Hamilton Forman Was One-Of-A-Kind


(In addition to this written today, Sun-Sentinel.com has posted a story I wrote years ago on Hamilton Forman. Some of the information below is similar to the material in my Sun-Sentinel story.  You might want to look at the Sun-Sentinel story, too.)


If Broward County ever had a king, his name was Hamilton Forman.

Others may have had more influence for a few months or a few years. No single individual has affected Broward’s development and politics for as long – or with as much lasting effect.

The Nova schools including Nova Southeastern University are part of Forman’s legacy.  He determined the route of Florida’s Turnpike. Forman almost single-handedly integrated Broward’s public hospitals and built them into world-class facilities.

From the 1940s to 2000, Forman and his family controlled politics in Broward.  Coming from Washington to Tallahassee, the pols trooped to his door to win Forman’s support.  He controlled the Legislative Delegation.  He controlled the courthouse. He controlled the county commission. He controlled Port Everglades.  He controlled many city halls.

He was known simply as “Ham.  King Hamilton I.  

And a nod of his Panama hat would spell success or failure for a political career.

Today’s political landscape is salted with insiders who owe their careers to him.

“There is no one who had so much influence for so long, Property Appraiser Lori Parrish told me a decade ago.

Lawyers Mitchell Berger, William “Bill Scherer, Karen and Bill Amlong got their starts doing legal work for Forman.  Berger is a national fund raiser for the Democrats, while Scherer is a major Republican fund raiser. The Amlongs are leading civil and employee rights lawyers.

Developer Jack Loos, who’s imprint is all over Broward, is a partner of the Formans.  Political consultant Judy Stern got her start working for the Formans.  

Dale Ross, former county chief judge, is a childhood friend of Forman’s son, Austin Forman. For many years was the head of a courthouse dominated by Forman-backed judges.  

Jim Kane, who contributes to Browardbeat.com and is a nationally-respected pollster who teaches at the University of Florida, did his first polls for Forman’s political machine.  



Much of Forman’s initial influence stemmed from his wallet. He had a multi-millionaire fortune built around real estate at a time when Broward had few big spenders willing to throw their money into politics.

His techniques extended beyond the checkbook. Forman had all the elements for political success money, access to voters and know-how.

For instance, years before anybody else noticed, Forman saw that South Florida’s sprawling condominium complexes could be mined for votes and power.
He set out to make friends there.

In the Sun-Sentinel I quoted Amadeo “Trinchi” Trinchitella, the late political leader at Century Village of Deerfield Beach whose word could sway up to 7,500 Democratic voters there: “He’s my mentor.”

Forman was an expert in forging alliances with whoever he thinks can help him – no matter how unlikely it may appear. The conservative, the deeply religious Forman made friends in the mid-1970s with Karen Coolman, now Karen Amlong, who described herself as a “fiery feminist when they met.

Through Amlong, Forman met a new generation of Democratic activists becoming influential in Broward of the 1970s.  

Sam Fields, a lawyer and Browardbeat.com guest columnist, recalls being at a meeting of feminists decades ago.  Forman had been invited and some of the women grumbled.

The late former state Rep. Linda Cox, a Forman ally, snapped: “Ham moved more from where he was than anybody else I know.  He can really help us.

The women shut up.


The courtly Forman, who drawled complements and favors if he liked you, could also play very hard ball politics.

Kane recounted recently one of the fabled Forman victories.

Ferncrest Village, which was located near the intersection of Interstate-595 and Davie Road, was a Forman fiefdom.  The town contained Forman-owned land and little else.

The town was created in 1953 so Forman and his family could control their own zoning on their sprawling dairy farm.

In 1970, eight GOP state representatives voted to abolish Ferncrest Village. Forman felt he was being singled out for being a Democrat.  He vowed revenge.

He found candidates to run against the eight Republicans.  Then, he quietly purchased a small newspaper.

Just days before the Republican primary every one Broward’s GOP voters received a copy of the newspaper which featured numerous stories attacking the incumbents.

Five of the eight Republican incumbents were beaten by Forman-backed candidates.  The new Legislative Delegation owed its allegiance to Forman.


The Forman story started April 3, 1919, when he was born to dairy farmer Hamilton M. Forman and wife, Blanche Forman.

The family lived on the edge of the Everglades in what is now downtown Davie.  Government, centered in far away downtown Fort Lauderdale, tended to look down upon the rugged pioneers in west Broward.   

Forman always told me that the family got into politics out of self-preservation.

Drainage was a major problem, but the downtown crowd wasn’t concerned about the farm fields flooding. West Broward needed roads, but the downtown boys put the transportation money in the east.

