Phil McConaghey, Who Fought Governments and Built Buildings, Is Dead






Civic activist W. Phil McConaghey called himself “The Mongoose.”

He called government “The Cobra.”

“That’s the only animal in the world that can kill a cobra,” he explained to a reporter in 1998. “They’re fast and smart, and I’m dealing with a government body whose venom is often as potent as that of a cobra.”

McConaghey’s Mongoose could never kill “The Cobra” of over-reaching government. That never stopped the pugnacious gadfly, who for more than 40 years battled local government in commission chambers and in court.

During that same period, McConaghey left his imprint on dozens of buildings in Broward County as a leading engineer during the county’s early building boom.

McConaghey, 82, died Friday, according to a one-sentence obituary in the Sun-Sentinel.*

He deserves so much more.

McConaghey, a Republican, was a straight-shooting Port Everglades Authority Commissioner from 1969-1977 when an elected body ran the port. It was before Democrats totally dominated Broward politics and a Republican like McConaghey could get elected.

He made headlines for opposing an agreement which would have made Port Everglades the home port for the Queen Elizabeth I.

Life magazine later credited him with exposing corruption involving three of the five commissioners and the Port manager, who were supporting the deal.  They had a secret arrangement for a cut of the parking fees at the Queen Elizabeth I dock.


Phil McConaghey

Phil McConaghey, 1970 at Port Everglades


A few years after the Queen Elizabeth I scandal I met McConaghey. He was the chief engineer for developer Herb Sadkin, who developed thousands of homes in Broward, including much of Inverrary in Lauderhill. I covered Lauderhill in my early time at the Fort Lauderdale News.

In his role for Sadkin, McConaghey frequently clashed with the Lauderhill Commission. He was instrumental in suing the city, which was trying to block rental homes in Inverrary that Sadkin wanted to build.

Today there are rentals in Inverrary.

McConaghey also was project manager for Bonaventure, another Sadkin development. And he was the engineer for Sadkin’s 110 Tower, the high rise across Northeast Sixth Avenue from the Broward Courthouse.

During all this time, McConaghey was a constant presence at the Commission meetings in Pembroke Pines, where he moved to in 1963 when the city had only a few hundred residents.

McConaghey was never shy about telling commissioners what he thought about their plans for Pembroke Pines.  He even sued City Hall several times.

In one suit, he contended that the extra fee for ambulance service should have been part of their normal taxes.

“He researched the law on the Internet, typed his own 35-page brief and argued the case in front of the judge without any lawyer to counsel him,” according to a newspaper article in mid-1990s.

McConaghey won and a Circuit Judge ordered Pembroke Pines to pay back $4 million to taxpayers.

When he couldn’t beat them at the podium or in court, McConaghey tried to affect change from within.

He ran for Congress as a Republican in 1992.  It was a Democratic-leaning open seat that was eventually won by then-U. S. Rep. Peter Deutsch, D-Hollywood.

He lost several elections for commission and mayor of Pembroke Pines.

McConaghey was convinced he could make a difference. He did.

Two generations of government officials heard his message of fiscal responsibility and slow growth.

Even if they weren’t swayed – sometimes they were – McConaghey’s voice was a persistent reminder that some residents had different opinions.

In a world where so many are apathetic, McConaghey fought for what he believed.

He tried to make his neighborhood, his town and Broward a better place.

If you need an epithet for Phil McConaghey, it is this:

He cared.


* The Sun-Sentinel apparently has nobody left who remembers McConaghey, although numerous reporters quoted him over the years. Nor does anybody do a simple check of back issues on obits, which used to be Journalism 101 for reporters. Sad and another example that this once respectable publication is a very, very pale shadow of itself.

14 Responses to “Phil McConaghey, Who Fought Governments and Built Buildings, Is Dead”

  1. Buy out says:

    In fairness, I think the reporters are too busy studying their buy out offers right now.


    The buy outs, which several veteran journalists I know asked for during the application period, will only further reduce the coverage at the paper.

  2. Kevin Tyna says:

    He was never afraid to speak his mind and he truly made a difference.

  3. Suzanne says:

    Thanks for remembering the gadflies who care, Buddy.

