a whole.) One of those changes involved the reassignment of a secretary named Amilada Clerveau, a move that was seen as a demotion. Following the meeting, as commissioners left the dais for their offices, Clerveau sat sobbing at her desk. She had no idea she was about to be transferred, and heard it for the first time when Hawkins publicly announced it.

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