DeGroot On His Old Friend, Ken Jenne

John DeGroot has covered Ken Jenne as a reporter and worked under him as a trusted aide, until the PowerTrac debacle ripped them apart. Here is DeGroot's take on King Ken's fall and his similarities -- and, more strikingly, differences -- with another political giant in these parts, Bob Butterworth:

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In the end, I was filled with sadness over former Sheriff Ken Jenne’s fall from power and grace as Broward’s most powerful politician.

For me, it was like seeing your former high school prom queen busted as a crack whore on the wrong side of town.

Ten years ago, if you’d asked me to name the elected public officials I’d come to know best and trust the most during my years as a local journalist, they would have been:

- Bob Butterworth, then Florida Attorney General and former Broward Sheriff, judge, reform Mayor of Sunrise and the man who integrated Florida’s Highway Patrol.

- And Ken Jenne, then a State Senator, a former Broward Commissioner, and the Executive Director of the first Broward Charter Commission that helped draft the county’s current former of government.

I first met Butterworth and Jenne when I was an investigative reporter for the now defunct Fort Lauderdale News, which was then Broward’s largest paper.

This was in 1973 when Butterworth and Jenne were two young Broward Assistant State Attorney’s assigned to investigate corruption in local government – a task which they performed with the fearless tenacity of youth, over-turning rocks, generating heat and gaining a great deal of print (much of which I wrote).

The dynamics between reporters and investigators have changed a great deal during the past 30-plus years, but back then Butterworth, Jenne and I routinely traded information we’d dug up believing we were “on the same side.”

As an aside, I’ve been credited as the reporter who dubbed the two young investigators “Batman and Robin” in my stories – Butterworth being the older and taller, Jenne the younger and very much shorter.

But that, as Edward Albee once wrote, is all “blood under the bridge.”

The point is, I’ve known the two men – and their considerable differences --- for more than 30 years.

Of the two, Butterworth was and is by far and away more intelligent and introspective – while Jenne excelled at a certain feral cleverness that served him well in the political arena.

As a former Florida High School State Chess Champion, Butterworth plotted his every move with careful caution and thought.

Jenne was a brilliant (but impulsive) broken-field runner who could

tap-dance around any opponent dumb enough to take him on.

Butterworth was rarely driven to anger – and then usually over a perceived injustice to someone unable to defend themselves.

Jenne had a well known short fuse – easily ignited by any perceived threat to his authority.

Many believed Butterworth and Jenne remained “close” over the years. They were wrong.

Rather, the two maintained a kind of alliance similar to rival feudal lords, each well aware there was little to gain – and much too loose – if one took the field against the other, which Jenne once did against Buttterworth. This was back when Butterworth first ran for the Florida Attorney General’s Office and Jenne pledged his full support – only to become a Robin-turned-Judas by raising campaign funds for Butterworth’s primary opponent.

No matter.

Butterworth chose to forget Jenne’s broken promise and continue their détente of mutual accommodation. But then Butterworth was never one to toss the chess board during a crucial match with a disingenuous opponent..

Finally, both men were (and are) workaholics, as I was (and am).

Why?

Probably because, from our first meeting, the three of us shared the same Post War Boomer need to make things “right” -- I as a journalist Jeremiah, Butterworth and Jenne each a political Moses.

In short, like many Boomers, we were (and are) more than a tad Messianic:

- Butterworth as a chess master driven to solve complex problems and systems.

- Jenne as a diminutive general driven to master and control.

- I as a journalist driven to achieve both through the power of print.

All of which made us classic, reform-driven Boomer Liberals.

However.

Of the three of us, Butterworth was (and is) by far and away the better Liberal and the better man – this because he was the one most willing to delegate and trust. And also because Butterworth was (and is) the most introspective – and the least in need of empowerment via applause.

Summing it up: Butterworth’s blessed with humility, unlike Jenne and I.

But enough vivisection.

Let’s just say Bob likes writing the music, while Ken and I need to lead the band – although we all marched to the Liberal beat of the same Messianic tune.

Anyhow, for various complex reasons, the three of us have remained “connected” for more than 30 years.

