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Lauderdale activists ask city chief to resign over offensive comments
Gay and lesbian residents asked Mayor Jim Naugle to resign Tuesday, as anger about the mayor's recent comments grows into a civic movement.About 40 people wearing yellow "Flush Naugle" T-shirts rallied outside City Hall on Tuesday, preface to a much larger rally planned there next week. In the skies above, an airplane dragged a banner demanding "Surrender Naugle" and advertising the Web site www.flushnaugle.org.
Naugle, who never was considered gay-friendly, touched off the controversy when he was quoted in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel this month saying he doesn't use the term "gay" because "they're unhappy" and claiming that the city has a problem with men using public restrooms for sex.
Naugle was commenting at the time about the city's plans to buy a $250,000 self-cleaning, robotic toilet for the beach. He said an added plus was that the toilet wouldn't become a cruising place for "homosexual activity," as he said typical multi-stall bathrooms are.
The robo-toilet quickly became a public target, and city commissioners Tuesday night voted unanimously to delete it from the proposed budget.
Naugle's comments were just more in a long line of inflammatory rhetoric that embarrasses Fort Lauderdale, gay activists said Tuesday. They pointed to Naugle's comments last year that housing would be affordable if people worked more jobs rather than sitting on the couch drinking beer.
Other leaders in the community sought to let the public know that Naugle's views aren't shared by everyone.
Nicki Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Visitor and Convention Bureau, said gay and lesbian tourists spent an estimated $1 billion here last year. She said she has responded to about a dozen e-mails about Naugle's comments, telling people that Broward does welcome gays and long ago "rolled out the rainbow carpet" for their tourism business.
Mitch Caesar, chairman of the Broward County Democratic Party, sent Naugle a critical letter asking him to "refrain from such behavior in the future."
"The Democratic Party, to which you technically belong, has a long history of supporting all groups and your actions as mayor of Fort Lauderdale seem inappropriate," he wrote.
The group that organized Tuesday's rally, Unite Fort Lauderdale, said it will host a larger protest outside City Hall next Tuesday, and will begin running ads today in local newspapers, including the Sun-Sentinel, to alert the public to its cause. The ads include a litany of mayoral quotes about gays, global warming and the Sun-Sentinel .
Former Vice Mayor Dean Trantalis, once a friendly colleague of the mayor's, rebuked him Tuesday for his hurtful comments, which he said "disgraced" the office.
Marti Forman, CEO of Cooperative Feeding Program, said she's spent years fighting people who have discriminatory thoughts toward others.
"Instead of focusing on how we are different, we need to focus on how we are similar," she said.
Upstairs in City Hall, Naugle said no apologies are forthcoming. "Apologize for what?" he asked.
Naugle is term-limited and will be out of city office in 2009.
"I'm a plain-speaking individual," he said. "People have elected me because I tell it like it is. I've been elected eight times."
Soon after the mayor convened Tuesday night's meeting, gay activist Michael Albetta stood up and shouted: "Mayor, we ask you, the city of Fort Lauderdale, to resign!"
"Thank you, I'm not resigning," the mayor calmly responded.
Brittany Wallman can be reached at email@example.com or 954-356-4541.