Daniel Ruth

Norman's either clueless or conniving

If you believe the Bermuda Triangle exists and Yoko Ono is a great singer, perhaps you also will buy Jim Norman's huge pile of hooey. Norman, the Big Daddy of the Hillsborough County Commission, wishes to ascend to the Florida Senate, where he can continue his life's work as a lawn jockey for development interests across the state.

Things were looking swell for the commissioner's ambitions after easily knocking off state Rep. Kevin Ambler in the Republican primary election. That left Norman with less serious opposition than the Tampa Bay Rays' David Price taking the mound against the Academy of the Holy Names.

Alas, on his way to Tallahassee, Norman ran into a ditch stretching from Tampa to Arkansas.

Instead of working on his Rolodex of contributors to his political future, Norman finds himself heading to court in a few days to fight off an effort by Ambler to remove the commissioner's name form the November ballot because of a shady Arkansas real estate deal.

At issue is why an undisclosed group of "investors" would fork over $435,000 to Norman's wife, Mearline, to buy a nice spread in Arkansas. All sorts of people want to know the answer — Ambler, a judge, reporters, lawyers, the FBI.

And so far, Norman, the Sgt. Schultz of the Hillsborough County Commission, isn't saying much. He feebly argues that his wife, who has no known means of gainful employment, is entitled to conduct her own private business affairs. Beyond that he knows nothing, which considering the commissioner's grasp of issues while in office might be a plausible defense.

Ambler has taken Norman to court, claiming his primary opponent is unfit to be elected because he did not disclose the $435,000 gratuity to his wife. The lawmaker argues it was actually a loan from the late conservative businessman Ralph Hughes, who made the payment shortly before he went to that great tea party in the sky.

Norman will neither confirm or deny — remember, he is admittedly clueless — that the money came from Hughes, which if it did certainly begins to look at least like a kissing cousin to — ahem — a bribe.

Some defenders of Norman have argued Ambler's gambit is little more than "gutter politics," the act of a "drowning man who is reaching for a stick and grabbing a wet spaghetti noodle." And all of that may be true. But it doesn't mean Ambler doesn't have a valid point.

In order for Norman's fellow travelers to argue their man is as pure as the driven snow meets Bambi, here is what one has to believe. You have to believe something like this occurred between the Normans.

Mearline: "Oh honey, guess what happened today my little snookum pie? Some nice people gave me $435,000 to buy a house in Arkansas."

Big Daddy: "That's nice my darling kumquat. Can you pass me the tuna hot dish?"

Well, it could have happened that way!

You have to accept a county commissioner was deliriously oblivious about his wife's purchase of a lavish $435,000 home without ever bothering to ask her where the money came from, who gave it to her and what if any terms — or quid pro quo — were expected in exchange for the investor's largesse.

And if — as Ambler asserts — the cold, dark fingers of Ralph Hughes can be found anywhere near this transaction, how does Norman explain how it came about that a chap for whom he served as practically the magnate's own personal county commissioner could give Norman's wife hundreds of thousands of dollars for a real estate investment without his knowledge?

Instead Norman continues to hide behind his wife's hoop skirt.

In the most elegantly simple terms, either Jim Norman has been more compromised than Heidi Fleiss or he is so out to lunch he couldn't find his tuckus with the help of NASA, Lewis & Clark and Charles Lindbergh. Either way, it's not pretty.

After Hughes checked out to that gas bag in the sky, Norman led the charge to name the county's Moral Courage Award for a man who bullied his way to prominence through checkbook intimidation and turned out to owe tons of money to the IRS.

Norman could fess up and explain the circumstances behind the $435,000 loan. You know, do the right thing ahead of his political career. But that would require some moral courage. That's a subject the commissioner knows even less about than real estate deals.

Norman's either clueless or conniving 09/27/10 [Last modified: Monday, September 27, 2010 7:29pm]

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