By Liz Herbert Joyner, Executive Director, The Village Square, Inc.
The Village Square, a partnership with The Community Foundation of North Florida, seeks to foster civil civic dialog through live forums and Web platforms, including a wiki.
It was ten years ago last week that America woke up without a president-elect, in what was to become the 37 bizarre days of legal wrangling and political brinkmanship we know as the Florida Recount. To mark the anniversary, Knight Community Information Challenge project The Village Square brought together seven of the central players in the drama that riveted America in the most challenging transition of power in American’s history. The event received national press coverage.
Panelists included Florida Supreme Court Justices Jorge Labarga and retired Justice Harry Lee Anstead, Judge Nikki Ann Clark and Terry Lewis who both issued key rulings in the case, George W. Bush’s lead Florida counsel Barry Richard, Leon County Election Supervisor Ion Sancho who was responsible for organizing a statewide recount and Craig Waters, the man who became the face of the drama when he walked onto the steps of the Florida Supreme Court to announce each ruling to crowds of angry partisans and the world.
Panelists recounted personal tales: Justice Labarga was forced to borrow a courtroom when he heard the infamous Palm Beach butterfly ballot case that featured a huge palm tree with hanging fruit. Born in Cuba, he imagined Jay Leno spoofing “Carmen Miranda” along the lines of the Dancing Judge Itos of O.J. Simpson fame. Craig Waters told of inadvertently making his Aunt Ethel famous after mentioning he’d be spending Thanksgiving with her. The BBC wanted to cover the dinner live and the Miami Herald published her menu.
Despite the common wisdom that made Florida the target of jokes, the panel spoke of the strength of the American system of government that, despite a razor-thin vote margin and passions that ran high, enabled a peaceful settlement of the dispute.
The historic event was covered by The Associated Press, streamed live by The Tallahassee Democrat and recorded by News Service of Florida and WFSU public radio. You can view a pictorial history assembled for the anniversary here.