October 14, 2012 9:53 am
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By Michael Mayo
April 19, 2011 03:32 PM
In my Sunday column about the political corruption epidemic that’s rocked South Florida, I touched on the impact of the new breed of citizen activists that have taken to the Internet.
People like Chaz Stevens, whose My Acts of Sedition blog has thrown a spotlight on Deerfield Beach.
Now that another Deerfield Beach commissioner (Sylvia Poitier) has been criminally charged and suspended from office (joining past commissioner Steve Gonot and former mayor Al Capellini), I figured it was time to find out what makes someone like Stevens tick.
So in an unintentional nod to Passover, four questions for Stevens, along with his responses (slightly edited for brevity).
1) How gratifying has it been seeing the results of your work the last few years?
A. Let me answer this question by asking a question– besides myself and Fane Lozman (Google him, he’s amazing), name another “citizen corruption fighter”? No doubt there are others who do extremely wonderful work (Charlotte Greenbarg, Mike Butler, and Dave Smith quickly come to mind), but their gig isn’t solely corruption.
Think about a corrupt Government official — with their actions, they are breaking the law. Do you think they’ll go gently into the night? They are liable to push back, and push back hard. Hell, three weeks ago, Poitier wanted to raise cash to sue me for libel. By the way, I offered the first $250 for her fund. She never took me up on the proposition.
Last (week), officials from Deerfield Beach called me and indicated they were extremely concerned for my “physical safety”. I now have a BSO Deputy running by my house many times day and night.
For a private citizen to challenge the Establishment is not for the meek of heart. It is a Sisyphean task that requires nearly limitless courage.
By publishing MAOS, I’ve endured threats of physical violence, always having to be ready to deal with a SLAPP lawsuit, and traveling around town I’ve been taught to be “situationally aware.”
I was told my “heckling” Sylvia was unprofessional. Really? I spent thousands of hours over the last few years digging into Poitier for no pay. Last time I looked, my heckling might be the only “bonus” this job offers.
I am asked all the time — why spend thousands of hours fighting corruption instead of being outdoors playing golf. Why worry about the penalties about playing this game? The answer is that I find it to be a great mental challenge, and when you win like I did (last) week, it’s an amazing high. I’ve yet to land.
Also, what will be gratifying will be finishing up and publishing my book “Making A Difference” — an instructional guidebook that teaches amateur activists proven techniques for taking their fight from the kitchen table to city hall. It took years for me to learn the lessons I impart in this book, but I’ll deliver them in a text that readers can finish in just an hour.
2) What motivates you?
Complaining about citizen apathy is a common refrain. Yelling on the Internet is now vogue. But actually getting out there and making a difference? A very rare event.
Folks say I am “unusual”. I agree. I’d go as far as say I am completely nuts. To do what I do is not for the average person. It takes an extraordinarily special individual to stand up against corruption of any kind and say “not on my watch.” There are no whistleblower laws protecting me and what I do.
What sane person would spend all of their free time in the really thin hope that their work will bring down a corrupt politician? A corrupt politician who also happens to be a very powerful and well-loved woman?
With zero disrespect intended, one major advantage of being Mike Mayo versus Chaz Stevens is that you receive a paycheck, have benefits and a pension, and a major media establishment with a fleet of lawyers on call. Me? I got my Dad, my lawyers Tommy Wright and Spencer Siegel who freely support my effort, my laptop, and my dog.
What motivates me? No one else stepped to the plate and my parents taught me to do the right thing. Poitier diverted money for her family members — money that could have helped the poorest of the poor. That wasn’t right and I put a stop to it. What I do is for all of Deerfield Beach and hope a new and ETHICAL leader emerges from District 2 that really does care about the people he/she represents and not stealing their money.
3) Have you noticed a shift in how you’re perceived by politicians, officials, prosecutors. Is there a growing sense of respect (or fear) amongst those who might have initially belittled, discredited or ignored you?
Ya think? Hahahaha…
I always knew that I would be subjected to constant barrage of ad hominem attacks. I’ve factored that into my equation — firmly believing in my investigative work. A year ago it was Chaz Stevens lunatic. Now it’s Chaz Stevens lunatic who brought down three corrupt politicians.
Case in point, my work investigating the Deerfield Beach Housing Authority. That agency spent over $60,000 in 6 months for legal fees in an attempt to prevent a forensic auditing firm (Kessler) and myself from peering into their books. That game is afoot and I believe in the future will be more fodder for your column.
People in power have always been reading MAOS. And now? They are calling me.
Sure, I rip people apart on my blog, but when I deal with the SAO, FBI, or HUD, I deal in cold hard facts. This shows that I am able to have a inflammatory public persona and a very smooth private demeanor. Not only did I do the work to find Poitier’s criminal nonsense (which formed the basis of the SAO charging document), I was also able to get my complaint worked through the legal system…
4) Do you think this new age of Internet watchdog activism (where not just traditional media can dig out wrongdoing) will lead to better behavior by elected officials?
On the local level, I think that my brand of activism will have a profound effect on local Government. Folks on the dais are definitely minding their P’s and Q’s. In fact, here in Deerfield, I am the 6th man on the dais. My local officials know if they screw up, I’ll find out and there will be hell to pay.
But it is important to keep in mind your paper’s role. It is critical that activists like myself have a strong relationship with the mainstream media. I am more than happy to do the heavy lifting, but without your support (aka writing), getting the word out is that much more difficult.
Well, unless you have every TV station in S. Florida interview you! Thanks Sylvia for the amazing free press.•••
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