By Buddy Nevins and Dan Christensen FloridaBulldog.org
Just seven weeks after signing a $2.1 million-a-year no-bid contract with Broward Health, advertising executive Jordan Zimmerman threw a political fundraiser for the wife of the hospital district’s chairman.
Broward County Court Judge Nina Di Pietro, whose husband David Di Pietro chairs Broward Health’s board of commissioners, raised almost $22,000, nearly all of it from lawyers, auto dealers and other non-healthcare companies, campaign records say.
Jordan and Terry Zimmerman, his wife, spent nearly $2,000 hosting the June 25 reception at Zimmerman Advertising’s showcase modernistic headquarters on North Andrews Avenue in Fort Lauderdale.
A few months later, Zimmerman was back before Broward Health’s board seeking approval for yet another advertising deal – this one worth as much as $71.4 million over six years.
That deal, supported by David Di Pietro and a majority of the board, was set for approval at last month’s board meeting, but was put on hold after Broward President/CEO Dr. Nabil El Sanadi’s Jan. 23 suicide.
Broward Health Chief Financial Officer Robert K. Martin opposed the deal at the Dec. 17 board meeting, saying it was based on bogus statistics that made it appear like a good deal when it was not.
Martin was fired Jan. 7. He was later given a settlement agreement that included a large payout and a requirement that he not disparage Broward Health.
In an interview, David Di Pietro said Zimmerman’s help for his wife’s campaign didn’t influence his decision to favor awarding the contract to Zimmerman Advertising.
“I don’t run Nina’s campaign. I don’t directly solicit money. I haven’t since she started her campaign,” Di Pietro said. “We had horrible advertising…a football player. I want a marketing strategy so the public knows about the healthcare our doctors and staff provide. Even if it’s not Zimmerman we need a marketing plan.”
The money raised for Nina Di Pietro at the Zimmerman fundraiser is a fraction of the $237,968 she had in her campaign account as of the end of January, including $100,000 of her own money.
At least $35,000, however, came from more than 50 donors who self-identify as healthcare firms, physicians or clinics. No other candidate for a county court judgeship, a job that deals with criminal misdemeanors and civil disputes for less than $15,000, has received close to that amount from the healthcare industry.
Judge Di Pietro had an opponent who has since dropped out. She has raised more than double the amount of any other Broward County Court candidate. Likewise, she also has a bigger campaign warchest than veteran politicians like former State Sens. Nan Rich and Steve Geller, who are running for Broward County Commission, traditionally more expensive races.
Gov. Rick Scott appointed Nina Di Pietro to the bench on April 30. Because appointed judges run in the first General Election after their appointment, the Zimmerman fundraiser was to finance her 2016 campaign.
Among those attending the fundraiser was County Commissioner Chip LaMarca, a Zimmerman employee and friend and Republican political ally of David Di Pietro; Broward Health Commissioner Darryl Wright; longtime Northeast Broward GOP activist William “Bill” Bucknam; and Levi Williams, former Broward Republican Party general counsel.
Among those contributing $1,000 that day were retired AutoNation president and chief executive officer Mike Maroone, Coral Gables businessman and car dealer Manny Kadre, Kadre’s company MBB Auto Management, and Lighthouse Point lawyer William R. Scherer III.
On May 5, Zimmerman’s firm signed a $2.1 million-a-year advertising contract with Broward Health. The deal is renewable for three years. No proposals or bids were sought from other firms.
Dr. El Sanadi signed the contract on behalf of Broward Health, but appears to have have exceeded his authority in doing so. The signing authority of Broward Health’s chief executive is $250,000; the board must approve deals beyond that. A review of the minutes of every public board meeting in 2015 revealed no indication that Zimmerman’s initial contract was ever brought to the board for its approval.
The agreement placed Zimmerman in charge of all broadcast, print, billboard, digital advertising production and purchasing, plus outreach to the “mainly Hispanic and Creole” minority communities, according to the contract.
A board of Republican activists
Broward Health’s commissioners, who sit on the governing board that David Di Pietro chairs, are all Republican activists appointed by Gov. Scott to run the public health system. Di Pietro was first appointed in September 2011.
Besieged by public and private healthcare competitors, Broward Health has trouble filling its beds with patients paying for elective surgery. The public hospital system’s patient admissions are down nearly three percent and operating revenues are under budget by nearly $29 million this year.
El Sanadi, named president/CEO in December 2014, apparently became convinced that a new advertising strategy was called for.
Sources differ on how Jordan Zimmerman, who had little experience handling marketing for a public health system, suddenly became Broward Health’s potential savior.
Zimmerman said in an interview that former Republican U. S. Sen. George LeMieux, now chairman of the board of the Republican legal and lobbying powerhouse Gunster, introduced him to El Sanadi.
Zimmerman said El Sanadi “believed BH wasn’t performing like it should” and that Zimmerman Advertising could help with a stepped-up advertising campaign.
A majority of the board, including Di Pietro, later agreed.
Zimmerman, using talents described in news releases as “ambitious entrepreneurship, fearless energy and strategy,” built a multi-million-dollar advertising company with a client list that claims the likes of Papa John’s, Party City and AutoNation, but no healthcare firms. Zimmerman is now part of the Omnicon Group.
Before raising money for Judge Di Pietro, Zimmerman was a well-known and reliable donor to Republican campaigns.
In 2012, Zimmerman co-hosted a $25,000-a-plate dinner for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, whose Broward campaign chairman was David Di Pietro. Last July, Zimmerman co-hosted a $10,800-a-ticket reception for ex-Gov. Jeb Bush’s recent presidential bid.