Remembering A Political Genius: Al Schreiber

 

 

BY BUDDY NEVINS

 

 

 

One afternoon years ago I was summoned to then Public Defender Al Schreiber’s office.

This particular visit to Schreiber’s office, one of dozens over the years, came back to me when his death was announced Tuesday. 

Schreiber was the most powerful Democrat in Broward. He operated a political machine that could field an estimated 150 campaign volunteers and raise thousands. 

I was the Sun-Sentinel’s political columnist. So when Schreiber wanted to see me, I usually showed up. 

 

 

 

 

The young Al Schreiber

 

Plus, Schreiber could always be counted on to say something outrageous, comments that to a reporter were like catnip to a cat. 

How outrageous?

When I was ushered into his office, Schreiber was sitting with Mila Schwartzreich, one of his assistant public defenders. He was endorsing Schwartzreich for judge.

Not exactly front page news.

Then he uttered the line which made the day for this columnist. I wrote:   

“Schwartzreich, a very attractive woman, was listing her legal qualifications in a professional manner as Schreiber looked on. 

Suddenly, the boss interrupted. ‘Listen, Mila will give you a lap dance if you write a nice story,’ Schreiber quipped.

Schwartzreich paled. 

Schreiber just thought he was being funny.”

He had no idea whether I would be offended. He had no idea whether I would write the comment. 

He just didn’t care.

Schreiber knew nothing he said would threaten his role as a political kingmaker. His position as the head of the most effective political operation in Broward was secure. 

Schreiber in 1996 explained his role in politics to me like this:  

“We need to stay in the public arena because we depend on the public arena for funding and for support.”

So he created a Democratic machine. It was the most successful political operation during the 1980s and 1990s — zenith of Democratic power.  It made Schreiber respected and feared from the Capitol to the Courthouse, especially the Courthouse. 

Who occupied the bench was, of course, important to the Public Defender. With his machine, Schreiber’s word could make or break a judge. Or that is what judges feared. 

Schreiber claimed he could send 150 volunteers from his office to campaign door to door, wave signs at street corners, work phone banks and drive voters to the polls. 

But that’s not all. 

Schreiber had his staffers run for Democratic committee posts.Through them he dominated the local party organization. 

He also had the largest bloc on the Judicial Nominating Committee, holding tremendous influence over who was appointed a judge by the governor.

In a move of political genius, Schreiber created a web of allegiance among elected officials by employing their family members. He deepened his sway over the court system by hiring the sons and daughters of many judges.  

All these folks were expected to attend fundraisers for the candidates he anointed. They were expected work on the campaigns.

But it was not a one way street. 

Despite the pressure to do political work, employees loved Schreiber. He was loyal and lavished his employees with generous salaries and benefits. 

He was swept into office on the Democratic wave of 1976. He retired in 2004 as the state became more and more Republican. He saw — correctly, it turned out — that the money he needed to defend the accused would become harder to obtain from a conservative Tallahassee.

When I look back at Al Schreiber, I remember his many excesses that filled my Sun-Sentinel column over the years. 

Yes, there was the margarita machine in his Courthouse office that he used to fuel Friday afternoon parties. There was the picture of a Sun-Sentinel colleague on his door that he encouraged office visitors to throw darts at. There was the endless parade of off-color jokes.

But what do I remember the most?

If I cut through all the bluster and pulled Schreiber aside, I realized that he was a True Believer. 

He truly believed in giving each and every person accused of a crime the best possible defense. And he truly believed that a political machine helped him achieve that goal.

R.I.P, Big Al. 



4 Responses to “Remembering A Political Genius: Al Schreiber”

  1. M. Kelsie says:

    Very nice tribute. We miss you, Al

  2. Count LF Chodkiewicz Chudzikiewicz says:

    But Mr Schreiber (German for the writer or the scribe)’s Passing is more than his passing; it’s about 60% of Broward’s mainly New York blue collar n lower middle class Jews of Eastern European origin dying out, marrying out n moving out. As much as his death pains his family n friends; as sincerely n decently he should be mourned; not only his significance in the past as Mr Nevins carefully chronicles; but what is the meaning of HIS EPOCH’S PASSING MEANS FOR N TO US TODAY? His death has meaning is more than one way. May the Earth Rest Lightly on him!

  3. SAMUEL FIELDS says:

    Al made practicing law fun.

    FROM BUDDY: Sam Fields, a lawyer in Plantation worked for Al Schreiber for a number of years.

  4. disgruntled says:

    count i hate to tell you Al was an espiscopalian or something of that sort and not jewish, perhaps his name sounded d jewish and i believe this was a reason he won in the first please… rest in peace BIG AL

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