Dressed for repression 

Nudists fighting to preserve their cherished stretch of Playalinda Beach are losing their longtime nemesis. But just as Wendell Simpson, superintendent of Canaveral National Seashore, begins cleaning out his office, U.S. Rep. David Weldon has jumped up to fill the void left in the anti-nudist ranks.;;For the last seven years, Simpson has made it more and more difficult for folks to drop their drawers on the northern end of Playalinda, a popular clothing-optional beach for almost half a century. When arrests by his rangers were tossed out of court, Simpson surrendered law enforcement of the federal beach to Brevard County sheriff's deputies. And when their arrests were overturned because of park signs advising visitors that nude sun-bathers frequented the beach, Simpson took down the signs ("Butts, Seriously," May 29).;;As Simpson tightened the screws, the nudists screamed louder. Along with State Rep. Randy Ball, R-Titusville, Simpson has been vilified as a leader of the anti-nudity movement. On June 2, clothed nudists were cited for protesting Simpson and anti-nudist policies at the entrance to the park, after a park ranger dialed 911 for help. Over the July 4 weekend, the nudists held a protest in front of Simpson's office in downtown Titusville. Yet the police action continues. With Sheriff Phil Williams hovering overhead in a helicopter, seven deputies on all-terrain vehicles busted 37 bare beachgoers March 8 in the debut of Operation Playalinda. So far this summer, more than 50 people, including a Brazilian woman in a French bikini, have been cited under the ordinance.;;Such controversy is highly unusual for federal bureaucrats more likely to retire with fat pensions after 30 years of relative anonymity. Even Simpson suggested his high profile may have been at least partially responsible for his promotion to superintendent of the Natchez Trace Parkway, which weaves through Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee along a historic trail blazed by Native Americans and early settlers. Noting other applicants were perhaps more qualified, Simpson says, "I was somewhat honored I was selected." Pressed further, he suggested calling regional superintendent Jerry Belson, who denied reports that Simpson was asked to apply for the promotion due to controversy at Playalinda: "It's reached a point in the last two years that it's in the news all the time. We've learned to live with that.";;Nonetheless, Weldon, R-Palm Bay, plans to file a complaint with Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, suggesting the Park Service caved in to controversy churned up by the nudists. "Once again the Clinton Administration, this time through the National Park Service, exhibits how heavy-handed government is this Administration's most unbecoming trait. Just because Wendell Simpson isn't promoting the Clinton Administration's political agenda regarding nudity, he is being forced out of his job and sent to Mississippi," Weldon said in a prepared statement.;;And to prevent erosion of the anti-nudist policies backed by Simpson and Brevard County, Weldon has proposed an amendment to Babbitt's budget prohibiting Simpson's successor or the park service from reposting the signs. "They would not commit to putting them back up," said spokesman Brian Chase. "He felt it was inappropriate for the park service to be overruling the local government.";;Much like Ball and county officials, Weldon seems to have overlooked a vital point: The beach is federal property, and there is no federal law, prohibiting nudity. Not surprisingly, Weldon also gets local support from "family-values" groups, such as the local chapter of the American Family Association, which is driving the Brevard crackdown and lobbying for an identical ordinance in Seminole County.;;Despite Weldon's amendment, the nudists' attorney, David Wasserman, remains confident a federal lawsuit contesting arrests under the Brevard County ordinance will expose the illegality of the crackdown and reopen the beach for those bent on getting a 100 percent tan. He described Simpson's tenure in this way: "He has brought politics into the park by acting as a lobbyist for the Religious Right." And Wasserman congratulated the Park Service on finding a fitting assignment for Simpson. In addition to the parkway, Simpson will be managing the Tupelo National Battlefield, near Tupelo, Miss., home of the American Family Association.

More by Lawrence Budd


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