What’s more, we each share certain secret strengths and flaws – which will remain forever unspoken.

That said, I will always “owe” Ken Jenne and Bob Butterworth.

How so?

Butterworth for what he taught me and his undemanding friendship.

Jenne for enabling me to leave journalism.

I left the Sun-Sentinel in 1998 to join Jenne as a paid confidant within days after he became Broward’s Sheriff.

To be honest, I should have left the Sun-Sentinel years before – having lost any respect for the newspaper’s bonus-obsessed management who cared far more about their stockholders than their readers. Trouble was, I lacked the courage. Plus, South Florida was and is the only place where I’ve felt “at home.” What’s more, the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post were reluctant to give me a job due to my very public history as an ex-drunk. (I wouldn’t have hired me either.)

My job with Jenne was simple enough: We would use his high-profile and political clout as Sheriff to win the Governor’s race in 2004 by creating an image of Ken Jenne as a tough cop and able administrator with a strong social conscience.

In retrospect, as well-laid political plans go, Jenne in the Governor’s mansion made more sense than America in Iraq.

Jenne gave me the broad title of “policy analyst” – a euphemism vague enough to cover my role as a doctor of spin.

I took the job gratefully with the clear understanding that my relationship with Ken would be based on the truth; He would never lie to me, nor I to or FOR him. It was an agreement sealed with a handshake.

In addition, as an ex-drunk in “recovery,” I was naïve and ego-driven enough to hope I might make a positive dent in creating programs for the hundreds of mentally ill and thousands of substance abusers swelling BSO’s jail population. (Looking back, what little I did was worth diddlee-squat.)

I spent a year working for Jenne and then went to work for our mutual friend Bob Butterworth who’d just been re-elected to his final four years as Florida’s Attorney General.

The reason I switched from Jenne for Butterworth were simple enough:

Jenne had other spin doctors far better than I While Butterworth offered me the chance to do some real world research and policy analysis.In retrospect, my years with Butterworth were among the most rewarding ones in my life. Thanks to Bob’s grace and brilliance, I was able to make life a bit better for a great many people. (Something I hadn’t done for years as a reporter or editor in the emerging whoredom of Corporate Journalism.)

Better yet, Butterworth never lied to me, nor I to him.

Doubly better, Butterworth never once asked me to do anything that made me uncomfortable.

True, we often argued. Sometimes heatedly. But it was always behind closed doors that we debated our personal truth.

Bottom line?

Bob Butterworth blessed me with his respect and his trust -- priceless gifts which I’ve been given by only one other man in my life.

Jenne had become a different man when I re-joined BSO after Butterworth was term-limited out of office in 2002.

I’m not sure what caused the change.

Possibly Lord Acton was right about absolute power as a source of corruption.

Personally, I don’t believe the changes in Jenne were not caused by something that simple. True, I have my opinions. However opinions are like belly buttons in that all of us have them. So why should you care about mine?

So….

With that caveat, I found the 2002 model Ken Jenne was far more secretive, paranoid and angry than before – and, in many ways, far less confident..

All of which is how and why I believe Ken Jenne fell from grace.

First, by bullshitting himself and the public by distorting BSO’s crime stats to make BSO appear miraculously better than any other major law enforcement agency in the nation. (Which is how and why Jenne and I parted company, never to speak to each other again after I called Broward’s most powerful politician and my long-time friend a shameless liar.)

But an ocean of blood has flowed under the bridge since then.

Did I begin to suspect the man of even more egregious sins than his self-aggrandizing, statistical bullshit that, caused our falling out?.

Yes.

Little by slowly, I began connecting certain dots which I’d chosen to ignore in the past – which eventually led me to share both my doubts and certain data with the Broward State Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Justice Department.

But again, that’s all blood under the bridge.

While Ken Jenne appears stripped of power and headed for jail.

Leaving me filled with sorrow over all that might have been.

Because the sad thing of it is (and was), the Good Ken Jenne did far outweighed the Bad. Period. And no one will ever convince me otherwise.

May he one day find the peace and comfort that have eluded the man for all 60 years of his remarkable life.

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