  4. Linda Tapp says:

    At a time when women in commercial real estate business received shabby treatment, he was always pleasant to the couple of women that worked for Herb Sadkin. I enjoyed working with Phil. He was always prepared and he listened to new ideas. Meetings were well organized, quick and to the point. He didn’t waste time, energy or money. He was knowledgeable on many subjects and wanted answers from decision makers in business and government. While he was always organized, when things didn’t go according to plan, he was flexible.
    He left his touch on a lot of Broward. Rest In Peace, Mr. McConaghey.

  5. Wayne Arnold says:

    I met Phil McConaghey early in 1990’s at a political function. Unlike others who have an interest in politics he didn’t spend time in his personal conversation touting his own abilities and political successes. True he was an advocate for smaller government because I think he believed it to be closer to people it is suppose represent. Thank you Mr. Nevins for remembering this good man who fought for what he believed in. The courage he showed unfortunately is seldom in evidence
    in Broward County today.

  6. Count LF Chodkiewicz Chudzikiewicz says:

    What Mr. Conaghey’s life proves is that a single, honest businessman can make a difference to EVERYONE by fighting for HONEST government and FISCALLY RESPONSIBLE government. Sadly the “businessmen” from “Downtown” today are only interested in tax payer financed deals to make more money and couldn’t care a farthing about reasonable and responsible government.
    Rental units in decent neighborhoods are one of the “unspoken” issues that no one wants to face, and at least Mr. Conaghey was willing to face it.
    I am lucky I have the financial resources to own my own home, but for millions of Americans, the increasing “exclusiveness” and “priceyness” of decent neighborhoods are creating more not less low income concrete ghettos.
    It is sad when a good man dies we rarely see a new “good man” replacing him in the public square, at least not here in South Florida.

  7. Jack Moss says:

    Whatever Phil said, you could take to the bank … always honest, smart, ahead of his time, and knowledgeable. It was a pleasure to know and work with Phil. Whatever he did … he did well

    RIP my friend.

  8. Gretchen Thompson says:

    I was so suprised at the tiny obit about such a strong man. I remember Phil and am glad you do too.

  9. Richard J Kaplan says:

    I knew Phil going back to the early 1980’s when I first got involved in Lauderhill. He was a knowledgeable, tough, and persuasive representative. Yes, he was not shy.

    I guess I got to him once since he once called me a “demi-god” in the newspaper while I was still volunteering on a city board. Still we always had a good working relationship and respect for each other, including when he contributed to my first campaign.

    I am sorry to hear of his passing.

  10. Alice McGill says:

    Very nice words, Buddy, for an involved resident of Broward County. He certainly did not fit the profile of the typical “Cobras”. The three actions/qualities you used to describe him:

    1. Life magazine later credited him with exposing corruption involving three of the five commissioners and the Port manager, who were supporting the deal.

    2. Two generations of government officials heard his message of fiscal responsibility and slow growth.

    3. In a world where so many are apathetic, McConaghey fought for what he believed.

    are sneered at and discouraged by many commissions in Broward from the County to the City levels.

    If a citizen’s comments do not fit the personal agenda of members on the Commission, the citizen is labeled as a “gadfly” in the most derogatory form. Thus, the mongoose becomes and endangered species and the cobra wins.

  11. Terry Openden says:

    Mr. McConaghey, was a great man, a great boss. I worked for him at Bonaventure for six years. He was truly the “White Night”.

    My deepest condolences to his family.

  12. Bob Huebner says:

    I had the pleasure of working with Phil. He was a good man and always about the truth.
    Buddy, thanks for remembering him.

  13. just wondering says:

    Thank you very much Buddy for celebrating Mr. McConaghey’s efforts and successes in Broward.
    The Port deals stank in the 1970’s and cozy deals likely continue today under the radar with A/E’s, contractors, etc.
    Nice to know that there were those in the ’70’s and ’80’s with conviction, integrity and tenacity to thwart the fraud and deception of power brokers.
    Real sad that in 2015 little has changed.
    Really sad citizens and voters are disinterested and apathetic.

  14. Charlotte Greenbarg says:

    I want to add my thanks to you Buddy for remembering him the way the sad excuse for a newspaper didn’t.

    We are so in need of more like Phil.