The young Forman learned politics from his Dad.  They would deliver political fliers along with fresh milk.

Forman saw how a few dollars handed out to candidates made a difference.

He learned. 


It was a trip to California in 1939 that changed Forman’s life. He saw new subdivisions, shopping centers and a booming economy being built on real estate and warm weather.

He started buying property, picking up thousands of acres from folks who couldn’t see Florida’s future.

He added that new property to the family’s Davie farm.

Forman became one of the richest men in Broward.


State transportation planners in the early 1950s wanted to build Florida’s Turnpike near where Interstate 95 is now and had decided only three interchanged and very few overpasses would serve Fort Lauderdale.

Forman and his family believed the new road would wall off west Broward from east Broward because of the lack of interchanges.

Although his own land would have been served by State Road 84, Forman sued.  Rather than face years of delays, the state caved in.   

The turnpike was built west of U.S. 441 through south and central Broward, and the transportation department added overpasses and underpasses. West Broward remained accessible.


In 1942, the Forman’s heeded the call of their nation.  The Navy needed land for building a training field for pilots and the Forman’s had plenty of land.

They sold over 300 acres of land at $25-an-acre near the current site of the Nova schools.  The base was named Forman Field.  

After the Navy was finished with the land, the Forman’s wanted it given to the Broward County School Board.  The Navy wanted to sell it.

But the Forman’s had a powerful political ally —  U.S. Sen. George Smathers.

Smathers owed the Formans. They backed him with thousands of dollars in the combative race against U. S. Sen. Claude Pepper in 1950.

The Navy quickly found a way to give the land to the School Board.

Forman next went to work to fulfill one of his dreams. He would create an educational complex which would teach students from kindergarten through college.

It became a reality. No doubt, his own land surrounding the schools benefitted.  So did the public.   

Without Forman, there would have been no Nova complex and no Nova Southeastern University.

One of the Nova elementary schools is named for his mother.  The auditorium of Nova High is named for him.


Forman was appointed to the governing board of the North Broward Hospital District in 1961. It would become one of his biggest triumphs and the font of even bigger political power.

He became acting director of the public system. The hospitals went from a loss of $ 154,000 in 1961 to a profit of $ 750,000 in 1962.

At a time when segregation was a way of life, Forman had alliances with leaders in the black community.

A black Fort Lauderdale activist had taken ill. That meant entering the hospital district’s all-black Provident Hospital.

She called Forman and complained that Provident was “killing her with substandard health care, Forman told me in an interview for the Sun-Sentinel.

Forman got her transferred to Holy Cross Hospital. He then closed Provident and moved its patients to what is now Broward General Medical Center.

That effectively ended segregation in Broward’s public health care.

Forman dominated Broward’s public health care for three decades from 1961 to 1990.  During this period, he pushed through construction of Imperial Point and Coral Springs hospitals and over a dozen clinics.

Gov. Lawton Chiles refused to reappoint Forman to the Hospital District in 1990.  Forman had opposed Chiles’ election.

The public no doubt benefitted from Forman’s health care legacy.  So did Forman’s political power.

He learned that the District physicians and professional staff were a gold mine of political contributions, which he could steer to favored candidates. The District helped make the Forman political machine even more powerful.


Forman didn’t retire after leaving the hospital district, although he did find time to travel more and enhance his famed antiquity collection.  

He started the Charter School of Excellence in southeast Fort Lauderdale, an “A school.  He got the Florida Legislature to require a course teaching character in public schools.


Ham could be vicious and vengeful. He never forgave Chiles for removing him from the hospital district and constantly tried to leak damaging information about the governor to me some of which checked out and some didn’t.

Yes, he was accused of inside dealing at the District.  

He also gave back to the community.  He loved Broward.

If you were his friend, he was a friend for life.

At 29 in the early 1970s, James Holmes won the seat on the Broward county court with Forman’s help and served for three years, resigning to enter private practice.

By the 1980s, Holmes was strung out. By the 1990s, he was disbarred.

Forman stood by him through it all, helping him get new jobs, getting him into rehab and trying to get him clean.

When Holmes, 56, died of alcoholism in a dingy motel in 2000 from a ruptured esophagus, Forman told me he felt he failed.

But he didn’t.

He did all he could.  He cared.  

He was the type of old-style politician, with a courtly charm and a true respect for people that I don’t see much of today.  And sadly, I won’t see again.

9 Responses to “Hamilton Forman Was One-Of-A-Kind”

  1. suzanne says:

    What a load of crap!

