Glad I stayed home

Betsy’s wisdom kept me from the swamp in 1967. J. Herbert Burke, a Republican county commissioner in Broward County, Florida, had just been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, a freshman congressman at 53. I had been covering Herb Burke and his fellow commissioners for the Fort Lauderdale News for about a year. He asked me if I might be interested in coming with him to Washington to serve as his press secretary.

Betsy put her foot down. Our firstborn daughter was 2 years old, and her baby sister was still an infant. Betsy wanted to stay where we were. So did I, really. Moving to Washington was out of the question. She was right. We stayed, Herb Burke went to Washington, and within a few weeks, I had left the News for The Miami Herald, where I worked happily for 10 years before moving to Chapel Hill and joining the faculty of the School of Journalism at the University of North Carolina.

Burke went on to serve in Congress for 12 years, during which time he served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and its subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, the House Administration Committee and the Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control.

Unfortunately, Congressman Burke might best be remembered for his scrape with the law in 1978, when he was arrested and charged with disorderly intoxication and resisting arrest at the Centerfold Club, a dive on Federal Highway near Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport. The club featured nude dancers, and Burke was accused of pinching one of them on her bottom. He denied this, saying he was there to prevent a drug deal. Carl Hiassen, at one time my Miami Herald colleague, wrote about the incident in his novel Strip Tease, which later became a movie starring Burt Reynolds and Demi Moore.

The Centerfold at one time was known as the Banyan Club. In those days the Banyan had a reputation for unseemly carryings on. Local police raided it frequently, often finding prominent local citizens among its patrons when they got there.

I’m grateful to Betsy for her better judgment in keeping me out of Washington.  I might have owned the basic skills to be a press secretary, but I would have had a hard time mastering the art of coming up with alternative facts, whatever they are.

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