BY BUDDY NEVINS
Emerson Allsworth died on May 24. I’m sorry I missed it until this week.
He was 96.
I knew Allsworth — a lobbyist, lawyer and former Broward legislator — as a source during my many years at the Sun-Sentinel.
Although largely unknown by the general public, Allsworth was a key figure in Broward city halls for generations. Thousands of Broward residents today live in homes, condominiums and apartments that Allsworth represented.
I knew him as someone who was always honest with me. He was generous with his time as he carefully explained the details of his client’s plans in terms that even this journalist could understand.
I was drawn to Allsworth because he was different than the average lobbyist. He was a part of Florida history.
Fresh out of the University of Miami law school, the Miami native was the Broward County Chief Solicitor (prosecutor) when he was tapped to run for the Florida House in 1958.
The Legislature that Allsworth entered was all-white men mostly from rural counties nicknamed The Pork Choppers. A large majority were segregationists and some were outspoken racists. All of them wanted state money to stay in their rural communities.
The reason these folks had all the power was simple. Elections were shamefully unfair due to how the Legislature drew the boundaries of Senate and House districts.
According to A History of Florida, only 12.3 percent of the 1960 voters elected a majority of the state Senate and 14.7 percent a majority of the House. The five most populous counties had only 14 percent of the senators.
The Pork Chopper’s legislative apportionment effectively locked out the urban vote and watered down any black vote.
Allsworth, a Democrat, landed in the middle of this caldron of segregationist politics. By 1966 when Allworth left the Legislature, there had been nine special sessions attempting to tackle the unfair apportionment. (It was only in 1967, after Allsworth left, that a Federal Court ordered the Legislative elections changed.)
Those were heady days in Tallahassee as Florida stumbled into the modern world. Allsworth was in the center of all of it.
He served in the Legislature with such well-known figures as future Governor Reubin Askew and citrus king Ben Hill Griffin Jr., before the University of Florida football stadium was named after him.
Despite all the battles over voting, the Legislature did a lot. Roads like Interstate 75 from Tampa to Lake City and Alligator Alley were funded. Florida Atlantic University and other new schools got seed money.
Allsworth returned to Broward County full-time in 1966 and began his lucrative lobbying career. His impact on today’s Broward was immense.
Gulfstream Land and Development, the company that birthed sprawling Jacaranda neighborhoods in Plantation, was a client. So was Waste Management, the trash hauler whose tentacles stretched everywhere.
Dozens of smaller clients built everything from housing and offices to gas stations and pre-schools.
But politics and government is like an iceberg. A tiny bit is shining in the sunlight while the majority of it remains hidden in the dark. Allsworth was part of the bright public side. He was sadly part of the shady underside, too.
In 1985 his name surfaced as a co-conspirator who turned informant in the 1985 corruption conviction of former Sunrise Mayor John Lomelo. Lomelo went to prison after trying to extort money from a nursing home developer. Allsworth was granted immunity in the case in return for testimony.
At the same time but unknown to prosecutors at the time, Allsworth was helping launder millions for the marijuana smuggling ring of powerboat racer Benjamin “Benny” Kramer in the 1980s, according to an indictment.
In 1992, Allsworth was convicted of conspiracy to commit tax evasion and sentenced to six months in federal prison.
It was a time when the state was drowning in dope money, corrupting dozens of bankers and lawyers including a former Florida Supreme Court justice. It was a time when the government was flooded with money in paper bags from bagmen seeking development permits.
This is not to excuse Allsworth but to explain the climate of those times.
“He paid his penalty for what he did,” lawyer Bill Laystrom told the Sun-Sentinel two decades ago.
Laystrom, a shareholder and development lawyer in Allsworth’s law firm, described Allsworth as a second father and a mentor.
Allsworth got a second chance, eventually getting his law license back and continuing to win friends through his senior years until his death.
Jim Scott, former Florida Senate President and Broward Commissioner, was one of those friends.
Scott wrote on Allsworth’s obit page a fitting tribute to a long life mostly well lived:
“He was a mentor for me and many others. He was a friend in times of need and a counselor to many of us in our careers in public service. Florida is a better state and our community is better because of Emerson’s efforts.”
Amen, Jim Scott.
R.I.P, Emerson Lincoln Allsworth, Jr.
This article originally appeared here and was republished with permission.