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Jack Osterholt, a veteran public administrator in South Florida who worked at the top of two county governments, died Friday, April 2. He was 71.
An urban planner, Osterholt landed a senior job in the office of Gov. Bob Graham in 1979, followed by a career in South Florida government and consulting that spanned five decades.
He ran Broward County’s government in the 1990s as county manager, presiding over a string of land acquisitions and construction projects, including deals that led to the creation of the county’s current performance hall, hockey arena and homeless shelter.
His consulting business included the city of Miami as a client in the 2000s, when he worked for Carlos Gimenez, then city manager. When Gimenez was elected Miami-Dade mayor in 2011, he recruited Osterholt as a deputy mayor, a position Osterholt held until Gimenez left office in November.
Deputy mayor under Carlos Gimenez in Miami-Dade
“He was a visionary — always positive, can do. That’s what everyone loved about him,” Gimenez, now a Republican member of Congress representing Florida’s 26th District, said of Osterholt, a lifelong Democrat with a rescue dog he named Clinton. Osterholt “was a good friend.”
Coworkers described Osterholt as the one in the room most likely to lighten the mood during a tense meeting. “No matter how bad things were,” said Ed Marquez, a fellow deputy mayor under Gimenez, “he would always find a way to make a wisecrack that had us laughing.”
At a 2014 hearing, a county commissioner was complaining about intransigence at the county’s Division of Environmental Resources Management, which Osterholt supervised. His response: “We’ve gotten them so they don’t always say no.”
Born April 9, 1949, in Louisville, Kentucky, Bernard John Osterholt was the son of Bernard John and Ann Bauer Osterholt. He graduated the University of Louisville with a political science degree in 1970, and with a master’s in city planning from Georgia Tech three years later.
His family owned a Chevrolet dealership in Kentucky, which Osterholt briefly ran when his father died in the late 1970s. Osterholt rode a motorcycle as a teen and was a lifelong car aficionado. His favorite: a white Porsche he fixed up after finding it in a Kentucky barn, sharing the space with some chickens. When Osterholt got the job with Gimenez in Miami, he switched to a hybrid vehicle to conserve fuel on the commute.
For years, Osterholt was a weekend guitar player and owned dozens of the instruments. Some decorated his 29th Floor office at County Hall.
Early last year, Osterholt and his wife, Lynn Hawke, headed to the Golden Cockatoo store in Deerfield Beach to buy a parrot named Mimo, who joined the four dogs at their home in Hollywood.
“As long as Jack was busy, he was happy,” Hawke said. “He just loved his job, and did not want to stop working, for sure.”
Worked for Gov. Bob Graham
Osterholt began his career in land-planning positions at government agencies in Louisville and then in South Florida. He then joined the Graham administration, where he worked on policy and budgetary issues, including overseeing a staff of 130 as deputy director of the Office of Planning and Budgeting.
Those posts led to Osterholt’s first big job in the Miami area: director of the South Florida Regional Planning Council. He led the agency from 1986 to 1991, when the board held approval powers for large developments from Monroe County to Broward. One of the projects that won final approval under Osterholt was Joe Robbie’s plans for a new Miami Dolphins stadium in what was then unincorporated land in northern Dade County.
Broward commissioners appointed him county administrator in 1991, a post he held for six years. The relationship eventually soured — Osterholt resigned under pressure in 1997 — but his tenure included approvals for landmark expansions of county facilities.
Left Broward after Swerdlow deal
That included a new homeless shelter in Fort Lauderdale that faced fierce neighborhood resistance, agreements that led to construction of the Broward Performing Arts Center, the arena where the Florida Panthers hockey team play, and a $120 million land deal with developer Michael Swerdlow for property near Port Everglades.
That deal, which included swaps for county land and accusations Broward paid too much, led to Osterholt’s break with some commissioners and his departure to become a government consultant. “He was bold enough not to worry about the risk of doing what he believed was right,” said Ron Book, a longtime lobbyist in Florida whose clients included Swerdlow and who was Osterholt’s friend.
Looking back, admirers say the 1997 agreement secured the future for Port Everglades, even if Broward ended up paying top dollar for the land.
“When you know that your future cargo activity requires dockside land, you have to get it. And we did. He did it,” said Bertha Henry, Broward’s current county administrator who was first hired by Osterholt in the 1990s. “After that, we were able to become a real player in the cargo business.”
After Gimenez left office, Osterholt wasn’t retained as a top deputy by the new mayor, Daniella Levine Cava. She moved him to the position of resilience plan and policy manager, and put one of his deputies, Lourdes Gomez, as director of Regulatory and Economic Resources, the department Osterholt ran while also serving as deputy mayor.
‘He had a kind heart’
In a statement, Gomez said Osterholt was someone with a “gifted mind, wonderful sense of humor, and above all, he had a kind heart.”
“He always saw the big picture,” she said, “and challenged all of us to think differently.”
Along with his wife, Osterholt is survived by a son, John Perrin Osterholt, of New York; and a stepson, Ryan Hawke, of Lebanon Township, N.J. His sister, Lynne Osterholt, died in 2019. Osterholt’s first wife, Darlene Smith Osterholt, died in 2007.
No public services are planned for Osterholt, who had been hospitalized in recent days for a long-term heart condition. His son said Osterholt would want any donations in his name to go to Broward County nonprofits that were important to him.
“One of my father’s proudest accomplishments was working on developing the Broward County Homeless Assistance Center,” he said, referring to a facility now run by the Broward Partnership. “The Broward County Humane Society was also important to him as it is where his dog of 13 years, Clinton, was adopted.”