FORT LAUDERDALE—In tiny Columbia, Ky., Mayor Jim Naugle has a small fan club. Lee and Kathy Krug wrote to ask him for a "signed photograph or poster." It "would occupy an honored place in our home," they promised, "and we will tell all who ask about it (and those who don't) what you are so courageously doing."
Here on the home front, Elaine Schulze is so happy with the mayor, she hung a banner on her day care center thanking him "from the children of Fort Lauderdale."
Thousands of e-mails poured into the mayor's in-box. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel requested e-mails to and from the mayor about the latest controversies, and received 6,475 electronic missives to review. Many were duplicates, and some did not pertain to the dispute. Some were to or from other people in City Hall. But the relevant e-mails ran roughly 2-to-1 in Naugle's favor.
Publicly, his supporters seemed few. A rally for the mayor last month drew only about 30 people, competing with the hundreds rallying against him. Some of the same cadre supported Naugle at his news conference Tuesday.
Naugle has claimed overwhelming support. "You are about to find out that most in Fort Lauderdale agree with me," he e-mailed a critic.
Mayor of one of the most gay-friendly cities in America, Naugle touched off a ferocious dispute in July, when the Sun-Sentinel published his comments that the city has a problem with gay men cruising public restrooms for sex. He was quoted as saying, "I don't use the word gay. I use the word homosexual. Most of them aren't gay. They're unhappy."
The e-mails poured in to the mayor.
"You should run for president! Thank you for your stand," hailed Dana Jones, a county commissioner in Cherokee County, North Carolina..
"It's time us straight people started taking our country back from these sick people and make them either get help for their disease or go to jail," wrote Robert Moon in Fort Worth, Texas, to the mayor.
Naugle's comments didn't start as a campaign; he was opining about a one-stall, super-toilet requested by the beach community because the oceanfront lacks public restrooms. Naugle liked the $250,000 self-cleaning robo-toilet, in part because he said it would deter the "homosexual activity" a traditional bathroom attracts.
"We are glad to see that there is still someone looking out for families and morality. Some of our very good friends at Coral Ridge Towers South are gay. We like them very much. ... but the line has to be drawn," wrote Jack and Sally Tully.
Gays were outraged to be associated with bathroom sex, alleging it's mostly done by married men seeking a thrill.
Police refuted the mayor's claim, calling bathroom sex "a non-existent problem."
Since then, Naugle changed his mind about the toilet and voted not to buy it.
But the e-mails kept coming. "We appreciate your stand and encourage you to follow through with your convictions against evil in our city. We are truly blessed to have you in leadership," wrote Carol Krupta of Coral Ridge Ministries. In the gay community, the mayor's words stung. Gays said they'd helped make Fort Lauderdale's neighborhoods beautiful, and its economy robust. The mayor's comments were meant to incite hatred, not highlight a legitimate problem, they said.
As the debate churned, Naugle voted against allowing the adults-only Stonewall Library gay and lesbian book collection to be moved into a city building. Some of the materials in the research archives include nude magazines kept for historical reasons.
"Thank you for maintaining biblical and Christian principles for your countrymen worldwide -- Fort Lauderdale is not an island, and it can influence the world," wrote Nancy Ball Richter, a local resident, in an e-mail.
This week, the mayor turned full attention to the issue of HIV/AIDS infection in Broward, standing with a group of religious and conservative speakers on City Hall's steps, to urge gays to curb promiscuity. Broward consistently ranks near the top in HIV/AIDS cases, though the numbers are declining.