  2. Cindy C. says:

    I have had a totally different perspective. And, its not a good one.
    Start by looking at the lawyer who monopolized the hospital district’s legal work for years and became very rich because of it. Was that a good thing?
    That happened thanks to Ham.

  3. shekfu says:

    your best work ….

  4. Doctor Joe says:

    Ham took the Hospital District into the modern era. We worked harder because we were providing the best health care to the public and all of it was because of Ham. He had the foresight to realize that West Broward would need a public hospital and he built Coral Springs Medical Center before almost anybody lived out there. He had plans for another hospital in Sunrise, but the privates crowded him out before it could get built. There is a fine medical center in Weston and Broward General is one of the best facilities in the SE. It was a sad day when Ham left the district and today is a sad day because Ham left us all.

  5. frank icanosty says:

    Though I am much closer in age to Hamilton Forman’s sons than to the man himself, I did some business with Hamilton in the mid-90’s. I never cared greatly for his politics or for the influence-peddling, but I do believe that the Ham’s goals were never purely personal. His position with the hospital district supplied him great power which he used effectively, but at the same time he seemed truly interested in making the district as efficient and accessible as possible.

    He was a humble and charming man. We used to meet for lunch in the small private room of a restaurant on 17th street–I came to like the restaurant and started going there for dinner and found out later from the staff that he often lunched in that little room with some of the most powerful people in Florida, but that all of his guests [including me, a nobody businessman at the time who was less than half Ham’s age] were treated with the same kindness and consideration. I also remember calling his office and getting the recorded message, a woman’s stentorian voice announcing, “You have reached the offices of THE FORMANS” as if there was only one set of Formans that anyone in Florida would ever be attempting to reach. The Democratic political machine in South Florida is terribly corrupt and a general pain in my ass, but I always had a tremendously hard time lumping Ham in with all of the two-bit hustlers that stepped into the vacuum left by his retirement [including his son Austin]. Hamilton Forman was an elegant man, and I hope he rests in peace.

  6. charles says:

    my recollections of mr forman are not very pleasant. he tried to destroy the city of parkland after he did not get his way on building an apartment project on his land in an area not appropriate for what he wanted to build. he tried to get the city charter revoked along with the old coral ridge properties firm.he was not successful in getting the city disbanded but did get his property de annexed from the city. it is now a broward county park and he was paid handsomely for it by broward county.his cronies im sure had something to do with that. and to this day parkland has a park with the forman family name on it, although many new residents have no idea what mr forman tried to do to the city,some of us remember and seeing the name on the park is like a thorn in the side of the city.one of his buddies , george platt was the lead man in the attack on the city.he also made a lot of money on county deals with his pals.somehow the county repeatedly overpaid for properties owned by a small cadre of people.that is the story that needs to be told.

    There is no doubt that Hamilton Forman knew how to play hardball politics, as I wrote.
    In the end the public benefitted from having land set aside as a preserve. It could have been more houses.
    According to newspaper reports of the time, Coral Ridge Properties had 1,700 acres it wanted to develop. Hamilton Forman and family had 20 acres nearby. Parkland refused to allow the development, so the two land owners became allies and got the Legislature to deannex their land in June of 1989. The land was west of Pine Island Road and is largely developed today as Heron Bay. It was reannexed into the city about five years later.
    Eventually the 20 acres became a nature preserve which Forman gave the county in return for similar acreage in an industrial area of Dania Beach, which became a warehouse project.

  7. SarahTX2 says:

    Mr. Nevins,

    I couldn’t find an email address here to contact you, but I have a question regarding Sam Fields, one of your guest columnists. Was he disbarred in New York State in 1971?
    No, he was never disbarred. He wasn’t in New York in 1971 and has a valid Bar license in Florida.
    Our e-mail is Browardbeat@hotmail.com

  8. Hollister says:

    I was blessed to know Ham for 34 years. Ham and his lovely wife Doris were second parents to me and they blessed my life greatly. People may say what they want about Ham and his “political agenda/Power”, but the bottom line was and will remain that he was a loyal friend to many, a father figure to those that needed one, and accepting of all people. I loved Hamilton Forman and was blessed to call him my friend and second dad.

  9. Preston Roper says:

    I was born in Ft. Lauderdale and grew up going to the same church as the Forman’s. Although a few years younger than his son Colins I remember Mr. & Mrs. Forman were very active with the youth of our church. I remember a man with strong moral conviction and a good example of christian compassion. I wasn’t old enough to care much about politics so I can’t say in what way he used his power to sway change in Broward. I do want to say that I care dearly for all the love he shared with our church family.
    Thanks for all your love.