Battle by Proxy

Environmentalist George Barley's untimely death has impoverished the fight to save the Everglades. But look out, Big Sugar! Here comes Mary!

Environmentalists in Florida and Washington, D.C., say the absence of Barley's immediate, in-your-face presence will unquestionably be felt. "He was a very aggressive and forceful environmentalist," says David Guest, managing attorney for the Florida office of the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund. "He didn't hesitate to attack when he felt like it. As a result, he got an awful lot done in a short period of time. But he also left people who felt badly about him."

He occasionally annoyed fellow environmental activists with his brusque manner and his fixation on Big Sugar. ("I think Mary will be a good ambassador," comments Nathaniel Reed, "because she has one skill that George did not have, which is finesse.") But realizing the rarity of his species in the financially strapped and politically impoverished environmental movement, many of his allies excused him his sometimes tactless offenses. Indeed, he was a valued contributor to several groups. "He was really interested in pursuing the agenda he set up. To the extent that organizations could achieve their goals as well as his own, he'd work with them," says South Florida businessman and environmentalist Alan Farago. "He was good at identifying the weaknesses and strengths in environmental organizations and acted in some ways as a conductor on his various initiatives."

Mary Barley, who labored alongside her husband, plans to continue doling out the Barley largess. And the war against Big Sugar, she asserts, is still on. After only a brief pause following her husband's death, Barley got to work. In the past few weeks, she has met with environmentalists and politicians from around the state, networked by phone, and circulated memoranda to various players in the business, political, and environmental communities.

"My main focus for the next six months is working with all these coalitions to see if we can't get some significant order," she says. Her organization will continue to concentrate on the sugar price-subsidy issue and to rustle up support among elected officials, very few of whom have publicly supported the effort. To this end, Barley says she will keep two Washington, D.C., lobbyists on the Everglades Trust payroll.

"The issue is not to try to fill George's shoes," Barley says. "We just have to expand on his ideas, bring them to fruition. A lot of things he worked for are now consolidating. We're just going to have to have more elbows at the table.

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